by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
March Madness spills over into April!
I hope you are doing better than me with your NCAA brackets. My cousins always run a family pool, which this year had 101 participants. Only three of the 101 could still actually win. My 91-year-old mother is one and my niece Dee Dee is another. Meanwhile, I am in the middle of the pack of losers.
If my mother were to win, this would be her second victory in the pool’s 38-year history. I have never finished in the top 10! If you need help with your NCAA brackets next year, I am planning to set up a consulting service provided by my mother.
Last week, this column was devoted to my reflection upon some of the great blessings that have occurred in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas during the past 10 years. I acknowledged that my list of 15 could hardly be considered comprehensive. One of my glaring omissions was the vitality of our parish communities.
I am currently in my second round of pastoral visits to parishes. I receive a lot of hope from these visits as I catch a glimpse of the immense amount of good that is happening in our parishes on a weekly — really, a daily — basis.
Of course, the most important experiences that all of our parishes offer are the Sunday Eucharist and the sacramental life of the church. I am edified by the care and the beauty with which the Sunday Eucharist is celebrated. I am grateful to our priests, who are so generous in offering more opportunities for the sacrament of penance.
I am also impressed by all that our parishes are doing in preparing individuals for the reception of the sacraments, e.g., programs for parents presenting children for baptism, for first communicants, for those to be confirmed, and for engaged couples. It is also beautiful to see the regular care that is provided to parishioners who are sick or elderly, especially the opportunity afforded them to receive holy Communion in their homes.
Each parish is unique and has its own special character. There is a true beauty in our small town and rural parishes. There is a special closeness in these communities where each and every member is involved and valued. In these smaller communities, no one carries any burden alone. It is wonderful to see how the entire community rallies to help and support any member who is experiencing some adversity.
In our larger urban and suburban parishes, there are so many opportunities that are available to aid parishioners in their spiritual growth, such as:
1) Bible studies
2) men’s groups that offer programs like That Man is You
3) School of Faith classes
4) women’s groups like Women of Grace, Endow or programs specifically for young moms
5) Living in Love retreats and other marriage enrichment programs
6) support groups for widows and widowers, as well as for individuals who have experienced the heartache of divorce
7) parish missions providing opportunities for deepening one’s prayer life.
In my estimation, the most powerful parish tool that provides an opportunity for a profound, life-changing encounter with Jesus is parish-based retreats such as Christ Renews His Parish or Light of the World. As powerful as the retreat experience is, even more important are the follow-up opportunities helping participants make what was experienced on the retreat a catalyst for cre- ating new patterns of prayer and service
Of course, no parish is perfect and the potential for becoming even more vibrant communities should protect us from being complacent.
One area of growth for every parish is to become more evangelizing communities. Our three most recent popes have all been challenging us as individuals and communities to participate in the new evangelization.
It is natural for parish communities to become self-absorbed with just taking care of the needs of the present community. Yet, to be the disciples that Jesus calls us to be, we can never be content with the church as it is. We always have to be about the task of making new disciples.
Of course, Christian parents are about this work of making disciples in the formation of their children. Our Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) programs are doing some great things already in helping to form new disciples. However, there is so much more that we can do in offering the gift of our Catholic faith to others, in welcoming new members, and in drawing in parishioners on the periphery to become more actively engaged in living their faith.
I encourage you this week to reflect upon the gift your parish community is in your life. If you find difficulty identifying specific reasons to give thanks for your parish, this may be the way Our Lord is encouraging you
to become more involved and to take advantage of the opportunities that are already there. I also ask your prayers for the Holy Spirit to guide our efforts to discern what steps we need to take for our parishes to become more effective evangelizing communities.
Again this year, I invite you during Holy Week to participate in one of the liturgies at the Cathedral of St. Peter. Please consult the sidebar for the times for the cathedral liturgies.
If you are looking to do something extra for Holy Week, I also encourage you to participate in one of the Holy Week liturgies of the Little Sisters and the Little Brothers of the Lamb at their monastery. In addition to the usual Triduum liturgies, the Community of the Lamb celebrates many additional times of prayer that will draw you into a more profound experience of the events that have given us life in Christ. Please consult the sidebar for the times for the liturgies at their monastery.
If you have not yet gone to confession during Lent, I urge you to do so this week. I also encourage you to read prayerfully St. Matthew’s account of the Passion (Mt 26:14 – 27:66). Let us finish Lent strong, making these final two weeks a special time of grace.