A couple of weeks ago over a thousand of our parishioners braved the cold and the rain to gather in a tent on the parking lot. It was one of the events we by which we are marking our 60th anniversary as a parish. The idea of “One Parish, One Mass” was a great idea. The crazy weather didn’t change that. Those who gathered seemed bound together more than usual, as they braved the elements together and prayed with gratitude for all the blessings God heaps upon our parish community. Bishop Wilkerson remarked to me what a wonderful job I had done, and I was very quick to say to him that while I was indeed proud, I could take no credit for the mass. I was proud because as pastor I was inwardly celebrating the leadership and the sharing of gifts that was made manifest in our community. Watching different members of the parish family step up and make everything happen was a moment of deep grace for me. I prayed long and hard that day - prayers of gratitude for what has been and is, and prayers of blessing for all that is yet to be.
I also had occasion at the conclusion of the liturgy to express a few words of gratitude. As chance would have it, the few remarks that I had prepared were in a folder that disappeared, and that was probably for the best. Instead, I spoke off the cuff, and as I looked around and saw all the faces of those who were gathered, I spoke a word of gratitude to God for everyone. I shared a word of gratitude for the faithfulness of all the men and women of our community who have faithfully passed on that which they received. The gift of faith is not something to be taken for granted, and the faithfulness of so many, young and old, male and female, strong and weak, is to be commended. It is not nothing that we hold faith with one another and that we together celebrate our faith before God. Grandparents, parents, children, young adults, middle adults, infants, youth… all one family of faith in Christ Jesus. Wherever we find ourselves in life, at whatever stage of human development, at whatever stage of growth in our faith, we come as we are, children of God all, blessed, and in turn striving to be blessing in the world for others.
There is a strong temptation in our Church to look at ways in which we can be better. It is not a bad thing, but it is important to avoid letting it become something negative. To yearn to be better, to become the person we are becoming is a good thing. However, if we are distracted into focusing only on our shortcomings, or on what we are not, we can be easily led astray into judgment of ourselves and of others.
The gospel encourages us: “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give, and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”
In my experience, the generosity of God is ridiculously abundant. This generosity of God is mirrored in many ways by our own generosity. As a parish family, we will always have room for growth, but at heart we are decent people who strive to be even better in and for the world. And this is a good thing. What many may not see, but which I am privileged to witness includes the following:
We’re about to commence another training for “Stephen Ministers” in our parish, in which candidates for this ministry will undergo about 50 hours of formation and preparation. This generosity of time and talent is significant. Our bereavement team has been working with about twelve families in the past couple of weeks or so. Their gifts are very particular, and they go about their ministry quietly and often in the background. Our Eucharistic Ministers who bring communion to the ill and homebound and pray with them, visit with well over a hundred people every week. And just last weekend, as we made our pledges and commitments for our 2019 Together in Mission appeal, I saw more reason to be proud of our community. We have parishioners who accompany young couples preparing for marriage, and we have parishioners who accompany those seeking annulments. I could go on and on. The point is that many of our community are generous stewards of God’s blessings, and we are all mightily blessed in this.
While some are inclined to complain about what isn’t, here at Lourdes, I celebrate and give thanks for good people stepping up and expressing their gratitude for all the blessings God has given us by sharing those blessings with others. I see a community in which we are sometimes tempted to lament our inadequacies, but we are also a people to whom gifts are given; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, are poured into our laps.
May God continue to bless us. And may we, in turn, continue to be a blessing for our world.