WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A MEMBER OF OUR PARISH Fr. Gene Schroeder PASTOR
“What do I have to do to become a member of the parish?” Asking this questions is likely to generate many different responses. What makes sense to me is that a parishioner is a person who comes and prays with us at Mass, who offers their time and energy to the activities of the parish and who is willing to support the parish financially. That sounds fine, as far as it goes, but what does it really mean?
Coming to pray with us at Mass is central to all that we are about. In the past, some of our efforts to communicate how important this is came across less as an invitation and more as a threat. “If you don’t come to Mass on Sunday, it is a mortal sin.” That kind of threatening energy really doesn’t work very well anymore, if it every really did in the first place. We don’t come to Mass to make Jesus happy. We do it really for ourselves. That’s not easy to hear. We live in a culture that says I don’t have to come to Mass to pray, I can pray anywhere. Besides, the prayers and rituals at Mass don’t really do anything for me. I don’t get anything out of the Mass.
Truth is you can pray anywhere and rituals and prayers can become stale and boring. So can a lot of things in life. But there is something important about gathering with people on a regular basis, rubbing shoulders with them, getting inspired by them, becoming frustrated and even exasperated with them. We come together and mash on one another and in the process we change. That’s not an easy thing to hear in our highly individualistic culture. The question that is most asked “What’s in this for me?” Pope Francis keeps reminding us that we need to stand with others. We’re in this together and we only come to know who we are by the messy process of being together. And that means coming and praying with one another at Mass—on the days when I’m in a good mood and on the days when the last place we want to be is praying with others.
Simply put, we need one another. We need to know that we are not alone as we try to do this journey of life. Our presence, even when we may not be aware of it, can be the one thing that helps another person make it through the week. In an age when we tend to think “what is in it for me,” we need to know that God can and does use us to be a source of encouragement and life for others. And he can do this even when we feel least like giving or feel we have nothing to offer.
Something else happens when we come together for mass. The simple act of disrupting the normal routines of our life and coming to mass is an acknowledgement that there is something bigger than us, something beyond us. We are not the center of the world. God is the center of our life. He is the creator, we are the created.
Being part of the life of the parish is also an important aspect of membership in a parish. There are many different activities that occur throughout the year in our parish—volunteering for school activities, summer social, fish frys, mowing lawns, serving on parish commissions, helping at the rummage sale, doing snow removal, serving as a minister at Mass. And the list goes on and on. None of these happen unless people are willing to step up and offer their help. We have a wonderful “hands on” tradition in our parish of people taking ownership of the things that need to be. One aspect of parish membership is being willing to be a part of these efforts.
But we are not just here to take care of our needs. Pope Francis reminds us that we are called to be a missionary church, to have an outward view especially in reaching out to our brothers and sisters in need beyond our parish. We believe God has blessed each of us with different abilities and the question we challenge each other with is “How is God asking me to use my gifts in service to others?” St. Mother Theresa often said that “life is not worth living if it is not lived for others.” Living for others is the path to true peace and contentment in life.
We have many people who work with our St Vincent DePaul Food Pantry, the local Habitat for Humanity, various shelters for the homeless as well as being a part of
our ministry with the people of St. James Parish in Haiti. And there are numerous others ways that people give their time to serve others. So, being a member of the parish means offering our time and energy for the life of our parish and beyond. Through this we come to understand that life is not about us, but about being a part of something that is bigger than us.
Being a member of the parish also involves taking ownership in the financial well being of the parish. In times past, we said that one of the precepts of the church was to contribute to the financial support of the parish. There is no getting around the fact that there is a financial cost to everything that we do. In simple terms, being a member of the parish is “putting our money where our mouth is.”
There are few issues that have more emotional energy around them than the issue of money. We like to think that my money is my own and I am the sole decider of where and with whom I will share it. And there is certainly some truth in that. We tend to share our money with and for the things that benefit us in some way. And again, there is some truth in this as well. But in a larger sense, all that we have is really a gift from God and we believe God shares it with us not just for our benefit, but for the good of others.
One of the great lines I heard was from someone who introduced himself as a “real Catholic—I get collection envelopes!” Being a member of a parish is sharing in our common reasonability of providing the money needed to do the work of our parish. We do that through our weekly collections, the annual Catholic Parish Campaign (which pays our part of our Diocesan expenses), buying and/or selling our yearly summer social raffle tickets and supporting the various special collections we have for the needs of people in the United States and throughout the world.
Jesus tells us that “where two or three of you are gathered in my name, I am there in your midst.” Another truth is that “where two are three of you are gathered together” there is surely to be a disagreement on what things we spend our money on and how much we spend on them! There is an understandable tendency to give to only those things I agree with. The bigger challenge is to embrace the idea that, while I many not totally agree with every decision our parish makes about money, I am a part of the parish and, as such, I am willing to do my part financially. Jesus tells us to be a cheerful giver. And there is a great deal of truth in this. Sometimes, however, the most we can settle for is the belief that God’s ways are bigger than me and even though I may disagree with a particular decision, I am willing to do put my financial gift at the service of others. And that’s a pretty good vision to embrace!
When all is said and done, being a member of our parish is really about being willing to walk the journey of faith with others—-we take some steps, we do our best and sometimes we fail at this, but then there are other people there on the journey with us who are willing to helps us up and begin again.