We Are St. Peter’s

What, exactly, is a parish in our Catholic church?  The Catechism (2179) defines it in a few ways:

  • It is “a stable community of the faithful within a particular church or diocese”.
  • It is “the place where all the faithful can be gathered together for the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist”.
  • It “teaches Christ’s saving doctrine”.
  • It “practices the charity of the Lord in good works and brotherly love”.

The Catechism then quotes St. John Chrysostom, saying:

“You cannot pray at home, as at church, where there is a great multitude, where exclamations are cried out to God as from one great heart, and where there is something more: the union of minds, the accord of souls, the bond of charity, the prayers of the priests.”

 A few months ago, I wrote about the importance of a parish being more than just the place you went to for an hour a week on Sundays.  Now, I’d like to make the argument for how a parish is so much more than just who its pastor is (or is not). I also want to point out, for those who may not be aware, that while I am also a staff member, my family and I have also been parishioners of St. Peter’s for over seven years.

My goal is not to denigrate or lessen the importance of any priest or pastor, but to help all of us to remember that WE are the parish of St. Peter’s; us, and all the parishioners that have come before us over the past 161 years. If there is any parish in this entire Archdiocese that can claim to be a “stable community of the faithful”, it is St. Peter’s. You can’t be much more stable than to be the oldest parish in the entire state.

2014 has been a trying year for our parish. We all are frustrated in a variety of ways for what has transpired the past nine months.  We are all frustrated because we want to have a new pastor appointed for our parish.  I did leave out a section of the Catechism’s definition of a parish: “the pastoral care of the parish is entrusted to a pastor as its own shepherd . . .” But it is important for us all to remember that this parish was here for over 160 years before any of this happened, and will continue to be here for long after this current situation has passed. Whoever the next pastor is, he will leave someday too.  And hopefully, most of us will still be here.

Even without a pastor, we are still able to “gather together for the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist”.  We have been blessed to have Fr. O’Brien and many other priests of the Archdiocese who have assisted us by saying masses, presiding over funerals and weddings, and otherwise helping to provide the sacraments to our parishioners during this time. The people of St. Peter’s have continued to gather and celebrate the Eucharist as a community of faith and as a parish family.  Our attendance figures for all three masses are not noticeably different than they were a year ago at this time. As a parish, we are still “teach(ing) Christ’s saving doctrine”.  Our religious education enrollment numbers are virtually the same as this time last year, and our youth group participation numbers are higher. We are still “practicing the charity of the Lord in good works and brotherly love”, as evidenced by Pastoral Ministry groups that continue to reach out to the home bound, the sick and elderly, and the poor. In short, we are still a parish. A parish that is vibrant and alive.

And that is what this weekend, as we celebrate our annual Fall Festival, is really about; celebrating ourselves as a parish. We celebrate our parish because we are, as St. John Chrysostom said, “one great heart”.  If you reread his quote at the beginning of the article, you’ll notice it doesn’t mention the Eucharist or the Mass. It mentions prayer, and “the union of minds, the accord of souls, the bond of charity”.  The Eucharist is the source and summit of our Catholic faith, but these other things are what make us a parish family. None of these things go away or dissipate because we don’t have a pastor. Our “one great heart” from which we cry out our exclamations to God is not lessened. We are still The Church of St. Peter.

I hope during Mass this weekend, you looked around you. Especially at the special 10:00am Mass on Sunday, I hope you were proud of the “great multitude” that gathered in the name of Jesus Christ. You are a part of something wonderful, and part of this “one great heart”.  You, and the rest of your parish family, have been a part of that even for the last nine months that we have been without a priest. And you will continue to be a part of it.

St. John Chrysostom said “you cannot pray at home as you can at church”.  I hope that is something we can all take to heart as we celebrate our parish and all its members. I hope that in the coming weeks and months, whether we have a new pastor or not, we can all take comfort in the “great multitudes” which constitute our parish family that we gather with each week. I hope that we can all continue to find new ways to be a part of that family, and explore what stewardship at St. Peter’s can mean. I hope that we can all continue to love, and be proud of, OUR parish.

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