Sunday, September 4, 2011

Positive Experiences of Church

The youngest and oldest and a few in between
"A sense of Belonging" was the first response to the question "What factors lead to a positive experience of Church.  Thursday, September 1, seventeen Catholics gathered for the second time to continue planning for the formation of a new Church here in Union and North Grainger County.  The focus of our prayer and discussion was about what helps us encounter Jesus Christ in Church.  Four themes emerged through this sharing.

First, was the "sense of belonging".  Jesus traveled with twelve disciples and several women who supported him financially.  The early church gathered and "had everything in common." (Acts 4:32) The joy of the Catholic Church is that all are welcome and any one who desires can belong.  The challenge as human beings with our limitations is that we may have some prejudices, likes and dislikes that might keep some from feeling that this particular Catholic Church, this unique worshipping community of believers, really has room for everyone to belong.  Yet, with this desire stated publicly, all of us gathered are committed to create this space. 

The second theme is closely related to the first -- A church that is open to others, to the world, and to everything.  Jesus shares a parable in Luke's Gospel which concludes, "Go out to the highways and hedgerows and make people come in that my home may be filled." (See Luke 14:15-24)  The challenge for the church to be open to everyone and everything that is good is easier in theory than reality.  Our world tends to label and separate people.  This local church most likely will include people with many forms of spirituality, some which may be difficult for others to understand.  People of different races and different classes may attend.  At the very least Republicans and Democrats will be under the same roof.  If we are to be open to everyone, we will need to put aside the way of the world which tends to judge and separate others. Instead we need to embrace the vision of God whose love and compassion embraces all His children.  Only the Holy Spirit alive in each member will aid us to overcome our human inclinations and be a reflection of God's kingdom.

Enjoying Br. Craig's apple crisp
The next two themes deal with the experience of worship.  These are good music and good sermons. In small communities "good music" is a matter of judgement.  This new community does have a piano player and that is a wonderful start.  The community did agree it is more important that we all sing and sing with joy than have a choir that is beautiful and talented, but does not encourage all of us to sing.  One of our saints, once said, "Singing is praying twice".  Church is one place where we can sing regardless of talent, because we sing to praise Jesus with our heart and soul.

Good sermons, however, become my responsibility.  The only promise concerning sermons I could make to the community was to be well prepared.  This means to be rooted in prayer and work everyday in preparation for the Sunday homily.  In the sharing about "good sermons" two points seem to register with folks.  The first was "we do not need homilies about hell."  A possible re-interpretation of this remark might be, "We know about hell, please help us get to heaven."  In general Jesus' stories, teachings and parables tend to be uplifting and hopeful.  His strongest and sternest comments are aimed at the Pharisees and Sadducee's, that is, the religious elite of his time.  The other point, was for the homily to offer some historical and theological context and NOT to go around and around, repeating the same thing over and over.  I am humbled by this challenge.  It reminds me of the importance of the homily in the spiritual life of the people.  Like John the Baptist, it will be important that I might decrease so Jesus might increase.  Again, it is only the Holy Spirit that can guide me to offer a sound homily based on the Scriptures. Furthermore, it is only the Holy Spirit that can open the heart and souls of the listeners to receive what God wishes them to hear.
Mother and daughter have been praying for years for a Church in Union County

Therefore, as we continue to take steps closer one at time, the hopes are becoming clearer.  This Wednesday will be our BYOC Mass, that is Bring Your Own Chair.  Check back with this blog to see how that goes.

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