Padre Paul’s Ponderings: So Much to Celebrate and Be Thankful For

Well after a year of planning and hard work from Bridget Samson and the Harvest Festival Committee and many volunteers, our big weekend has arrived to celebrate 150 years as a parish.

Apparently Coach Mike Zimmer has a crystal ball that was given to him by an area psychic in his office. I’m not sure if it actually works though. I do not have a crystal ball, though I do have a Magic 8 ball somewhere in my parents basement. Needless to say I can’t tell at the time of this writing how the festival went, but I feel pretty confident that it will have gone amazingly well. And that’s because of the hard work of so many to make it a success. While it raises funds for the parish, more importantly it gives us a chance as a parish to come together and celebrate as a family.

I’ve been a part of the parish for just over 3 years now, and as I’ve shared in this space before, I could not be happier to be a part of Saint Joseph’s. As for what I personally find so uplifting here? It’s a long list, but here’s just a few:

1. The staff. I’m blessed to work with a great team who cares so much about the parish. They’ll put in a lot of hours. They never complain. They think of new ideas to help the parish forward. And I see us working so well as a team together. Admittedly in some parishes you can see animosity or unhealthy competition and poor communication. That’s certainly not the case here. We support one another and ultimately put the needs of our parish first.

2. Communication. One of the problems in some parishes can be a lack of communication. For instance, anytime a priest has someone come to his office and say “a lot of people are saying…” it usually is translated “I really feel strongly about this but it sounds better if I imply a lot of people agree with me.” Other times you hear about things “through the grapevine” but never directly. Here at Saint Joe’s, one of the strengths is the commission structure and our weekly staff meetings. Through commissions, parishioners are able to suggest ideas and they can be discussed. I also get great feedback and input from our trustees, parish council, and parish director. People are also willing to speak their minds, and talk to you, rather than about you. As such, we’re able to know what others are thinking and talk about our ideas through the use of a consensus model.

3. All Hands On Deck. As I’ve shared in homilies, people are incredibly giving of their time and talent at Saint Joe’s. Just look around the Harvest Festival this weekend. There’s bingo callers, ushers, servers, a clean-up crew, people running the games, and staff as well. Sometimes parishes it’s so difficult to find people to help, because everyone is busy and has no time for things other than Mass. At Saint Joe’s, people consistently step up to the plate.

4. Vibrant Liturgies. The Church has a rulebook of sorts for Mass – it’s called the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. Sometimes though in parishes, things get added into Mass that really should not be there. Or other times things get skipped, so the Mass becomes a bit too unique. It’s a joy to work with Bill Bradley who directs worship here and leads music. I love the music at Mass, and liturgies flow well. We have dedicated Eucharistic Ministers, Lectors and Altar Servers who come together to make Mass a truly uplifting experience that helps bring people closer to God each week.

5. Lack of “Tribalism.” An ongoing problem in parishes can be “tribalism.” It takes many forms. In years past, it was common for people of different ethnicities to go to certain parishes. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, what it sometimes led to was animosity between parishes, or the message “you’re not welcome here because ‘your people’ go to the parish a few blocks down the street.” Other times parishes become splintered between the “liberals” and “conservatives” or the “school people” and “non school” people. Here, there is a real sense of putting the “we” before the “me.”

6. A willingness to give. One of the things I least enjoy as a priest is talking about money. I am fully aware people are stretched thin – mortgages, car payments, school and sports expenses, utility bills, etc. And I’m also aware that people have given a lot to their parish here – we’ve gone from a deficit of $16 million to $4.7 million in just 15 years. And there have been several capital campaigns, including a new one just beginning. But you know what I do not get here? Emails and letters that are complaining that “all you do is talk about money” or “I’m so sick of giving” or “why don’t you close the school, or reduce the staff, because I don’t have kids in the school and it costs us money.” In 3 years, I can’t recall a single complaint about giving, and I think that’s because people understand this is their parish. It was built 150 years ago by immigrants who were often struggling financially themselves, because they wanted a place to grow in their faith. And my sense is people take ownership of their parish because they love being here and it helps them grow closer to God.

7. Support. Finally, I’d like to also thank the people of the parish for the support I get personally as a priest. It’s hard sometimes to be a priest, particularly a pastor because you are a public person. And with such partisanship these days, this spills over into the Church. People can sometimes be critical of how you say Mass, how you preach, etc. And while at times it’s an honest, friendly suggestion, others will judge you for how “orthodox” they perceive you, or how liberal or conservative they perceive you, and can be genuinely mean. Others take a decision that occurs in a parish personally, and take it out on the pastor, and other times gossip can be a problem. After 3 years, I can truly say that I feel welcomed here as part of a family. People are supportive of one another, including the parish priest. I’m well aware everyone has different traits they like or don’t like in priests or in a parish, and some will like my style, others not so much, but overall I don’t feel the need to pretend to be someone I’m not – I’m accepted as I am, and people are also accepting of the fact that I am a human being, meaning I make mistakes and learn from them too. It’s a very comforting feeling knowing you can “be yourself” and are accepted as you are.

Our parish celebrates 150 years this week with a wonderful festival. But I have to say I have a lot to celebrate too, namely being part of a great parish surrounded by great people. And because of that while our past was great, I’m confident our future will be even better.

Have a blessed week!

Fr. Paul