Saturday, January 14, 2012

the parish

We're living in a foreign culture perhaps, but St. Thomas More parish is a culture within a culture. That's an awesome thing about the universality of the "catholic" Church. Rich and I have both come to truly love and appreciate this little parish community, this tiny culture of familiarity that has offered us so much stability in the great sea of the unfamiliar culture upon which we've embarked. I've belonged to many different parishes in my life, each with its unique strengths. Tonight I'd like to share some of the most beautiful things about the little parish in which (and at which) we currently live.

1. The parish library has been one of the most fruitful pieces of the whole New Zealand experience for me. I've never belonged to a church with an established library before, although our home parish in Pennsylvania was just organizing one as we left (hooray!). I have read my way through this vast collection of books with delight. The parish puts aside one thousand dollars annually for the thoughtful purchase new books, ensuring at all times a wide selection of trustworthy spiritual classics in clean, appealing bindings and contemporary Christian authors speaking right to the heart of today's culture. A knowledgeable parishioner collaborates with Fr. Michael to ensure that the money is spent on worthy volumes that will have wide appeal (and that well-intentioned donations of used books are weeded out if inappropriate). All parishioners are free to make suggestions and requests of the designated librarian. At our predecessor's suggestion, Rich and I arrived here with $500 worth of brand new Christian books written for teens, thereby establishing the youth branch of the parish library. Both collections are very well used, in no small part because Fr. Michael reminds the congregation regularly to read. He frequently insists from the pulpit that every Christian ought to have a spiritual book at home from which he is reading at least a few paragraphs nightly. "No one has any excuse, " he insists, "when we spend a thousand dollars every year making fresh titles available to you at all times." (And it's true that a brand new book - a bright, clean reprint - is so much more enticing than a tired, faded edition with a dated cover). These timely reminders to read have served me well when my bedside table is empty and I'm sure I'm in good company.

2. The feeling of community is so very strong in this little church. There are probably many contributing factors, but I'm sure that there is something to be said for the fact that there is one Mass on Sunday. Just one. Which means we all see each other every week. Plus, to leave the church, one must pass through the large foyer, which is packed full after Mass with parishioners sipping coffee and munching little treats. There is no possibility of a quick exit anyway, so we all stand around getting to know each other or catching up on each other's weeks. I like that when I look around that foyer, I recognize nearly every face. I like that new faces stick out so much and introductions are made and new friends are discovered. There is a true feeling of being one family in this parish and the only downside to that is that it's going to make it that much harder to leave in May.

3. Daily Adoration. Ah, how I have savored this luxury. Every morning the Eucharist is exposed for the hour prior to Mass. My heroic husband permanently volunteers to fill tiny tummies and brush tiny teeth so that I can slip next door into the church and fill myself with as much peace as I think I might need to survive the next fourteen hours of marriage, motherhood and ministry. There is truly no peace in the world so profound as that of being in the physical presence of the humble and silent Prince of Peace.

4. Fr. Michael's thematic preaching is next on my list. There are certain topics to which he turns his attention so regularly that one can almost predict if one of these areas are "due" to be discussed in a homily soon. Most of us do not find this redundant or tiresome - usually these are timely reminders that are completely befitting to the liturgical season or to genuine pastoral needs. Some of the subjects which Fr. Michael regularly spotlights include the importance of family prayer and of the Sacrament of Confession, also how to make time for daily prayer and Scripture, as well as please take a book out of the parish library - today. He often preaches about the need for priests and the need to turn off our TVs & computers. He gives practical instruction on meditation. Another major area upon which he sheds fantastic and frequent light - the importance of having an authentic personal relationship with Jesus Christ - (plus how to go about pursuing that most worthy goal)

5. Lastly (although there is much more), the parish has a really impressive range of ministries and ways to plug in. There are ministries tailored to every age group and interest one could imagine. I've tried to list them in age order, just to give a sense of how there is something for everyone. I'm sure I'm missing a few.
Mothers of Newborns
Playgroup for Toddlers & Mums
Children's Liturgy (ages 3 & up)
Tahu Youth Group (ages 12-14)
Lighthouse Youth Group (ages 15-18)
Girls Group/Boys Group (ages 15-18)
Frassati Young Adults
Prayer Group (a weekly charismatic gathering for adults of singing, teaching & prayer)
Mother's Prayer Circle (lifting up children & grandchildren)
St Vincent de Paul
Catholic Women's League
Alpha (10 week nondenominational crash course in basic Christianity)
Alpha Marriage (8 week marriage building course)
Monthly Pro-Life Prayer Vigil
Praise & Worship Band
plus regular speakers, parish missions, day trips for seniors & special events

Joseph's happy to be part of such a rich parish!

but trying to keep up with all that activity gets frazzling! 

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