On Saturday January 24, after the 5:00 Vigil Mass, in the school cafeteria, we will be presenting the details of a 10-year “Master Plan” for St. Monica. Although such a plan contains items like buildings and finances, there is a spiritual and pastoral context that must surround the vision. This context includes critical components – such as the ones listed below – that are seen in growing, vibrant and amazing parishes.
PRAYER is the first, the simplest, the shortest, the most important but often the most overlooked way to a deeper personal spirituality and a relationship with Jesus Christ. Every parish is a place of prayer (“Duh!”) At Mass, Adoration, Bible Study and a host of other activities, prayer is central. However, when it comes to running our parishes, we all too often forget that prayer must be central, and that God wants us to turn to Him, every day, with intentionality and regularity.
God is in charge and wants us to acknowledge His hand in what we’re doing. This seems so obvious, and yet, in the course of the details and procedures involved in running a parish day in and day out, it is often forgotten ignored or minimized. We must organize regular and intentional prayer efforts around the guidance and success of our parish, generally and specifically around individual programs and initiatives. It also means we must believe that God hears us, and wants to answer our prayers according to His will.
And speaking of prayer….this year, the Adult Faith Formation Committee developed a prayer-focused, multilayered plan to educate and spiritually enrich the parishioners on discovering and living God’s call. This included:
- (September) Introducing a program of weekly, parish-based prayer intentions announced at the beginning of Sunday Mass and published in the bulletin. Parishioners were asked to include the Parish Prayer Intention in their own personal prayers in the week that followed.
- (December) Installation of a prayer intention book at the back of the Church where parishioners can write their personal petitions in it. This “Book of Intentions” would be included in the Offertory Procession and placed in the Sanctuary area during Mass.
- (Christmas) 700 copies of Our Deepest Longing by Fr. Ronald Rohlheiser were distributed after all of the Christmas Masses.
- (FEBRUARY 21) A “Prayer Panel” investigating three schools of prayer: Augustinian, Thomas Merton and Ignatian featuring three panelists:
- Alan Fitzgerald, Director of the Augustinian Institute at Villanova University
- Virginia Ratigan, Professor Emerita at Rosemont College in Religious Studies
- Jillian Buhl, Board Member for Catholic women’s ministry, Walking with Purpose in charge of building an international prayer team.
- St. Monica Pastor, Fr. Charles Zlock will lead a discussion of the Rohlheiser book.
VISION AND LEADERSHIP – No two parishes are the same. Along with other parishes in the area, the Parish of St. Monica engages in many of the same activities around faith formation, the Sacraments and a host of other spiritual events. Nevertheless, St. Monica is also unique and has different needs and faces special challenges. As the Pastor, it is my job, and that of a LEADERSHIP team, to establish a VISION for the parish so that it can best listen to the Lord, discern the unique “charisms” given by God specifically to St. Monica, determine how these charisms point out to our parish our particular and unique “mission” in the immediate future, and lay out a road map to address the specifics of this “Call.”
See the video on “A Real Leadership Team” with Patrick Lencioni here.
If people don’t have an AWESOME SUNDAY EXPERIENCE when they come to a parish on weekends, they aren’t going to see that parish as a credible source for other activities and services in their lives. But the Sunday experience is much more than just the Mass – though that is, indeed, the heart of the experience. It begins before parishioners even leave their homes, and continues after they’ve returned.
“Lost” or “unchurched” people are going to decide – based on just one visit to St. Monica – whether they are going to come back to our parish again. People in the pews, who are “seekers” may visit us once or several times, but an excellent Sunday experience will enable them to feel the Lord’s touch and the Lord’s call and return with regularity. Based on their Sunday experience, other “passive-people-in-the-pews” will decide whether or not to engage more deeply as “Disciples” in a ministry.
The Eucharist is THE CENTER of the Catholic worship experience, but other factors play a hugh part as well, namely Music – Message – Ministers. This year, St. Monica will evaluate, develop and publish a comprehensive “Liturgy Vision” to enhance the Sunday Experience. Components will include:
- Full, conscious congregational participation in song, word and action.
- A catechetically trained and sophisticated congregation who can clearly and cogently enunciate the purpose of sacred music and hymnody in the liturgy.
- Properly trained cantors, psalmists, Ministers of Communion, Lectors, Altar Servers whose dedication, actions and ministry enhance the liturgy.
- A “spiritual program” for all liturgical ministers to enhance their relationship with Jesus Christ and engagement with the Divine Liturgy.
- Growth of the adult choir.
- Establishment and growth of an understanding of liturgical music on the part of our youth as well as the importance of their participation in it.
- The emphasis and integration of “beauty” within all aspects of the liturgy.
FORMATION – It is one of the primary jobs of a parish to “form” parishioners, to teach them to know Christ personally, and to know the Bible and their Catholic faith more deeply. This will overflow into their day-to-day activities making their lives more meaningful, compelling, vibrant and thriving. “Formation” is much more than “religious education” and catechesis. This isn’t “just for the kids” either. This is about being – and becoming – an adult member of our worship community. It is a critical aspect of the future of St. Monica (… and frankly, it’s in “a crisis”). For the past several generations, parents have “franchised” religious education onto the parish. The feeling was “I’m really busy. I’ll get my children to Catholic School or Religious Education. They’ll receive their Sacraments. That proves that I’m a ‘good Catholic parent.'” Parents: You are the PRIMARY spiritual guides, catechists and formators of your children, not the parish. But you cannot give what you do not have! You need to be fed – first.
Formation is essential to the fulfillment of the Great Commission, a necessary step before people can be sent to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) in Easttown, Devon, Berwyn, Tredyffrin, Chester County, Philadelphia, the rest of the world.
SMALL GROUP DISCIPLESHIP – Since the earliest days of the Church, most of the ministry that occurs takes place in small groups of disciples where people come to know and love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. A pastor and his staff of volunteers cannot possibly provide the majority of outreach and fellowship that parishioners need – nor should they. To do so would deprive parishioners of the opportunity to be disciples for one another. A parish does have the responsibility, however, for helping small groups of disciples form and grow. St. Monica currently offers several opportunities to experience Small Group Discipleship with several of our men meeting Saturday mornings to discuss the upcoming Sunday Gospel (7:00 AM @ Starbucks in Gateway Shopping Center), the women’s “Walking With Purpose” (Thursday evenings at 6:30 PM in the School Cafeteria) as well as the Legion of Mary who meet in the rectory (Friday after Daily Mass).
PASTORAL OUTREACH AND MISSIONARY ZEAL – Pope Francis has called individual parishes to become neighborhood “Field Hospitals.” St. Monica cannot simply be a place where people come on the weekend or during the week to “get fed” and receive “spiritual goodies.” That’s not a parish – that’s a store. We’re not a store. You cannot simply be spiritual consumers.
An amazing parish has a constant outflow of disciples who go into the world to serve and love their brothers and sisters, and teach them about Christ and His Church. A parish must help its people do this by teaching them how, and by giving them opportunities for service and sharing the Gospel. For example:
- Over Christmas, parishioners collected clothes and other essentials for local residents in Easttown and Tredyffrin townships. That supports a local need in our Parish.
- On an ongoing basis, parishioners donate substantial volumes of food to Saint Gabriel’s Food Cupboard in Philadelphia. That serves our neighbors in the wider region.
- This Lent, parishioners will participate in a “Helping Hands” event by packing 30,000 meals to support famine relief efforts in West Africa. We show the world what it means to be Catholic by tangible and bold acts of mercy.
The Holy Name Society (HNS) and the Woman’s Society are on the front lines of service projects such as these and community building events inside and outside of the parish. Besides providing man- (and woman) power for the Helping Hands Event and many other projects, HNS is hosting the annual Trivia Night coming up in March that brings 400+ parishioners together for a wonderful evening of fun and fellowship. HNS leads our community to Christ through spiritual reflection, service, and fellowship.
The video presentations mentioned above, which describe what leading Catholics are saying about the spiritual and pastoral aspects of being an amazing, vibrant and growing parishes, can be found below:
- “Prayer” with Curtis Martin
- “A Real Leadership Team” with Patrick Lencioni
- “What Exactly is a Vision?” by Chris Stefanick
- “An Awesome Sunday Experience” by Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran
- “Pastoral Outreach and Missionary Zeal” with Matthew Kelly
- “Compelling Formation” by Jeff Cavins
- “Small Group Discipleship” by Lisa Brenninkmeyer