We are now deep into the new school year. It is especially interesting to see the increased stress levels of students, especially seniors in high school and college as they try to figure out what the “next step” is. This has implications to St. Monica as well.
For the past year-and-a-half, I have had a group of about 15 men and women “prayer warriors” interceding for me and the parish – intentionally – every single day – so that I and others might discern God’s “next step” for the parish. During that same time frame, I have monthly met with another group of about 24 parishioners (young, old, new arrivals and seasoned parish veterans, men and women, married and single) to help me concretely discern what that parish “call” might look like. We have crafted our conversations around two questions:
- What does Jesus Christ want the Parish of St. Monica to look like in 5 years and …
- If the Parish of St. Monica closed tomorrow – beside parishioners – would anybody miss us?
In all honesty, three years ago I would have answered, “I have no idea” and “no.” I believe that has changed over the past few years. Now, women from St. Monica as well as other parishes who participate in Walking With Purpose would miss us. People whom we have fed in the African country of Burkina Faso would miss us. Lately, people in Kensington to whom the women from Walking With Purpose are reaching out would miss us. Men, women and children in Bristol associated with the Legacy of Life women’s shelter would miss us. Families associated with our “All Abilities” mission would miss us.
Hence, “discernment” is probably one of the most important activities we should be undertaking at St. Monica. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be discussing the idea of discernment, mission and call and how I feel Jesus Christ has provided us with concrete answers to the two questions above.
I was reading a publication from the Villanova University Institute for Teaching and Learning entitled Teaching With Augustine: A Vital Conversation. Much of what I’ll be writing about comes from that Fall of 2016 issue.
Let’s start with the first question posed in the publication: What Is Your Mission?
“Why are you here?” First year students get asked the question during Orientation at Villanova University. What do they answer? Sizable numbers say that they come “to get a degree” or “become financially well off.” That certainly would go towards answering about the WHY of being at a particular university. The same could apply to answering the “why” about being at a particular high school, sports club, corporation, seminary or church.
But that isn’t the same as knowing WHAT a student plans to do while at university. Freshmen plan to “maintain a B average”and to “get involved” among other things. What about the rest of us? What motivates faculty, staff and administrators to be at Villanova or any other college/university? Some are attracted to an emphasis on the Liberal Arts and on undergraduate education. In the case of Villanova or St. Joseph some are interested in their religious affiliation. Some simply like the location, size and beauty of the campus.
Along those lines, WHY is there a St. Monica? According to Catholic Canon (church) Law, Canon 515 §1- “A parish is a certain community of the Christian faithful, stably constituted in a particular church, whose pastoral care is entrusted to a pastor (parochus) as its proper pastor (pastor) under the authority of the diocesan bishop.” Ok, that certainly answers the “what” about St. Monica, but does it clearly tell us “why” we’re here?
Let’s get deeper into that question next week.