Despite the way my office usually looks, I’m something of a perfectionist. It’s not that I always see the glass half-empty, just that I think about what might make the glass and whatever else is in it a littler bit better. I know that it drives some of my friends nuts, but when I sit in the pew on Sunday morning I’m not judging how bad things are (actually my parish is really good, otherwise I wouldn’t be there); rather, I’m imagining – imagining what more it could be.
Many days throughout the year I spend in different parishes around the country giving what’s called a Parish Mission. And often I challenge the hard working faithful on the last evening with the same commission I am challenged with by those who love me.
What would your parish look like if being a parishioner at Saint So-And-So's actually meant something, really meant something, so that your friends and neighbors who know nothing of the faith know that what it means to be a member of your parish is to be a Christian who takes his faith life very seriously? What would it be like if every one of us really treated the patron saint of our parish as our own special model and guide, if we prayed for their intercession before any major parish activity, and if we strove to imitate their strongest virtues and taught our children to do the same. What would your parish look like if everyone in your parish was so proud to be a part of it that they would beg as many of their friends and family as they possibly could to give it a try, even for just one week.
Imagine the ushers after Sunday Mass not just simply smiling while handing you the bulletin to place in the backseat of your car, but calling you by name and asking how your week was. Imagine a Mass where everyone sings, whatever the style and however good – or bad – the organist or other musicians are. Imagine a homily so good that you find yourself still talking about it Wednesday evening. Imagine your parishes intentions being intentional, and your concern for your neighbor so real that you find yourself praying for them and their intentions at your family dinners. Imagine a church where at communion time everyone approached slowly and reverently, and received the Eucharist as though it were the most important thing they did all week. Imagine if every time a baby cried your first instinct and that of those around you was to give thanks to God for the gift of the baby, and not to wonder why the parents haven’t taken her out yet. Imagine a church full fifteen minutes before Mass prayerfully preparing for the true presence of Jesus to enter into their souls, and where people stay five minutes after to give thanks to God for the Gift they have received.
What would your parish look like if every day were like a Sunday? What if daily Mass were more than a few people and the schoolchildren showing up once a week? Can you imagine showing up on Saturday to help with a car wash or parish clean up and seeing as many people in line for confession as the penance services during Advent or Lent? What would it be like if your parish were known as the premier place in your city for social outreach, feeding the poor, helping those pregnant and in crisis, assisting immigrants, and helping people save their houses? What would it be like if your parish were like so many Protestant churches: everyone belongs to a Bible study as well as taking part in some special ministry of prayer? What if every parishioner who was able to drive volunteered to take communion to some elderly or homebound person, reminding them that they are loved and not forgotten about by the parish? What if you felt so confident in the prayer lives of your fellow parishioners that you genuinely felt comfortable asking them to pray for your specific struggles or concerns, and in addition, took their prayer requests as seriously as anything else you are asked to do all week?
What if instead of passing by your priest after Mass with a handshake and smile, you asked him what specific parish needs you can fulfill that week? What if you started to treat your priest as though he really was the spiritual father of your parish and of your family; if you invited him out to eat, had him bless you and your kids before he left the house, and went to him first when you have some serious personal problem? What if you know the deacon not only from sometimes seeing him on the golf course, but even more from seeing him at the soup kitchen or working with St. Vincent de Paul? What would your parish look like if the priests, deacons, religious, and lay ministers were all so impressive that every parent encouraged their kids to consider a religious vocation instead of trying to steer them away from it because of money? What would your parish look like if it were really beginning to make you into a saint? What would you begin to look like? How would it change your marriage? How would it change your kids?
So when I sit in the pew before Mass with a look on my face that might be hard to read, I’m imagining things being different, being even better than they are now. But it’s not because I’m disappointed in your parish or my parish or any other. It’s because every time I gather with God’s people for Holy Mass I see the true potential within me and within you. Why? Because God’s there, and this is what God longs to do with us. St. Irenaeus says that “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Just imagine: What would your parish look like if every man, woman, and child, every family, every couple, every single, every priest, every religious, every layperson, everyone on the books at your parish were made just a little more alive each day, each week, each year? I’ll tell you what your parish would look like...it would change the world.
Jon Leonetti is a Catholic radio host and speaker, providing keynote presentations and parish missions in churches, schools and conferences across the country. You can find more information on Jon at his website: www.jdleonetti.com