It’s hard to believe that I have been your pastor here at Saint John Neumann Parish for over two years. And what a wonderful experience and a blessing these two years have been for me!
As I begin my third year, I thought this might be a good opportunity to look at our Parish as a whole and see where we are, and share some thoughts about where we are headed for the future. St. John Neumann is a great parish. The positive energy and, more importantly, your desire to live and express your faith in Christ Jesus, has really been an inspiration to me. I thank God everyday that I have been blessed with this life-giving assignment.
I can’t help but think to myself, though, that life has surely changed since I was a resident here in the late nineties and early 2000’s. This isn’t just about St. John Neumann in particular—-it’s about the Archdiocese and the Catholic Church in general. One thing I can’t help but notice is that there are not as many people in church as there was, say, 15 or 20 years ago. And the events of even just this past year have certainly created a more challenging circumstance for all of us.
I think the best way to describe things is this: “It’s no longer business as usual.” Now I’m not saying that we should jump into crisis mode. Our Parish is doing well in many areas. But, to be honest with you, I would like to see more people in the pews. So we have to ask ourselves this question: “What are we doing to get people back in church?” You see, this is not something I can do on my own. All of us, in whatever we are doing for the Parish have to be asking that very same question. The work of each of our ministries, and for you and for me, should be reflective of this as well. Pope Paul VI, in one of his encyclicals, had this to say (and this was 50 years ago): “We wish to confirm once more that the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church. Evangelizing is her deepest identity.” I think these words speak to our times more powerfully than ever before. Now is the time God is calling us to evangelize. It’s not enough to say “we’re here you can come if you want, if not…oh, well.” What’s needed is an invitation. More on that in a moment.
A couple of months ago I was working with Chris, one of my administrative assistants. We were looking up something in the Parish Marriage Register. Our search brought us to the listings for weddings for 2002. And here’s what I noticed: in 2002 there were 40 weddings here at St. John Neumann. Do you want to know how many weddings we had here this past year? Five. What does that tell you?
We are not a big parish. We have just under 1400 families—-over 4000 individuals. On any given weekend, at our six Masses, we see roughly about 1000 people. That percentage is actually better than the overall Archdiocesan percentage for Mass attendance. Again, please understand, this is an issue that every parish is facing, not just our Parish. Some parishes are facing much more difficult situations that what I’m describing here. Financially we are healthy, nevertheless, we can’t just presume that things are going to stay the same for us or for the Archdiocese. Could anyone have predicted what has taken place just over these past ten years!
The way I see it, we can’t just sit back and think, “It’s the world we live in. What can you do?” And we know that the people who do go to church go where they feel they are being nourished, and if they don’t feel nourished, they will go elsewhere, or stop going all together. Parish boundaries don’t have the significance that they used to have. And to be honest, anyone who wants to register here at SJN—-they are more than welcome! I encourage it.
I believe that it is up to us to find ways to encourage people to come back—-to be a part of the faith community of St. John Neumann. I must admit, there have been many positive experiences already where people tell me, “I want to register here at SJN. We are new to the area and we’ve visited a number of parishes, and this is the place that has made us feel the most welcome. You have a welcoming and embracing community here and we want to be a part of it.” Hearing things like that is “music to my ears”. And that’s because of you. So, what I’m trying to say is: You all play a big part in helping St. John Neumann Parish evangelize effectively.
So here’s what I’m asking: If you know of someone who is looking for something in their life, or seeking help in some way, tell that person that you have found Christ and you’ve found joy here at SJN, and perhaps you can encourage them to give us a try. The question for us then is: Once someone is willing to give us a try, what will that person experience when we get them here?
I want to assure you that I’m not looking to turn everything upside-down. There is so much that’s good already happening in our Parish. But I think we need to promote our Mission more confidently. Let’s heed Christ’s call to go and make disciples of “all nations”. Let’s be that Parish that people want to turn to because they hear of the powerful ministry that is taking place here; because they have heard that we are a community filled with joy for the faith and are welcoming to all who pass through our doors.
I need your help. I can’t do this by myself. The staff here needs your help. In the Gospel today Jesus calls us to be his disciple. The most important job of a disciple is to share the faith. Help me share the faith. Let’s bring people back to Christ.
So, again, I’m asking you to work with me to make sure that we are doing Christ’s work. This is our Parish, but, even more, it is Christ’s Parish. And what I’m describing is really God’s work, we are his instruments. God is the one who saves souls, we plant the seeds. But we want to make sure that we are not missing any opportunities the Lord provides for us to share in his work of saving souls and bringing people back to His Father. So, united and strengthened by the Eucharist, the source of our grace and strength, let’s actively bring people back—-let’s be disciples and evangelizers planting seeds and touching hearts.