Like many pastors, I have become a fan of Rebuilt, a chronicle of how a Catholic faith community in Maryland went from a state of dying to being fully alive again. The story of survival and revival gets told by the pastor, Father Michael White, and pastoral associate, Tom Corcoran. The condition in which they found their parish, Nativity, in the Baltimore suburb of Timonium, many years ago, seems eerily similar to the way I found my new community of Saint Charles, in the Kansas City suburb of Oakview, only months ago.
One of the major themes that White and Corcoran preach and promote is that parishioners need to be disciples, not consumers, if their parish is to be faithful to the Gospel and successful to its purpose in our modern world. Our society embraces a consumer mentality and American parishioners operate from that mindset, expecting products or services in exchange for payment or entitlement for membership. Some want sacraments merely because they are members but are not interested in faith formation or spiritual growth; some expect a seat at holiday events or a meal at social gatherings but are not interested in offering their time or using their talents for the good of the mission; some serve as critics and analysts for the state of the parish but are not willing to lend a hand to make situations better. Disciples, on the other hand, are not here to be served; they know their role is to imitate Jesus, who came to serve. Disciples are those that follow the ways of The Lord; disciples are eager to learn and attain self-betterment. Intentional disciples actively engage in the world; they evangelize through their acts; they understand Pope Francis’ “culture of encounter” that calls us to be immersed in our surroundings; and they find ways to bring Christ into many situation.
In the Scriptures of our ancestors in faith, in Nehemiah, we are told about the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile, how all members of the community—men, women and children—pitched in to rebuild the temple. It is a prototype for “rebuilt.” In the thirteenth century, Francis of Assisi was commanded by Jesus, in a vision, to rebuild His church. The mystic saint began with hammer and nails to repair a dilapidated structure but soon realized that The Lord meant more than a physical rebuilding: he realized that tied to structural repairs was spiritual revitalization and a host of reforms. It is an archetype for “rebuilt.” Just a few years ago, our new pope chose the name Francis because he realized that the church is in a similar situation today, as his brother cardinals saw the need for rebuilding internal structures and redirecting the church according to how Jesus directed His disciples long ago. It is a precedent for “rebuilt.” And as Jesus commissioned them to reach out to the lost and marginalized, White and Corcoran commission parishioners to reach out to “Timonium Tim,” the typical neighbor who would benefit from Nativity Parish. It is a model for “rebuilt.”
Saint Charles, built on a site that straddles two suburban jurisdictions (the altar is in Gladstone while the nave in Oakview) similarly needs to be a community of disciples that reaches out to Gladstone Gladys and Oakview Ollie; we need to repair and rebuild as has been done throughout salvation history and is commissioned in our own time. Some of my fellow parishioners have read, even studied, the writings of White and Corcoran. I am anxious to continue to work with them as they continue to rebuild Saint Charles Borromeo Parish.
~Fr. Don Farnan