We’ve all been there. Maybe it was at a midnight study session with your college roommate during finals, or during a beer with your best friend from high school. Perhaps it was during a spiritual retreat, where you had a chance heart-to-heart encounter with another attendee, or on a first date with someone you barely knew. That soul-bearing, total understanding, “heart filled with joy because someone gets me” kind of conversation.
It’s through our most intimate conversations where we tend to discover our deepest connections in life. Those chance dialogues with friends, co-workers, or even strangers that make you feel connected to someone and to something. You feel a bit of joy in your heart because there is someone out there who understands what you’re going through (maybe has even been there!) and believes in you. Who sees you as just a little bit remarkable and your journey as just a little bit special — it’s the way that Christ sees us.
So, think back a bit — has your church been able to lead parishioners to that kind of conversation yet with Christ? We say the Catholic Church is here for people, but how many of our parishioners truly feel at home in the parish? Is it evident that our parishioners’ Sundays are looked to with joy, or is it out of obligation that they come? No matter where your parishioners are on their faith journey, there are many ways to open the doors to Christ wide open for your faith community to joyfully enter through. Read on for some thought-provoking ways to light that essential spark.
Sunday Is the “Grand Finale”
A radical idea that has been floating around lately is the idea of making Sunday the “grand finale” for our parishes. Allow Sundays to be as accessible as ever for parish members and the community at large, by having key parish staff take turns being there a few hours before and after Mass. How amazing would it be if, for example, Father preached about the importance of communication between a husband and wife, and then directed everyone to the back of the church to meet with the pastoral associate if they would like to make an appointment, or to sign up for the monthly presentation and food event for married couples.
Or perhaps the topic this weekend is impulse control, such as creating a budget, paying off debt, saving, and giving generously. The parish finance chair gives a talk after Mass, and then personally introduces himself or herself over donuts and coffee directly after.
The best time to make a connection with people is to meet them where they are. Put two and two together by joining homily themes and the resources or experts who go along with them. Have staff business cards and resource material at the ready to give out.
Abundant, Mighty Grace through Adoration
Are our parish doors open during the week for people to stop in and spend some time with Christ in Eucharistic Adoration, or are the doors locked tight during office hours? In order to foster the spiritual and corporal needs of our faith community, we need to make our parishes as accessible as ever, so that people are truly in the presence of God to have that heart-to-heart. We need to have our priests available to administer the Sacrament of Reconciliation on a more constant basis, and for ministers to be close by for struggling souls in need of prayer and guidance.
One such devotion that parishes implement is that of Eucharistic Adoration, where we “watch and wait,” remain silent in his presence, and open ourselves to his graces. By keeping the parish accessible and the true presence of Christ available throughout the day, spiritual benefits abound, such as an increase in Mass attendance and reception of the sacraments; a return of fallen-away Catholics and an increase in the number of conversions; an increase in religious and priestly vocations; and a renewal of Catholic family life, among many others.
Work with the pastor, parish council, and lay volunteers to start laying the groundwork for more opportunities for Eucharistic Adoration during a time when people can come for even a few minutes, such as after work or during the lunch hour. Be sure to advertise the initiative within your bulletin, through your website and social media, and of course, on the parish sign outside. You’d be surprised how often people decide to take advantage of just a few minutes with Christ because of a split-second decision.
Mass: The Source and Summit of Our Faith
A lot of times for parish staff, Mass becomes just a thing we do, as opposed to what it really is, which is THE thing we do. In so many ways, all the actions that take place within a course of a week and all the decisions we make, lead us to Jesus, who is truly present in the Mass. The Mass — the source and summit of our faith — should be the highlight of the week for all who come to church.
The music should be lively and speak to the soul. The homily needs to be authentic and inspiring, with tangible ways offered to live out our faith in our secular world. The people who come through our doors are hurt and confused, needing kindness and compassion — are we equipped through Christ to handle their care?
As a staff, we need to come to a consensus on who is responsible for them. Do we look to the pastor to guide parishioners? To the ushers to give the first message of welcome? To the pastoral associate who has been trained in compassionate listening? The short answer is that everyone is responsible. And in order to make sure we are all trained properly, we need to invest in resources in which to accomplish this, from coaching and consulting our parish staff in evangelization and hospitality, to nurturing our own spirituality before we try to pass it on to others.