PEP Newsletter

Ideas For Your Parish            __________________________________________________

                                                                                               January, 2022

The Church Must Be Political

            These are the words of Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv. of Lexington, KY, in an interview conducted by John Gehring in Commonweal Magazine (Nov. 8, 2021).  The bishop stated, “It seems to me that the bishops of the United States need to collectively accept and integrate the magisterium of Pope Francis and defend his role as the universal shepherd from those who publicly work against him. . . . If the pope is commissioned to promote the unity of the Church, those who resist his teachings and insult his person are sowing division. . . . Bishops should correct the distortions about papal teaching and his pastoral priorities and try to explain how the universal perspective of the pope will not always be in sync with the priorities of the United States.”

The Example of St. Francis of Assisi

            Bishop Stowe was asked by the interviewer, “What do you think St. Francis would tell bishops if he could show up as a speaker at a national meeting?”  His response was, “I am not sure that those bishops who fail to understand Pope Francis would be able to capture what St. Francis was really saying.  He would tell us to love each other as brothers.  He would tell us to share the Gospel joyfully.  He would encourage us to get out in the streets and live among the poor.  He would tell us to celebrate the marvels of creation and teach everyone to appreciate it.  He would sound an awful lot like his namesake on the Chair of Peter.”

Implications For the Parish

            Bishop Stowe challenged his confreres to work with the pope as he responds to the mandates of the Gospels.  The leadership of a Catholic parish–pastor, staff and lay leaders–have the same duty no matter what it may cost them.  First comes an underlying thirst for Unity, one that allows for differences of opinion and outlook, but never a breakdown into factions.  A strong effort is afoot to encourage people once isolated by Covid to return to communal worship and parish functions.  One activity, offered perhaps regularly, might be to gather in small groups of people invited at random.  With guidance from a moderator, along with a few ground rules and some leading questions, have a frank interchange of personal thoughts and feelings that are devoid of any judgment or posturing.  It is okay to agree to disagree but never a sense of putting oneself above another.

            One path toward greater unity is to agree on the essential aspects of the parish’s Identity.  The staff and leaders might identify a few words that best describe the role and function of the parish.  Examples include Welcoming, Worshiping, Celebrating, Growing, Serving.  Once settled upon, they would then be proclaimed throughout the parish.  The key words could be introduced at the weekend Masses, asking people to share with one another what was implied by the words and in what ways they described the parish both now and in the future.

            Two other actions were mentioned by Bishop Stowe as close to the heart of St. Francis of Assisi.  One was to encourage parishioners to leave their comfort zones and make personal contact with those who were less fortunate than themselves.  The second was inviting parishioners to treasure creation and work towards its survival.  This is a major step for many parishioners, one they are unlikely to take on their own.  They need something that they can easily join, a activity where they find companionship through working with others, and where they feel they are accomplishing something worthwhile.  One way of achieving this is by planning regular Service activities throughout the year.  Special days could be occasions for work groups to fan out to clean up and beautify the surrounding area.  On another day people would visit churches and participate in liturgies, socials and discussion groups, even forming friendships with those unlike themselves.  St. Francis, as well as the pope, would be proud of such a parish.