In this video, the kids were playing a game of roll-the-ball. Surprisingly, Patrick seemed to understand this game better than Eva, who kept jumping in and cutting off her little bro's turn.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Jeff and I are not the church-shopping types. This once Protestant phenomenon (fueled largely in the U.S. by religious voluntarism) has recently become frequent among Catholics as well. But when our family moved to Jersey, we did not look around for a good church; we just went to the neighborhood Catholic parish. After our vibrant church in Dayton, Ohio where we were good friends with Fr. Satish, it was a bit of a different environment, and it took some time to adjust.
Then last summer our parish got a new pastor, and it has inspired me recently to think about what a pastor can do to revive a languishing parish.
1. Smile. Be nice. You'd think this point would be obvious, but sometimes we Catholics get a little caught up in the "liberal-conservative" dichotomy, thinking that a pastor's theological viewpoint is what gets people in the pews. Actually, most of all, people want a pastor that is nice and seems happy to see them - not annoyed, disappointed or cynical. Even at times when our pastor could have justly been upset by something, he has remained calm, peaceful, and polite. No one likes to hear a cellphone ringing during Mass. But once I heard someone apologize to our priest for it, and he just smiled and said not to worry - no reprimand whatsoever. That's a good response because people who get chastised by their parish priest for something like that don't really want to see him again anytime soon. Of course, this doesn't mean there's no time or place for a pastor to be critical, but being charitable and reaching out is really the first step.
2. Prioritize Mass, the Sacraments, and other prayer opportunities. The best words of welcome a priest can utter are "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." The priest's liturgical function is of the utmost importance, not just out of the necessity for a presider (which it is), but also because the priest models prayer when he leads the congregation in the Mass. A priest who is truly praying the Mass inspires the people in the pews to do the same. Also, the sacraments need to be easily available to people. In my parish in California, I saw the effects of stringent catechetical-educational requirements for parents who wanted their children baptized. Despite that pastor's good intentions, the result was that parents crossed the border and had their kids baptized in Mexico instead. Likewise, parishioners won't come to confession during confession time if the priest is not in the confessional. Add confession times (our pastor added it every day before daily Mass), stay in the confessional, preach on confession, and people will come.This applies to other liturgical services as well - no one will attend stations of the cross if there aren't any.
3. Care about the dead. Everyone in the pews now will some day be dead. And until then, many will lose loved ones and miss them terribly. And of course, the dead are still part of the mystical body. So there are some good reasons for a priest to pray for the dead, mention the dead, ask others to pray for the dead, and go out of his way to help family mourn the passing of a loved one.
4. Make the parish a place of social gatherings. "If you can't bring them in the front door, bring them in the back door," I've heard is one philosophy of our current pastor. Our parish went from having basically no social events to having at least one (sometimes more) each month, whether for kids or adults. Many - like the Mardi Gras baby Jesus hidden in a cupcake gathering, the St. Patrick's Day party, the St. Joseph's table brunch, the Lenten fish fry, the Easter Egg hunt - were liturgical. But others - like the New Year's party - were not. Regardless, they bring people together, sometimes make money, and make the Church a center of the community.
5. Focus on parish organizations. Make the most of the annual parish festival. People like to be a part of things, and a parish organizations are one way of performing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in a way that also promotes parish unity. Likewise, the parish festival is not only a fundraising opportunity, but a way to bring people to the Church and help current parishioners to make it their own.
6. Aesthetics matter. Nice liturgical garments, altar cloths, seasonal decorations indicate the importance of the prayer that goes on in the Church. They also, when done well, help facilitate the prayer of the parish. Likewise, attention to the Church grounds is also important to indicate concern for the care and upkeep and future of the parish.
7. One step at a time. Of course, a new pastor can't do everything at once. Our parish definitely shows signs of new life, and more will certainly come, particularly with changes to the religious education program.
8. The money will come. That pastor in California used to preach constantly about tithing; I found it to be annoying and distract from the gospel. Another method is just to make people love and treasure their parish. If they want to belong, if they want to make it their own, if they feel spiritually indebted to it...or even if they are simply visitors impressed with the hospitality (including the aesthetics of the interior and grounds of the church, which really are a part of hospitality), they will give money. Sometimes a few brief promptings are in order, so people understand particular financial situations, but in general the money will come.
9. Rely on the saints - and let people know it. They'll help out the parish and individual parishioners.
"Mom!" I heard Maia calling from the backyard, getting increasingly closer to the kitchen where I was getting the girls' lunches ready.
Finally she walked in, with a small red flower. "I did NOT pick this," she said (she's gotten reprimanded by me for picking the neighbors' flowers). "But I found it, and I think it's a rose, and I wanted to give it to you."
"Thanks, Maia," I said, "that's very thoughtful."
Then on the way out the kitchen door, she cast a glance over her left shoulder toward an icon of Mary.
"Mary," she said, "You share that with my mom. And share it with Jesus too. It's for all of you."
So when I had a break in my work, I put the humble little faded "rose" over by the icon, so Mary and Jesus would know that I overheard Maia's instructions to them and was making an effort to share with them.
Saturday, May 21, 2011
"Ah, m'ija," said Padre Juan, "It's the same old story. Girl meets boy. Girl falls in love with boy. Girl thinks boy is perfect. Girl marries boy. Girl realizes that the only perfect man is Jesus."
These were the words of one of the priests at my parish in California when I informed him that I had met someone who I thought was "the one." He had such a sad look on his face when he said it, too, as though I had announced the death of a family member, rather than the advent of true love.
Over the years, I have mused on his words. Undoubtedly true, even if I didn't want to hear them at that moment. I've repeated those words to myself in moments of frustration. Jeff and I have laughed over them at times, especially relating the story to other people.
But despite the inevitable shortcomings Jeff and I have noticed in each other, it's been a very good six years... and it just keeps getting better.
I think Padre Juan would be happy to hear that.
Monday, May 16, 2011
Maia and I have been really enjoying reading the American Girls historical fiction books, which I've been picking up during library story hour on Wednesday. We finished all of Josefina and now are about half-way through the Molly series. We've also read the first books of Kirsten and Kit (but can't find any of the others at the library - must be checked out).
In each of the books, there is a little section at the end that gives a little history lesson on the time period. At the end of Happy Birthday, Molly!, we read about changes in birthing practices in the 1940s and the popularization of hospital births where infants were separated from their mothers and kept in a separate room where they were fed formula. Both of us thought that just seemed like a bad idea. "Whoever thought that would be a good thing?" I asked Maia.
"Why would they separate moms and babies?" she asked.
"Probably something to do with Enlightenment philosophy," I answered.
"What's that?" Maia asked with a puzzled expression on her face.
"Umm..." I paused. I had kind of said it without thinking. "You know, prizing the individual, as though persons somehow start off on their own, disconnected from family."
"Oh," she smiled.
"Well, you and I both know that people generally start off connected to people; they are born into a family, not as disconnected individuals. It would take an adult male to come up with that stuff, as it is completely different than the experience of a five year old girl." Maia looked like she might understand what I was saying, even if she didn't know anything about Enlightenment philosophy.
One thing I like about the American Girl books is the way they really emphasize family and social structures. Josefina, a Spanish (and Catholic) girl in New Mexico, is a particularly good model of this. Now if we can just avoid the "doll" issue...
Saturday, May 7, 2011
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
I know it's late, but here's a bit about Maia's birthday party...
Maia turned five on Holy Thursday. That morning, we had a cupcake party, wherein her guests (and siblings) decorated cupcakes, with twelve options of frosting and twelve options of topping. Each kid got an apron with her name stenciled onto it. Each guest also took home some cupcakes for her family. Everyone had a fantastic time. It was an easy and very fun party to host.
We have a tradition of putting out Maia's birthday gifts the night before, so she can open them first thing in the morning. This time around, she crawled into bed with me at 6:00 a.m. and informed me she'd already opened all of her gifts... without us. Apparently she forgot that we're all supposed to be there when she opens them. Fortunately, some of them she got past the wrapping, but couldn't open up the boxes. So we got to share in a bit of the excitement.
(Above, Maia decorates her jewelry box at 6:30 a.m. the day of her birthday)
Monday, May 2, 2011
For the first time in our marriage, we hired a baby sitter (our previous dates so far have been due to the generosity of family and friends).
What was the important occasion, you might ask?
Easter Vigil, of course. Both Jeff and I wanted to go, but I was absolutely unwilling to wake up all three kids, pull them out of their beds, get them dressed and take them along. So we hired a friendly (Evangelical) high school kid to sit at our house so we could attend. When I went to pick her up, I explained that we were Church nerds and that we'd been waiting all Lent for this.
Patrick woke up while we were gone and did a bit of crying, but the sitter finally managed to get him back to sleep and avoided calling us in the meantime.
So it was a lovely date at Church, followed by cheesecake and Frangelico while putting together the kids' Easter baskets.
One of Jeff's former bosses (who moved on from seminary administration to university administration), has been helping out at our parish by saying Mass on Friday and Saturday mornings. We decided we should invite the friendly monsignor to breakfast, since he's in our neighborhood anyway.
We do a lot of hosting, and of course the one thing we can never be sure of is how the kids will behave. I mean, we know they'll be themselves, which means they'll act like kids and likely keep us on our toes and possibly embarrass us (like the time back in Dayton that Maia decided to show of her new potty-training skills by bringing her potty-seat out into the living room and urinating in front of one of our guests).
This visit was fairly uneventful. Decent food, good conversation, and then, as the monsignor was taking his leave, he said goodbye to each of the girls. "Eva, it was nice to meet you! Thank you for having me over for breakfast," he said.
"GOODBYE, POOPY!" she yelled, so clearly it could not be misinterpreted.