Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Parish: A Friendship that Educates and Encourages

Education is one of the key elements of parish life.  Yes, there is Religious Education, the parish school, Bible Studies, adult education, RCIA etc.  And, these are all great.  But, for me, the parish as a place of communion and friendship is the key to educating us in the Christian life.

Tonight, I had dinner at the home of a young family in our parish.  One of the things that I most enjoy about this particular family is that they are easy and relaxed around me.  Sometimes, people get really nervous and uptight around "the priest."  Not so tonight. 

Hanging out with young families is an especially joyful part of priesthood for me.  I'm always grateful when seminarians come to my parish and I'm able to bring them with me to dinner at the homes of families.  I think it is important for them to see the beautiful friendships that are part of the priest's life.  It always makes me nervous when priests talk about their "day off" as their "real life" and the parish as their "work life."  The parish is not only the place where "the people" ought to become holy.  The parish is the place where the priest is to become holy.  The parish is where priests are educated in Christ.

I'm really grateful that after being a priest for almost fifteen years, I'm still constantly being educated by the life of the parish.  Watching people raise their families, hearing about their work experiences, and benefiting from the expertise that they bring to the life of a parish is awesome.  From them, not only do I learn about the Catholic life in general, but I also learn something about the priesthood.  Tonight is one such example.

Now, this is going to sound totally conceited, but that is not how it is intended, so bear with me.  During the course of dinner tonight, the husband got up and said, "Now Father Barnes, I've decided that I'm going to embarrass you."  Then, he went and got his Blackberry.  He came back and showed me a series of photos.  Mine was included.  He went on to explain that he was recently at a leadership conference for his company and people were asked to provide somebody that they admire as a good leader.  Then he said, "So, there you were up on this big screen, Father Barnes--between Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln.  And people were like, "Who the heck is that guy?"  Then, we all had a good laugh.

This dinner exchange stuck me as very beautiful.  Was I somewhat flattered? Sure.  But more than that, I see how the life of a parish can help all of us.  I am moved by the example of a young couple living the life of marriage, raising their family, dealing with work and all of the situations that life brings.  Their example and friendship encourages me and educates me in the priesthood.  Similarly, by his mentioning that story to me, I see that my vocation helps him in some small way to live his life.  Parishes ought to be places where we encourage one another in our discipleship.

Two thousand years ago, Christ often educated his disciples at the dinner table.  Two thousand years later--in the communion of the Church--Christ continues to educate his disciples at the dinner table.  Seeing this young couple in their quest to live their vocation well, I was educated in my own vocation and encouraged.  I'm grateful for that and I am grateful to be a priest in the midst of such great people.

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