Wednesday, August 27, 2014

If I Create a Vibrant Parish, Don't Come!

Recently a friend posted a question on his Facebook page.  "What do people mean when they talk about 'vibrant' parishes?"  Admittedly, this touches a nerve for me because I think the word "vibrant" is overused, overrated, and nebulous.  In the past five years or so, there has been a mad rush on parish bulletins and websites to identify themselves as "a vibrant parish."  I sometimes think this is more an attempt to convince the people writing it than it is to attract others.  

There's something else that bothers me about the whole "vibrant craze."  It makes Catholics sound more like we are trying to sell ourselves than we are trying to proclaim Christ.  It makes us sound like we think that we are responsible for building "vibrant parishes."  "We've got programs, greeters, and a website.  We're vibrant!"  It's not that telling people about ourselves is a bad thing. But, I think that what's missing is a sense that these things arise from the Lord and from a relationship with Him.  

Too much effort is being spent trying to be vibrant and trying to sound vibrant.  The apostles weren't trying to attract people to Christianity by sounding vibrant.  They were preaching Christ and Him crucified.  I think the early Church spread so quickly because the apostles and the disciples were marveling at what God was doing in and through them.  Each time they were faithful, the Lord produced 30, 40, and hundredfold.  Instead of trying to create the hundredfold, we ought to stand and marvel at it.  The more we contemplate what we plant, the less fruitful it is.  The more we contemplate what the Lord produces, the more fruitful it is.

I think the best kind of parish is the kind where people stand in amazement at what the Lord is doing in their midst.  The worst kind of parish is the one that is trying to make itself vibrant.  I remember a parishioner of mine once telling me that during the Easter Vigil one year, he turned to his wife and said, "I feel like we are all going to be just taken up right now."  By that, he meant that he felt like he was part of something so much bigger than what was going on there. Nothing we were doing that night could produce that kind of experience.  What he was experiencing in that moment was the Lord!  

For me, a parish or a Catholic community is not something we build.  It is something that happens to us.  We suddenly find ourselves looking at what Christ is doing and wondering, "How am I part of this?  How was I chosen to be part of this?"  A great parish is an obedient parish.  A great parish is a people who are following something, being led somewhere, and filled with a sense of wonder at what is happening.  A great parish shares the joy of what is happening because it is compelled to share what Christ is doing in the lives of this people.  It isn't about saying, "We are vibrant because we have all of these activities going on."  It is about saying, "Look at the ways Christ is leading us and forming us!  We are so grateful!"

Instead of trying to create vibrant parishes, we ought to form prayerful people, charitable people, Eucharistic people, Sacramental people.  Instead of trying to create vibrant parishes, we ought to form people who love God's Word, who worship God with reverence and awe, and who give to the poor, visit the sick, and seek out the lost.  Instead of trying to create vibrant parishes, we ought to form a people who can look to the Lord and see what He is doing in their midst.  Instead of trying to create vibrant parishes, we ought to form a people who love each other and stay with each other and encourage each other.  Instead of trying to create vibrant parishes, we ought to form a people who know how to follow Christ.

I'm not saying that those who say it mean it this way, but when I hear the word "vibrant" it always sounds like a sales gimmick.  I definitely think we ought to talk about all the ways that the Lord is at work in our Catholic communities.  I think we should announce it from the rooftops.  But for me, "vibrant" sounds less like witnessing to Christ and more like self-referential advertising.  

Are there amazing parishes?  Yes!  Should we strive to be amazing parishes?  Yes! But, something about the whole "We are a vibrant parish" craze sounds phony to me.  What made Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, the Blessed Virgin, St. Peter worth honoring is that FIRST they were chosen by God.  They aren't self-made saints.  They were chosen and responded.  Too much "vibrant" talk sounds too much like we are responsible for making ourselves a great parish rather than us standing in awe of the mystery of being chosen by the Lord.

We can't create great parishes.  All we can do is obey the Spirit, follow where He leads, and stand in awe at what is happening in our midst.  If I create a vibrant parish, don't go to it.  If Jesus forms a people, is working among them, and leading them, follow!

1 comment:

  1. I like this column very much. "Vibrant" is one of those words we never heard in ages past and the meaning of which is fuzzy to say the least. "Vibrant" now suggests something or someone good without specifying what that "good" is.