Sunday, December 16, 2012

Priests and People: Friendship Makes a Parish Strong

The only way I know how to be a pastor is to live the friendship of the Church.  It is an intense and joyful experience.  It is an experience that carries within itself a profound sense of being called together, an intense joy at witnessing the marvels the Lord works among us, and the awesome awareness that we are part of the great mission of the Church.  When I think about all of the great things that have happened in the course of being a pastor, they are the result of a beautiful friendship that has slowly grown among us.  I know that I am not alone in this sense of awe at what the Lord does among us.

Tonight I had dinner with three wonderful couples at the home of some of my parishioners in Marblehead.  Both the hosts and the couple who drove me there are my parishioners.  The third couple whom I have never met before are from a different parish in our Archdiocese.

When the couple I've never met arrived, I introduced myself as "Fr. Barnes."  The husband said, "Fr. David Barnes."  I said, "Yes," but with a quizzical look.  He said, "Well, we know you kind of."  I immediately thought to myself, "Ah, he must be one of the fifteen readers of my world famous blog."  But then something totally awesome happened.  He and his wife--the parents of six children--told me, that their family volunteered a few years ago to be part of a group that prays for priests.  Each family was randomly assigned a priest and their family got me.  He said, "We and our six children pray for you every night.  They are going to be very excited when they hear that we finally met you and had dinner with you."

Yeah, these people and their children pray for me every night.  How awesome is that?  They didn't know me, didn't know anything about me, and have never contacted me to tell me that they pray for me.  They just do it.  How much do I owe them?  Are all the awesome things that have happened in the life of my parish the fruit of their prayers?  I'm still stunned by this.

Tonight, I had dinner with these three wonderful Catholic families.  They love the Faith, love the Church, and love priests.  I find so much encouragement from people like this.  Our friendship is a gift from Christ and is a sure sign of his presence among us.  I'm really blessed as a priest.

I am convinced about something.  If we want parishes to flourish, we have to begin with the model that Christ himself gave us.  Jesus began his work, by establishing a friendship among his apostles.  This friendship grew slowly and deliberately.  Fidelity to Christ is fidelity to the friendship that Christ establishes.  If we want parishes to grow and to succeed, they have to be places where true Christian friendship is lived.  There is no such thing as a strong parish without a strong friendship. 

This evening at dinner, we shared together in a beautiful friendship established by Christ.  I came home with a desire to be a better Christian and a better priest.  I came home grateful that I should be numbered among such wonderful people.  I came home grateful that people pray every day for me.

I wake up every day and live an intense friendship with my parishioners.  Any of the good things that have occurred in the parish are the result of that friendship.  I have great committees and councils and we've accomplished lots of huge capital projects etc.  But, those things are the result of something prior.  What comes first is the friendship that we share in Christ.  We love one another.  That's why we've done well together.  Strong parishes are not the parishes where we have signs that say how "vibrant" we are.  Strong parishes are parishes where we live intensely the friendship of Christ.

Tonight, like I do almost every night, I go to bed grateful for the beautiful friendship that Christ has established among us; a friendship that is continuously expanding and drawing all of us closer to Jesus Christ. 

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