Dear Parish Family:
Driving recently I saw in the evening sunlight a roadside stand announcing “Fresh Produce.” Under the sign were neatly arranged stacks of corn, tomatoes, cucumbers and jars of what looked like jelly. It was a bountiful sight that naturally drew me to want to stop and buy some of this fruit of the land and work of human hands! Although I wound up not stopping to buy, nonetheless the glowing, colorful sight did bring my mind to active and fruitful reflection. I considered all the hard work that went into getting those vegetables to gleam in the evening light. It was satisfying to think of the planting, cultivating, fertilizing, weeding and debugging that must have taken place. I imagined all the rain we had this summer making its way into every root, up every stock and stem, through every branch and nourishing each growing fruit and vegetable. The purpose of each seed had now come to its reason for being and radiated its beauty in this bountiful harvest.
The earth is a reflection of God’s creative process. The truth is that God never creates anything without purpose, without a plan. Nothing in God’s creation is random, haphazard or chaotic. There is no doubt that God is a God of harmony and reason. This insight comforts me. I want my own life, my relationships, my parish and community to reflect the order and unity God intended. What dawns on me as I write to you about the beginning of the fall season is that we all must be periodically reminded of our purpose and reason for being. We must take stock of where we are, and determine if we’re headed in the right direction, toward our ultimate eternal goal.
Almost two years ago, I began working to develop a parish plan to bring a greater sense of purpose and organization to our parish life. This phase of careful consideration coincided with our bishop convening the first diocesan synod to develop a pastoral plan of action for the foreseeable future. The synod was concerned that parishes would be vibrant centers of Christian life. One of the first and most central bodies established in our pastoral organization was our pastoral council. Members of the council were appointed to assist me in considering and planning for the needs of our parish. Over the past year our pastoral council has been in reflection and formation, working on the first and most essential step in beginning a process of renewal. We had to work out the question: “What are we presently doing and how should we plot our future?” In order to do this, we needed to ask the more fundamental question: “What is our mission?” If we could identify our mission, our purpose, our reason for being, then we would be able to set goals and invite organizations and groups to work together with a common vision, energy, and focus.
After months of reflection, prayer and discussion we came to realize some fundamental facts about the importance and purpose of identifying our mission and articulating a mission statement. First of all, a mission statement for our parish is not something that we think up or “create” because of our own sensibilities. It has nothing to do with political tags such as liberal or conservative, traditional or progressive, old or new. It transcends personal likes and dislikes and brings us squarely into the arena of objective Truth, which in turn presents us with challenge and choice: our mission is a gift given to us by Christ Himself. Just as Jesus was given His mission from the Father to become flesh, to teach, heal, forgive, suffer, die, and rise, ascending back to the Father----so too, Christ Jesus gives a mission to the first apostles and to each person who seeks to accept life in His name, down through the ages, even to our present time of 2009 in Flemington, New Jersey.
It has been challenging to identify a mission statement for our parish, even though it would seem at first glance to be the easiest and simplest endeavor. In our reflection and discussion we came upon many questions and philosophical concerns that needed careful attention if the statement would be able to guide our pastoral work. A common misconception which we had to discuss is that a mission statement should somehow be a common expression of everyone, like a consensus statement reflecting the perspectives of all parishioners, from the most devout and fervent, to the lukewarm and indifferent, to the lost and alienated. We concluded that to the contrary, the mission statement of a Catholic parish should not so much be an expression of where we are, but of where Christ is calling us. And yet He calls each of us from precisely where we are, so we desired to reflect in our mission statement openness and hospitality, ensuring the belief and conviction that we are indeed a welcoming Church. After all, the word “Catholic” means universal. Christ calls all people to have a more abundant life in Him.
We also recognized that the community of the Church is not merely an organization of people who socialize and like the same things and do good things together, but rather the Church is a supernatural community formed into the mystery of the Body of Christ that through the waters of baptism each newborn Christian is empowered with a purpose and a challenge. This purpose and challenge is nothing less than for each person to take up the call to become a better human being, a better Christian, and ultimately one day be a citizen of heaven.
One night in April, after weeks of hard work, pastoral council members were again deep in discussion when the mission statement, seemingly without effort, simply emerged or was revealed. Much the way that at dawn we intently watch for the sun’s rising and can somehow miss that precise moment when it peaks above the horizon, our mission was suddenly there, plainly before us - to embody the “Call” that Christ issued to His first disciples- “Come and follow me.” Christ invited people personally into a relationship with Him. He accepted everyone as they were; He loved them and respected them. Yet, He was not content to allow them to remain as they were. He issued a riveting invitation, a call to a dynamic way of life that answers the pressing questions of the meaning of life. He called people from being slaves to their desires to a life of freedom. He invited people to leave behind the bankrupt lies of every age in order to embrace a vision of life and love that only rightly would be called Good News. This new way of life would be challenging and call for sacrifice; it would be nothing less than the pearl of great price. It would provide light in dark times. And those patiently suffering the miseries of this life would be called blessed for seeing with the eyes of faith. Answering the call would necessarily mean hardship: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16: 24-25) But it would also be a new and full life: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)
We saw clearly as a council that the only reason we exist as a parish is to embody Jesus’ ancient and ever new mission call: “Come and follow me.” It is simple, yet radically profound. If we reflect on it seriously it will give rise to the energy that only the Gospel can give. If we truly want our parish to be a community of disciples and to be fully alive, then we must attend to every aspect of His call.
In the coming weeks and months, the pastoral council, along with the parish commissions will be discussing how we can bring alive what this statement means individually and for our community. I ask that you pray to God for the intense conversion that Christ’s call will be experienced through each of us as a meaningful way of life. Our patroness, St. Magdalen de Pazzi, was a woman who was intensely in love with God. She was willing to commit herself to a way of life, in order to grow in awareness of all the joys of God’s Kingdom. She loved Christ in the Eucharist and desired that others would want that intimate relationship with Him.
If every heart is set ablaze for love of God, our community of faith will cast a brilliant light that will attract others to fall in love with God. The mission entrusted to us by Christ will continue with us: “Come and follow me.”
In the heart of Christ,