Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 21, 2107
“Where have all the parishioners gone, long time passing? Where have all the parishioners gone, long time ago? Where have all the parishioners gone? Gone to somewhere, everyone. Oh, when will they ever learn? Oh, when will they ever learn?” (Tune to Where have all the flowers gone? Peter, Paul and Mary)
We just had the commemoration of the wildfire that caused evacuation of 88,000 people from the city last year. TV interview of the two parish priests acknowledged a 15% drop in weekly church attendance. 15% drop in the Mother Church? I thought that after a crisis or disaster, people tend to go back to church and turn to the Lord for support, guidance and comfort. The parking lot is jammed full and there are more cars than before the fire park on the streets and the nearby school parking lots on Sunday in our neighbourhood Family Christian Centre. Maybe, and just maybe more Catholics find heaven somewhere else and do not return. Or maybe they decide to join others.
It is a sad experience of seeing our fellow parishioners leaving the church of their childhood or where they were baptized. Watching someone drift into a churchless way of life can be a jolt. It is even more unsettling to some of us to see our friends leave Catholicism for something “better”, undergo a “conversion experience“, a “baptized in the Spirit,” or finds deep Christian fellowship somewhere else. What if our friends discover a new life of faith, prayer, and commitment in a Christian community other than ours? If it leads them into deeper union with Christ, fosters a life of greater virtue and service, increases in faith, hope and charity, then the best we can do is to bless their journey and entrust it to God. of Catholics; but we do have to admit that there are lacks in our church too.
I read a book Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter by Father Michael White and his assistant Tom Corcoran of Church of Nativity in Timonium, Maryland in the States few years ago. The book describes when their parish reached a breaking point, how they have successfully taken it, and turned it from a struggling parish to a booming one. White and Corcoran asked themselves how they could make the Church matter to Catholics, and they realized the answer was at the heart of the Gospel. They started from developing the parish mission and visions and identifying what to do as well as what to avoid, including making assumptions about parishioners. Then plans and programmes were developed to change what parishioners and their leaders must do if they want their churches to thrive in the future. Their faithful response not only tripled their weekend mass attendance, but also yielded increased giving, flourished ministries, and revived a vibrant, solid Catholic spirituality. The book provides some resources and suggestions to pastors and parish leaders so they can create a thriving parish life too.
Maybe we neglect some of the emotive power, the courage, the unique feeling of faith that is appropriate for a people truly saved by Christ and baptized in his Spirit. Our faith, one would think, is meant to be engaging and transforming. Certainly, to judge by the accounts in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 8:5-8, 14-17, 1st Reading), Philip’s proclamation of the Messiah manifested such power that the whole town of Samaria felt a joy. There was great joy in that city. After accepting the Word of God, Peter and John met with them to pray. They were just had their baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus, Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel reading Jesus promised a Paraclete, the Holy Spirit. (John 14:15-21) The Spirit that Christ promised would be revealed by a life of love, the bearer of a mighty truth that challenges the world and transforms our hearts. We are called to lives of holy resistance and revolution. Perhaps it is then that we will have experienced greater fellowship and solidarity as well as a sense of Catholic uniqueness. We really do offer something different and most strategic to the world. We the believers, as well as the believing community, must pass on to its people the great truth that Jesus Christ has saved us. Such is the ground of our faith and hope as well as of all the Spirit’s gifts. That is why it is only into God’s hands that we entrust our lives—and the lives of those we love.
-Deacon Raymond Chan