Joy often has deep roots. Recently, I was privileged to join in two parish anniversary celebrations, which were filled with joy. At their base was a great appreciation for the deep roots of faith being remembered.
The first event was in Meade County at Saint Theresa of Avila Church in Rhodelia. Rightfully proud of their 200-year anniversary, the faithful gathered in great numbers — both those who are current parish families and those coming back to their roots of faith. Two of our diocesan priests who are sons of the parish came back — Father Ron Knott and Father Bob Ray — along with the many priests who have served this parish over the years. Many women religious returned — including Sister Mary Naomi Elder, a Sister of Charity of Nazareth who hails from Saint Theresa Parish.
The church prayed and sang loudly and proudly in unison. Like a family coming together at Thanksgiving, this family of faith came together to reunite and to remember. Parishioners talked with appreciation, humor, and the recollections of those pillars of the parish who had died and gone before us and, we pray, are now citizens of heaven. I observed that the youth also were swept up in the spirit of the moment. Their young and growing faith was being deepened and widened.
Watching the youth reminded me of our family meals at Thanksgiving when I was growing up. I soaked in the family stories told, and through those celebrations I became more deeply part of the family and more appreciative of the family that was mine. The same happened at Saint Theresa Parish.
The second celebration was just as vibrant. Saint Helen in Glasgow celebrated 125 years as a parish. We gathered for a great Sunday evening meal, and the joy was very present.
Once again all, young and old, gathered to remember and appreciate their history. There were stories of the four women converts who in 1893, with their bare hands, uncovered and brought forth stones for the Church foundation. These women also elicited help from neighbors, mainly non-Catholics, to form the Church that still stands to this day. I heard about priests who visited private homes in Glasgow to celebrate Mass before the church was built.
Today, many who now form the parish come from all parts of the United States and even beyond. These newcomers seem to catch that spirit of appreciation for the faith and working together that is still so strong. Since 1956, the Fathers of Mercy have served this parish, and the people are so grateful.
Over the past two years I have written two pastoral letters on parish life and vitality. The first was “Your Parish: the Body of Christ Alive in Our Midst” in which I called each parish to discern how God was calling the parish, now and into the future. This process of discernment and prayer begins by celebrating all that is.
Rooted in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus, which is His life, death and resurrection, each parish draws strength in the grace that begins with gratitude. It is gratitude for the mystery of Christ’s death and rising for our salvation and the mystery of the Church born from His sacred wounds. It is a mystery that is 2,000 years old, and it is a mystery that is lived out in very specific and particular ways in the lived history of each parish.
In my second pastoral letter, “The Soul of the Parish: Being Led by the Holy Spirit Alive in Our Midst,” I reflect further on parish discernment. I draw on the beautiful quote from section 737 of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” which states: “The mission of Christ and the Holy Spirit is brought to completion in the Church, which is the body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit … (The Holy Spirit) makes present the mystery of Christ, supremely in the Eucharist, in order to reconcile (the faithful), to bring them into communion with God, that they may ‘bear much fruit’ (Jn15:8, 16).”
The two parish anniversary celebrations and indeed every parish celebration lead us to Easter, the Paschal Mystery of Christ, and to the mission of the Church. Every parish anniversary reflects the living out of this mission of more than 2,000 years to become more deeply the Body of Christ and to journey together to heaven. I am thankful for all 110 parishes of the Archdiocese. Parish anniversary celebrations have a way of making us grateful for the presence of the Holy Spirit among us.