In the “olden days”, the parish was a central part of a community. Parishes were split up based on boundary lines – where you lived determined which parish you would be a part of. Also, a majority of parishes had schools connected to them. Spiritual and social events abounded. Nowadays, Catholics tend to be more disconnected from their parishes. They may drive long distances to go to a certain parish, making it more difficult to be involved regularly. Some may simply consider themselves too busy to be involved. I have met many young adults who, when asked their parish, say they don’t have one. Or, if they do have a parish they attend, they aren’t involved. On Sunday, they worship, then they leave and, a week later, they’re sitting in the same pew.
Yet, a parish is not only meant to be a place where we go on Sunday to worship God for an hour. A parish can and really should be a central part of our lives, just as it was in the 1950s in the United States. You’ve probably heard churches refer to the members of the parish as “the parish family”. Really, that’s what it is. We are called to build relationships with the others in our parish and to strengthen and uplift one another. The persons sitting next to you, behind you, and in front of you: they are your brothers and sisters in Christ! They are in need of your support and prayers and a connection with you. Likewise, you need them! This journey is one on which we need companions, all of us walking together with Christ. A parish can be the “roots” that ground us and enable us to grow upward to Christ. Ideally, it is within the structure of the family that we learn who we are and how we are to live. Our parish family nurtures us in much the same way.
The Eucharistic Jesus is in the Tabernacle at church – many parents teach their children that the Tabernacle is Jesus’ “house”. Walking into the same church day after day, or week after week, is like coming home. The door closes behind us and we lay our burdens down at the feet of Jesus. We can also share those burdens with others and find wisdom and encouragement. We bring praise, too, and thank God for our joys. We share our joys with other parishioners and share in their joys also. Most importantly, we share Communion, the Bread of Life.
A parish is a mini representation of the body of Christ. It is made up of many people with their unique gifts and roles. Each person is necessary for the functioning. There are some parishes that seem to be lacking life. Could it be that there are members of the body that have not stepped up to do their part, and so the whole body is struggling? Maybe everyone else with a similar feeling, and plenty of potential to bring life, also left to attend another parish. With your unique gifts and charisms, you can help to heal and bring renewal to the body. A young man was attending a parish nearby, and realized there was no young adult group for that side of town. He saw the need, spoke to the pastor, and made it happen. That parish happens to be my parish. Just over a year later, the group is strong and growing! Without this group I never would have known how many in my cohort were also attending the parish. Thanks to one person willing to put himself out there, friendships are being built on Christ and people going through the same stage of life are able to connect to one another and share life. Your parish, too, will be blessed when you use your gifts in service.
If you’re feeling adrift and wondering where to find your parish home, pray about it. The Holy Spirit will lead you. If the parish you currently attend seems to lack life, pray about that, too. God will use you in some unique way to enliven the parish. Ask God which gifts He wants you to exercise and how. I pray that you will find your parish home and continue to grow closer to the heart of Jesus! No matter how young or old, each of us has a vital place in the Body of Christ. There is a parish out there that is right for you and needs you as much as you need it!