Category Archives: Parish Life

Church or Coffee Shop: Thoughts on Space and Self-Reflection

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By Javier Soegaard

Wow. Careers are the new religion I guess. (This text from a friend spurred the following reflection. Blame him if you disagree or if your time was wasted.)

I was sitting in a nifty coffee shop along the South Boston Waterfront, just steps from the chapel where I work. Between sending emails and reading the waning pages of GRRM’s A Dance with Dragons, I noticed a cozy group of peers about 12 feet away. They were seated on couches, drinking their fancy latte-things, but unlike most patrons, they were not hard at work on laptops, tablets, and/or smartphones.

Instead, their implements were construction paper and markers.

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Why My First Funeral as a Pastoral Associate Made Me Nervous

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By Brian Romer Niemiec

In the Newton Catholic Collaborative there are between 200 and 250 funerals per year. As a result, it is often the case that one of the pastoral associates will lead the wake service, be present at the Funeral Mass, and lead the service at the cemetery. I have been shadowing my colleagues over the last month, and this past week I was deemed ready and handed my first funeral assignment.

I arrived at the wake service a little nervous and worried about making small talk, and about what I was going to say during the reflection. After all, I’m an introvert. I hate small talk. I’m not good at it and I never will be. What am I supposed to say, “Sorry for your loss, but at least the Patriots won…?” I don’t even route for the Patriots!

But, before I knew it, I was through the door, meeting the family, and starting the prayer service.  As I worked my way through the beginning of the service, I realized that some of the family members had started crying. For some reason the raw human emotion of the moment took me by surprise, and then I started to get really nervous. I had been planning to talk about salvation, resurrection, and all the great cheery theology that we believe in as Catholics during my reflection, but that wasn’t what this family needed. They missed their sister/mother/grandmother.

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The Catholic Wedding Liturgy: A Sprint Through the Sacrament?

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**While we’re talking a bit about annulments, it might be fun to talk a bit, as well, about weddings.**

I read an interesting graphic several years ago which noted the steady growth in “inter” marriages across young couples in the US. Differences of creed, race, and ethnicity no longer present the same obstacle to love and life-long commitment they once did. The only outlier in this category, unsurprisingly, was a deep decrease in inter-political marriages. Red and blue, it would seem, mix as well as water and oil. Continue reading The Catholic Wedding Liturgy: A Sprint Through the Sacrament?

“I Miss Bringing Communion”

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By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.

My list of communion calls ebbs and flows: I have a sad ritual, whereby when I bury one of those who I visited I go to my computer and remove them from my “sick call list” and say a final prayer for them. I take their memorial card and put it in my desk draw on a stack that has grown from a dozen, to two dozen, to somewhere near the number forty. The life of a parish priest.

Just this weekend, I went on a call to an elderly lady who I have been seeing for over a year now. She looks exactly the same: very old, hands gnarled by arthritis, clutching a rosary. Our conversation is always the same: frustration at her situation, gratefulness for her care, mixed with a worry that she is being a burden.

I hear largely the same outline of her life, but something stuck out in this last visit. She has always told me she was a Eucharistic Minister, bringing Communion to the sick in her parish where she once lived, somewhere out west. But Saturday, her eyes went wide, and, in telling the story, she added a piece: “I really miss bringing Communion.”

I heard this and took a breath. An examination of conscience, if there ever was one. For all the talk (and there will be even more today and until the conclusion of the Synod and Francis’ visit to the Meeting on the Families), it reminded me of what my canon law professor said once in class: “My favorite part of being a priest is giving others communion.”

There is an important play on the word that can and should be noted: to bring others communion. Indeed, the act of placing the Eucharist in the hands or on the tongue of another is, at its basic movement, an act of communion, an act of me joining with you, joining you and me with the divine. And it’s about you, me, and God – it’s never just God and you, or God and me, or me and you. To give Communion is to literally offer a communion with both God and the Church, living amid the world.

I’d miss offering this communion too. That’s a blessing indeed.

The Real Parish Life in New England

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By Brian Niemiec

Be doers of the Word. Last Sunday’s second reading.  It was a phrase that had been stirring in me for a long time.  My tenure at Boston College had been incredibly life-giving and fulfilling, but I had begun to sense that it was not the ministry I needed to be doing now. I love working on the administrative and strategic level. It was a true joy to meet women and men alive with the faith of Christ, and committed to turning that faith into a life-long ministry.  Yet, God was leading me somewhere else.

Since the last time I wrote for this blog I have not only gotten married, moved apartments, and mostly failed to speak French on our honeymoon, but I also have a new job. I am a pastoral associate at Our Lady Help of Christians and Sacred Heart Parishes in Newton, MA, or the Newton Parish Collaborative as it is also know.  Each of these parishes have their own ministries, personalities, and preferences, but three years ago they officially merged and now share a common pastoral staff of priests and lay associates.

I have been here for about four weeks, and while I am certainly excited about my new ministry, it is quite different than what I expected.  Mostly because, I did not quite know what to expect. The most surprising discovery was the vibrant life that certainly exists in both parishes (albeit in different ways). Masses are well attended, religious education classes are overflowing, and there are seemingly more ministries, committees, and groups between the two parishes than there are stars in the sky.  The pastor is wonderful and deeply passionate about his parishioners, and the rest of the staff is equally caring and competent. In every way we as Church normally judge churches, I found myself a real winner!

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What Being Present This Lent Smells Like

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By Katie Morroni

I prayed about what to take on or give up for nearly 2 weeks ahead of Lent, but didn’t hear an obvious answer. Instead, the more I prayed about it, the more overwhelmed I felt by all I could and should improve in my life to better serve God and His people. And I know well my track record when I try to do ALL THE THINGS. So I walked into Mass on Ash Wednesday and asked once more: “What do you want to do during Lent?” This time, the answer came swiftly: Pay attention. Be present. Be intentional. Focus on the gospel.

Yes! Direction! This I can work with.

The church was filled with a standing-room-only crowd, and yet never seemed quieter or more still. We interrupted that soon, as my daughter worked out some, err… we’ll call it bathroom progress, and everyone in the surrounding pews giggled at her loud sounds. I made the sign of the cross as Mass began, and then excused myself to address the situation. I worked as quickly as I could, but felt like molasses. Twenty minutes and a couple diapers and wardrobe adjustments later, wondering if I would finish in time to receive ashes and the Eucharist, I already felt defeated. I wasn’t paying attention. I wasn’t focused. I was missing it.

My thoughts quickly shifted: No. I wasn’t missing anything. This is the holiest thing I could be doing right now. I’m living my vocation, and I’m present where I need to be present at this particular moment. This is what God has called me to, and continues to call me to. Dirty diapers (and the clothes, blankets, and other items that stand in their way) are not the extent of my vocation as a wife and mother of course, but right now, they are certainly part of it.

I should add so it’s abundantly clear: I’m not complaining. My daughter has opened up a new depth of love in my heart and I knew (as much as one can know) what I was signing up for. Every day, I wake up excited about the joy and adventures that lie ahead for her! It’s just that I would have liked to hear a favorite priest give (what I later heard was) a beautiful, inspired homily; that was the kind of presence and intention I had in mind when I first received the answer to my prayers. But that wasn’t for me this Ash Wednesday. God called me to stop doing ALL THE THINGS and, n this moment, just do this one.

I did catch the last 2 minutes of the homily (and, to be honest, not much of Mass after), enough to hear the priest quote the Second Reading: “We are ambassadors for Christ.” Is it cliche to say I looked at the diaper bag and now saw its potential as a tool for that very task? Probably, but it’s true. This is where I am 8 weeks into motherhood, and this is what being present and focusing on the gospel looked like for me on Ash Wednesday. Here’s to however it looks (and smells) tomorrow.

Of Synods and Church Burglaries (Or, Incidents in the Life of a Parish Priest)

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By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.

“Father Matt, is it true that when a church is broken into it needs to be torn down and rebuilt?” 

-A fifth grader-

I awoke on Tuesday morning to find the pastor in the kitchen.  “Grab a cup of coffee and let’s talk.”

I poured.  And he talked.  Our church had been burglarized during the night.  The giant crucifix that adorned the sanctuary had been stolen, ripped from the metal chain which suspended it over the tabernacle.  A reliquary had been taken, along with some chalices and patens.  By a strange twist of fate, I had stored the chalice and paten given to me by my parents on the day of my ordination in a different place.  They remain.

The rest of the day was filled with parents, students, teachers, parishioners, and complete strangers asking for news and expressing condolences. Various news outlets called.  When I unlocked the church yesterday morning at 6:10, a news van had been parked outside for some time.

While all this was taking place in Yonkers, the Catholic internet exploded.  Some commentators screamed that the non-binding, draft-ish, non-official/very official working paper coming out of the Extraordinary Synod betrayed everything Catholic.  It signaled the bad old days and the Gates of Hell possibly beginning to prevail.

Others, with glee equal only to the terror of their counterparts, crowed that this document signaled the beginning of everything good and holy the Church had been missing for the last however-many-years.   Here was the Spirit of Vatican II, the culmination of the work of the Council, finally finding its fulfillment.  It seemed, at least to some, that absolutely everything had changed instantly.  (So much for reception, eh?)

Throughout the last forty-eight hours, parishioners have continually (in a sincere way that has touched my soul) asked if the Pastor and I are “doing okay?”  I always smile, say yes, offer thanks for the prayers, and turn the question on them.  “This is your home too,” I say, “how are you doing?”

Back to the question above, asked by an earnest fifth grader, tears in her eyes: does a church need to be torn down when it’s burglarized?

“No,” I answered.  “We’ve been here for over a hundred years on this hill and will be here for more than another hundred.”

The Church has been here almost two thousand years, and barring the parousia, it will remain.

My prayers over the past days have mingled together, Synod and the burglary.  I find myself, however, praying through both events most effectively when I think about the people: the bishops who the right hates, the bishops who the left despises, the conservatives, the liberals, the divorced, the homosexuals in relationships, the homosexuals avoiding relationships, the people who built  Sacred Heart, the people who burglarized our church, and that fifth grader: neither Synod nor burglary can ever tear down the church, because it will always be the people, saints and sinners alike, that keep it standing up.

 

Two Weddings and a Funeral: The Story of One Scripture Passage

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By Javier Soegaard

If you go to any parish, you can find books which offer easy suggestions for Scripture readings to fit nicely with major events in your life. There are readings for graduations, ordinations, weddings, funerals, and any event you can really think of. Graduation readings have to do with promise and potential; ordination readings have to do with service and sacrifice. Wedding readings have to do with love and bliss; Funeral readings have to do with sorrow and comfort—or so I thought.

At three points over the summer, I heard the same section of John 15 proclaimed: twice at weddings, the third time at a funeral. While occasionally the length of the excerpt varied, each instance contained this marvelous section:

As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you (John 15: 9-12).

I was startled when the priest began to read this at the funeral. It had made perfect sense at the weddings—it was about love, joy, and intimate relationships. Why then did it seem strangely appropriate for a funeral as well? How could the same words speak so powerfully to such radically different situation?

Well that’s the funny thing about God’s Word, isn’t it? It permits no sort of tidy compartmentalization. Of all the pages it has longed to grace, it certainly never intended to be written for those (somewhat) helpful books which distinguish wedding readings from funeral readings, First Communion readings from Blessing of the Animals readings. Life is not some staccato collection of isolated events, even less so are the Scriptures.

Rather, the Scriptures talk about life in its fullness and complexity, in its grayness and constant preference for paradox rather than simplicity. They paint a picture of life where grace works amidst sin, the weak prevail against the strong, and the Lord of Life conquers through his own death.

It is a wisdom that emerges not in a flash, but from its method of composition: employing dozens upon dozens of writers over thousands of years, each building upon the work of the past and hoping for the good of future generations. It is a labor borne out of patience and the courage to discern God’s presence and salvation even in the most harrowing situations.

And so our expectations are challenged. Scripture recasts the black-and-white world where weddings are nothing but bliss and funerals naught but comfort. It reminds us that the message of God’s love in Christ—God’s desire for us to be with him now and always—transcends the boundaries erected by the norms of sentiment.

This does not mean Scripture asks us to be weepy during weddings or do jigs during funerals (although if you put a few Irish people in a room, you can never be sure what will happen). What it does remind us, however, is to be more patient and more critical with the way we let Scripture interpret our lives. God’s Word is always a comfort and a challenge. It allows for no piecemeal, cut-and-paste approach to its wisdom. Rather, it always invites us into the bigger narrative of God’s unending love for his creation and calls us, in our vocations, to be heralds of this tremendous message.

I’m a Doctor !

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By Matt Keppel

“Dammit Jim, I’m a Doctor!” It’s quick, simple, and absolutely classic. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, go watch some Star Trek with the original cast – yeah, I know there’s names for these things, but I’m not going to bely my utter nerdiness… yet. But what does it mean? In all the crazy adventures that Captain Kirk and the USS Enterprise encounter, Dr. McCoy, the ship’s surgeon, gets thrown into all sorts of situations that have nothing to do with being a doctor, but somehow he is the perfect person to save the day. Ultimately, Spock and Kirk come to McCoy to address the strange and unusual more often than not.

If you have ever worked for the Church, in any capacity, you know exactly where I’m going here. There are few other organizations that run entirely on the versatility of their employees like the Catholic Church. Myself, I have worked as a teacher and volunteered in youth ministry, but functioned as a graphic designer, carpool monitor, after-school babysitter, copy jockey, and IT specialist on top of being a math and religion teacher – my degree is in philosophy and theology. Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying, this is not a complaint! I love going to work and not knowing quite what will be asked of me each day. I consider it a wonderful part of the adventure of working in the Church. However, what I am asking for is patience… I think we all are actually.

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