“What Does It Mean?” The Pewsitter’s Guide to Parish RenewalA few years ago, my family and I moved across the country. In the last decade, we moved four times and each time we have to find a new parish. It’s always a little disconcerting. In many cities we’ve lived in, we have found there are several Catholic churches near our home and so we have some choices to make. Sometimes we encountered strange things, like the time we attended a church near our new home in Northern California. The pastor got up to preach the homily and told us that his gift to us was to skip preaching, because he’d been on a retreat and hadn’t had the time to prepare. “Can he do that?” I overheard a man behind me ask his wife. “No. I whispered back. He can’t.” Needless to say, we chose another parish nearby.

How should one discern which parish is best for one’s family? Over the years, my husband and I have realized there are several things we always look for.

First, we desire an in-depth preaching of the Word of God. If the homily is mostly stories  unrelated to the readings, we quickly become dissatisfied. The Word of God is spirit and life and we need to “eat” of the word in order to find life for our souls. An incomplete homily or one that doesn’t delve into the gospels is a deal breaker for us.

Second, we search for community. It is part of the human condition to need to be part of something bigger than ourselves and to feel we belong to the community as integral members, not dispensable. The sign of peace is meant to express our relationship in Christ as brothers and sisters. The truth is, none of us can fully live our baptismal promises alone. We need each other. This is central to what it means to be Catholic. And yet, one Catholic commented to me recently, “I don’t want anyone to bother me at Church.  I just want to come, do my duty and leave.” With such an attitude, we will live our faith as infants and never mature. The church is not a filling station, where we get our gas and leave. It must permeate our very lives!

Third, we look for a parish that nurtures the faith of adult members through education. This is not just book learning, but spiritual practices that belong to us as Catholics and need to be shared with all who are ready for spiritual growth.

Finally, we look for a parish that is concerned for the poor and teaches the fullness of Catholic social teaching. Faith without works is dead. We feel responsible to be active and so we need the help of the parish in finding ways to answer the call: “I was hungry and you gave me bread. I was naked and you clothed me.”

I hope your family doesn’t have to move anytime soon. Moving is stressful and takes a lot of patience and trust in God. But if you do, and if you have to look for a new parish home, I hope this hints will help you find a place to nourish your faith and grow more in love with the good God.

Copyright 2014 Julie Paavola