The Holy Spirit is at work, “doing a new thing” here at OSJ. On Saturday, September 29, as a “run-up” to our annualMissionand Ministry Sunday, we had some 60 of our parish leaders gather in Barbelin Hall for an afternoon of retreat. I won’t bore you with the details, but the way this retreat evolved and coalesced from different people and different (separate) sources smelled suspiciously like the kind of “coincidence” which is usually better called Divine Providence.
Anyway, one of the things I shared in my “state of the parish” address at that retreat – and yes, in some format yet to be determined, I will eventually share this with all of you, or at least with all of you who are interested – was my growing sense that we need to extend our hearts and our gifts further “beyond the Courtyard.” OldSt. Joseph’s itself, however much we love it, is not the mission – the Gospel is the mission. Therefore, we don’t do what we do for ourselves – we do it for Jesus, who says to his disciples: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit.” Our own St. Ignatius Loyola – who did not invent the Society of Jesus or Ignatian spirituality “out of whole cloth,” but rather got them from Jesus and the Gospel – echoed his Teacher and Lord when he said to his Jesuits (and by extension, to their lay partners): “Go, and set the world on fire!”
We already do that to some extent, of course. We feed 50 to 60 “friends” three times a week in our Food, Faith & Friends program (a.k.a. Outreach). We catechize and officiate at the marriages of many non-parishioner couples. We host the children, faculty, and staff of St. Mary’sInterparochialSchoolfor school masses and reconciliation services. We touch a wider cross-section of Philadelphians with the cultural offerings in our growing Ars Sacra program. Our Jesuits often assist our neighboring pastors at Old St. Mary’s, St. Philip Neri, andSt. Augustinewith Mass “coverage.” We have shared our R.C.I.A. program withSt. Augustine’s for the last several years; and we serve a certain number of non-parishioners in our Parish Religious Ed Program. And of course, we frequently host tourists at our Masses, at times offering them guided “tours” of our rich parish history.
But in the spirit of the Jesuit/Ignatian “magis” – the “more,” the “greater glory” – we also realize that we might still expand our imagination and our outreach further to encompass neighborhood, Archdiocese, Church Universal, even world. I say this not because we all have lots of time to kill and not enough to do! I say it, rather, because the Jesuit/Ignatian vision has, from its outset, been global and expansive in scope. Again, this is how St. Ignatius understood what Jesus was asking of him and his followers…
Well, be careful what you pray for, because you might get it. As you will learn from the pre-Mass announcements and the bulletin inserts this weekend, I am being asked this year, along with seven other pastors in our “Pastoral Planning Area,” to take part in a series of meetings where we will deliberate how best to meet the needs of the Catholic faithful in this part if the city as we move into the future. Eventually, we will add representatives of our Parish Councils and Finance Councils to these meetings as well. The likely outcome will involve closer collaboration between the parishes, and eventually, the joining of parish communities with some church buildings becoming “secondary worship sites.” (Please see the letter inserted in this bulletin…)
Given the unique history of Old St. Joseph’s, the longstanding and ongoing commitment of the Society of Jesus, and the relative vibrancy of our “little parish in the Alley,” I think it highly unlikely that we need worry about being subsumed into another parish or reduced to a secondary worship site. I do think there is a strong probability, however, that we well might be called on to assimilate new parishioners (or at least, additional worshippers), and to share programs like R.C.I.A., the Parish Religious Ed Program, and the like, more broadly and intentionally than has heretofore been the case. We may also be invited to coordinate our Mass schedule with that of our neighbors.
I hope you caught the verb “called” which I used in that last paragraph; because I deeply believe, as your pastor and as a man of faith, that this development is nothing more nor less than a “call.” It is a summons given to us by the Father and Jesus, acting through the Holy Spirit. It is mediated by the practical realities affecting our evolving Church today – shifts in location, numbers, and practice of Roman Catholics; the aging of the priesthood; the steadily declining numbers of available priests and religious; and the financial constraints produced by the other factors already mentioned.
I hope you will think of it (and pray about it) as I do – as an invitation of grace and an opportunity for new and additional service “beyond the Courtyard.” As recent Sunday Gospels have reminded us, God’s gifts, freely and abundantly given to us, are given to be shared with equal freedom and generosity. If we are proud of our “lamp” here in Willings Alley, then perhaps we must see in this new invitation from Jesus an urging that we not “hide it under a bushel basket, but rather that we put it on a lampstand, where it can be seen throughout the house.”
©2012 Fr. Daniel M. Ruff, S.J.