Having identified my “top five priorities” for the parish going forward at the end of last week’s “From the Pastor” column, I thought it might be good to spend the next several weeks explaining each of those priorities a bit.  Several pre-notes…  First, the priorities are all important, so they are not particularly rank-ordered.  Second, these priorities did not spring full-grown from my own imagination, but rather are the result of extensive conversation and experience with parishioners, committees, parish pastoral council, and parish professional team members.  Last, and most important: it will take the energy, creativity, and commitment of every member of this parish to help us in moving these priorities forward.

The first priority is this: we need to continue to widen the circle of parishioners internally who are engaged and involved; and we need to look outward to attract, welcome, and engage newcomers.  What do I mean by parishioners who are engaged and involved?  I mean people who invest in our faith community and so gain a sense of ownership and belonging.  Engaged, involved parishioners register, give us current contact info, and use envelopes.  They volunteer as liturgical ministers, or they join committees.  Perhaps they begin by going to a coffee hour after Mass or to a parish celebration (like St. Joseph’s Day, which is coming up next month – y’all come!) where they get to know another parishioner or two.

And here’s the thing: as parishioners engage and become involved, OSJ ceases to be just a handy place for them to go to Mass; instead, it becomes a home for them, a living community of which they are a vital part.  Involvement is important, then, not so much because it helps to share the workload, or increases our offertory, or brings new talents and ideas to the table – although all of those things are important to a healthy, vibrant parish.  Involvement is important, first and foremost, because it enriches the faith life of parishioners who opt for it.  A parish of involved parishioners becomes energized, vital, and attractive.

And that, of course, augurs well for the second half of the priority – looking outward to invite, welcome, and encourage newcomers.  It’s kind of a no-brainer.  Jesus told his followers (us): “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).  And it only makes sense, right?  If the Gospel is really Good News, then shouldn’t it be natural for us to want to share it?  Besides, just as a human body needs food and stimulation on an ongoing basis, so too does the Body of Christ need a regular influx of “new blood” and new ideas.

Unfortunately, churches at times run the risk of becoming safe, comfortable “caves” where people can hide from “the world” and avoid unwanted change or challenge; but that is certainly not what Jesus had in mind for communities of Christians.  It has never been the Jesuit vision for OSJ, either.  Our more likely risk, I would respectfully submit, is to get caught up in all the good “stuff” we are doing – those 500 meetings a year which I wrote about recently – and to fail to save enough time and energy to reach out beyond our metaphorical “walls.”  We have a considerable amount of light here to share with the wider Church and the wider culture; we need check regularly and make sure that we are not “putting our light under a bushel basket,” a misstep which we were warned against in last Sunday’s Gospel.

Bottom line: being Church per Jesus’ instructions is about personal relationships – a loving relationship with a personal God (who reaches out to us through Jesus), and loving “neighborly” relationships with all human beings, whom we believe to be God’s beloved children.  Naturally, then, a serious Christian community of faith must constantly strive to deepen and enrich the faith experience and the bonds of affection of its members, and it must constantly try to reach out beyond itself and invite others into its circle where they can be both nurtured and challenged.

Let me be clear: in no way do I mean to imply that we have been idle on this priority of both engaging within and reaching out.  Since I have been here, for instance, we have added retreat days for liturgical ministers and committees.  We have revamped our website (come to the “roll-out” on Sunday, 2/20, after the 9:30, 11:30, and 6:30 Masses!), adding a calendar and options for online registration and giving.  We have solidified the First Sunday Courtyard Cookout which follows the 6:30 p.m. Mass.  We have added family retreats and regular parent communication to our PREP (parish religious ed) program , and a Family Choir for our 9:30 Mass community.  We are trying to arrange a parish “mission.”

And we have reached out beyond our boundaries when we publicized our lectures and our Schola performances, and when we hosted outside music groups like Tempesta di Mare and Vox Ama Deus.  We also regularly reach out through our Outreach efforts with the hungry poor,  through our annual Lenten appeal, and through our participation in the Archdiocesan Capital Campaign.  And most importantly, we reach out through word of mouth.  The majority of our new parishioners – who are now registering online! – indicate that they found OSJ through the personal invitation of a satisfied parishioner.  So thanks for sharing the Good News.  Keep it up; bring a friend!  After all, as Jesuit parish we strive for the “more” – for the greater glory of God!