When Jesus first returned to Nazareth, shortly after his baptism by John the Baptist and his temptation in the desert by Satan, he was just beginning his Galilean ministry. Nazareth was his hometown. They were probably very accustomed to hearing Jesus take his turn as lector in the Synagogue on the Sabbath. But, something was different this day.
Jesus began speaking in the synagogue, saying:
“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
At first they were impressed. But then they turned on him.
Jesus responded to them,
“Amen, I say to you,
no prophet is accepted in his own native place.
And they became so enraged that they tried to kill him.
Some parishes can be like Nazareth, as well, and turn on Jesus and their prophets, not welcoming either Jesus or strangers. These parishes can become intimidating places instead of welcoming communities. You will often notice people who come to Church and they sit as far away from the Altar as they can. They don’t want to be seen. There is something here intimidating to them. Or perhaps they lack the faith and courage to embrace the parish community, and they just want to be invisible to the parish. But, our Catholic faith is not a private affair. Communion is part of the essence of our Faith: Communion with God and with one another.
So, what is a parishioner? Hopefully, they are not like those people in Nazareth who rejected Jesus.
Physically, everyone belongs to a specific geographic parish. Pope Francis belongs to the parish of the Vatican. I am proud to be a parishioner of Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Physically, I belong to this parish. This is my parish, in my diocesan Church, founded by Jesus upon the Apostles. I belong here. I encounter and embrace Jesus here; HERE in this parish. You can count on me! I want to be here with you.
You may recall when I first came to Sacred Heart parish, in my first homily, I told you, “I came to fall in love with you. I don’t know what that will look like, but I came to fall in love with you.” And I have. You can count on me, and my love for our parish.
Membership in the Church is both spiritual and physical. The Sacraments of Initiation bring us into full membership in the Church, and include Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation. Confirmation completes the grace of Baptism by a special outpouring of the gifts of the spirit. We live our sacramental life in the Church, together.
Our Church is built upon St. Peter’s faith in Jesus. We mature in faith through the Apostolic Church. We encounter Jesus through the Church. We are saved, in the sacramental life of the Church. We claim the Parish as our spiritual home.
We encounter others, even strangers, in the Church. We learn to welcome them as we would Jesus.
We go out into the world from our parish to build up God’s Kingdom. In the Book of Isaiah we hear,
… I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
“Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?”
“Here I am,” I said; “send me!”
Send me! Being a parishioner is not something forced upon me. I must chose it, and so must you. Being a parishioner comes from deep inside me. Gradually we come to love our parish. I hunger for God. I need to be in my parish with YOU. I return to our parish to be fed and restored in my faith and love. I fulfill my obligations to God in my parish. I serve God and my Church, mostly in my parish.
As we mature in faith we mature in membership. We tell God, “Here I am, Lord. You can count on me.” We say to our parish, “Here I am, you can count on me!”
Parishioners cannot be secret, invisible Christians! Parishioners are not simply “observers”. You don’t hide from God sitting in the last row. As we grow in faith, our spirit cries out, “Alleluia!” and we love and praise God together, in our parish. We thank God together for the many gifts he has showered upon us. Together in our parish, we learn from God through His Word. In our parish we receive His Son in His Body and Blood, and our sins are forgiven. God’s plan is for us to seek salvation with Him, together.
A parishioner is a fully initiated member of the Church who says to his community and to God, “Here I am. I belong here, with you. I will not hide. I will not run. You can count on me!” And we welcome strangers!
I invite you to examine your own membership in our parish. In what ways do you need to strengthen and mature your membership with the body of the parish, the body of Christ? Can you say, “Here I am! You can count on me”?