We are well into this process of Pastoral Planning for the Diocese of Erie. For the past year, we have been meeting with the Diocese and the Consultants to let them know who we are as St. Bartholomew's. I am truly grateful to the Members of the Parish, Members of Parish and Finance Councils, and our Parish Staff who have joined me at numerous meetings with other Parishes and with the Bishop himself.
The Bishop has called for every Church in the Diocese to Offer this Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit this weekend - to pray, to beg for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as this process of planning begins to wind up by the close of this year. And believe me, we need the Holy Spirit in this - our Bishop needs the Holy Spirit to guide him - For every decision about what is in the best interest of the Diocese, of how we can best serve all of you as priests, of how we can best minister in every charitable organization and every school and parish - 100% of all of that stuff falls on his shoulders alone, and every decision that needs to be made and will be made, and is equally his alone to make. He needs our prayers.
But what about us? What about our wonderings, or worries, the possibilities that we might face for the future of St. Bartholomew's? There's no answer to that. There's no way to tell what will happen - whether at the end of the plan you will still have a full time pastor, whether you will share a pastor with two or even three other parishes, or even whether or not we will still be here. That's also why we need the Holy Spirit - because we believe, we must believe, that however it all unfolds, it will be God Himself who leads us into it - and it will make us stronger in the end.
What do our readings tell us this weekend about that Spirit that we are so desperately begging for? The Apostles - the 11 that remained, gathered and hid in a room in absolute fear after the death of Jesus - they thought that they were next. They gathered in Fear. But what did Jesus do? He appeared to them in their fear, breathed on them, and gave them the Holy Spirit - and then he kicked them out.
They left that room, that fear, that anxiety of the unknown, and they didn't look back. They went forth in the Holy Spirit to proclaim his message, and to spread the faith. We must do the same. We must go forth from this place and no longer live our lives in fear - or be complacent with confining our faith to the walls of this building - it must be lived, it must be proclaimed, it must be celebrated with joy in every corner of our lives - or else it is a dead and rotting and festering corpse.
Our Second Reading speaks of how we are to do that - and this is a radical idea here - we have to work together. I'll let you catch your breath for a moment - we have to work together. Every single person that is here, and that should be here, needs to be an active and vibrant and engaged member of our Parish community. Everyone here has gifts - we need them - we need you. Everyone that's not here, has things to offer this parish - this parish is stronger with them here, it is weaker and feeble when they stay home. It is stronger when you step up to the plate and get involved, its weaker and feeble when you just sit there on your butt.
We need you - we need your talents, your gifts, your thoughts, your energy, your effort, your devotion for the good of this place. Being a lone ranger here doesn't make you a parishioner - engage with your parish. You can call that a bunch of garbage, fine - I just pray it does not take a much colder reality for that to sink in - because sadly, I fear that for many they won't hear those words until they show up for Mass here one day and there are chains on the doors and a closed sign in the window. And yes, it will happen - unless we live out our faith - because unless we live it out, there is absolutely no reason for us to be here.
This weekend I met with our Parish Council and our Parish Staff and we completed the last step of our active participation in the Pastoral Planning process. We completed a Self-Assessment of our Parish. We looked at every possible facet of parish life. It was an eye opening experience, and I'll share the results of it with you over time. We do so much here. But we realized too that we are called to do so much more to better live out our faith.. We can get there, we need to get there - but we can only do it together - because we can only live out our faith together - none of us can do it alone.
Whatever the reality of the Pastoral Plan will be for us, it will make us stronger - it will make it possible for us to live our faith better, because it will be what the Holy Spirit wants for us. And we all know that no one likes change - I think I've heard that around here before - but as our Bishop clearly reminds us "those who refuse to manage change will become it's victim."
But we needn't wait, indeed we cannot wait for the process to be done - we must begin right here and right now - to hear the Holy Spirit calling out to us - to hear the Holy Spirit leading us to be the Catholics and indeed the Children of God that we are all called to be. That can wait for nothing.
This is not a time of fear, but of opportunity - to put our actions where we say our faith is. Talk is cheap, action is not. Let's set aside past resentments and petty wounds to our pride. Let us stop allowing fear and selfishness to control our lives, and let's get to work - together, even with our other parishes, to get going where God wants us to go, even when we might be afraid. We have nothing to lose, and everything to gain - God's plan for us.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people, and enkindle within us the fire of your love. Send forth Your Spirit and we shall be created, and You shall renew the face of the earth. +