As we celebrate the Fifth Sunday of Easter this weekend, we move into the final part of the season and turn our attention upon Jesus’ parting gift of the Holy Spirit. Last Thursday in the weekday cycle of Scripture readings, we began reading from the Farewell Discourse of John’s Gospel (John 13:16-17:26). This discourse covers five chapters in John’s Gospel and is situated at the Last Supper. It gives us a glimpse into the heart and mind of the Lord on the night before he died. In some respects it can be viewed as Jesus’ Last Will and Testament – his departing wish for the community of his disciples, the church. From now until the end of the Easter Season on Pentecost Sunday, we will be reading from the Farewell Discourse. As the Lord promises to remain with us by sending the gift of the Spirit, we have the opportunity to reflect upon the third of the three Sacraments of Initiation we celebrated at the Easter Vigil – the Sacrament of Confirmation. During the recent interviews with our Confirmation candidates, I discussed with them our call to be disciples of the Lord Jesus. As we explored what being a “disciple” really means, we came to the conclusion that being a disciple in our day is not an easy path. Since the Lord also knew that, he promised to send us the gift of his Spirit to be our strength. One of the ways that the Lord continues to be with us is through the gift of the Spirit, of which we have all received, beginning at our Baptism. It is a good way for us to conclude our celebration of this season. Let’s listen carefully during the next three weeks and appreciate the gift of the Spirit that has been given to us.
Since Easter is the primary season of initiation into the church community, we intentionally schedule our special celebrations of the Sacraments of Initiation (First Communion and Confirmation) during the Easter Season. We began our parish celebrations of First Communion this weekend. We celebrated two First Communion Masses yesterday and will conclude with two more Masses next Saturday. Congratulations to all of our Second Grade parishioners who are celebrating their First Communion this year. It is great watching them as they take this next step in their faith lives. Their enthusiasm is contagious. When something like the Eucharist is so available to us every day, it is easy to forget what a wonderful gift we have from the Lord. Our 2nd graders are reminding us of this as they come to the altar for the first time. At the conclusion of each celebration, I invited each of our First Communicants to wear their special clothing when they come back for Sunday Mass today. Please congratulate them when you see them. Congratulations also to their parents for bringing them to this point in their lives. Thank you also to Vera Zielinski, our Faith Formation staff and our catechists who assisted their parents in preparing our young people for this new beginning.
We ended our April Parish Council meeting with a very animated conversation about some bad habits that have crept into the culture of our parish. We often assume that the way we might do a particular thing is the same way every parish around us does it. Visitors, new parishioners and even new priests can usually spot something unusual or different taking place and then raise questions about it. For example, a few months ago some friends from another parish joined me for our Saturday 5:00pm Mass before we went out for dinner. At communion time, they followed the other people in their pew forward to the altar for communion and then followed them back to what they thought was their pew. Instead, the people ahead of them at communion didn’t return to their pew, but went directly into the narthex and then out the front doors into the parking lot. Fortunately, my guests were able to find their way back to their pew from the back of church. They were surprised to see that about one fourth of the people in the back pews of that Mass left Mass after receiving communion. Somehow it has become a part of our St. Isidore culture that a significant number of people leave the Saturday 5:00pm Mass after communion. When was it ever said here at St. Isidore that it was OK to leave Mass early, without giving thanks for the gift of the Eucharist we had just received or waiting until we are commissioned and sent out into the world? It doesn’t matter if the 5:00pm Mass is finished early, about a fourth of the congregation is gone after communion. That is a bad habit that has crept into our parish’s culture. I doubt anyone ever said it was OK to leave Mass right after communion – every weekend!
The comments at the Parish Council meeting then shifted to another bad habit at our Sunday 1:00pm Mass. We begin that Mass on time, at 1:00pm. Often we have less than half of the congregation present when we begin. The rest of the congregation filters in during the Scripture Readings, during the homily, during the preparation of the gifts and even the Eucharistic Prayer – 10, 15, 20 and even 30 minutes late! When was it ever said here at St. Isidore that it was OK to arrive at the 1:00pm Sunday Mass during or after the Word of God was proclaimed? Or OK to arrive during the Eucharistic Prayer or while we are praying the Our Father? I doubt that message was ever spoken! A bad habit has crept into the culture of our parish. And it happens week after week, even when the time changes and we gain an hour. Visitors and new parishioners notice these bad habits immediately. It isn’t this bad at other parishes. Why has it become this bad here?
We believe we meet the living God when we come together for Mass. We believe that God speaks to us when the Scriptures are proclaimed. We believe that we encounter the risen Lord Jesus when we receive communion. How did the habit of disrespecting God’s Word or the Eucharist by regularly arriving late or leaving early without taking time to give thanks become a regular happening at St. Isidore? When did we forget the importance of what we were doing and whom we were meeting at our Sunday Mass? While there were many suggestions offered at the Parish Council meeting, the one thing that was for certain is that some bad habits that we may have become blind to need to be addressed. It is not OK to leave Mass before we are sent out after the blessing. It is not OK to consistently arrive during the Word of God or the preparation of the gifts or during the Eucharistic Prayer or the Our Father. The expectation at St. Isidore (and the larger church) is that we arrive on time and stay until we are sent out. The animated discussion at the Parish Council meeting told me it is time to break some bad habits that have crept into our parish culture.
May God continue to bless us with everything that we need, and more.
Father Jim Murphy