The parish community is the presence of the Church in a given territory — the network of relationships through which Christ’s followers are saved and by which they draw others toward His saving grace.
“This is why we believe in the necessity of the Church for salvation,” Bishop W. Shawn McKnight explained at a recent Mass in St. Mary Church in Glasgow.
As such, he said, the parish should be like “a good mother comforting and taking care of her children.”
“Being part of a vibrant parish is so important for our identity as Christians,” Bishop McKnight stated. “The parish should be a place where every believer finds the resources and opportunities to grow both as disciples and apostles. The parish should be a house of prayer, a school of formation, and a refuge in times of need.”
The bishop presided at the July 3 Sunday Mass in Glasgow.
He installed Father Joshua Duncan, who had been serving as canonical administrator of St. Mary Parish and of St. Joseph Parish in Fayette, as pastor.
“You have been called to be a priest, prophet and shepherd for the people of St. Mary’s,” the bishop told Fr. Duncan. “This parish is a community of faith, whose members struggle together to live out the faith of the Apostles and strive to be credible witnesses of our Catholic faith.”
The bishop invited the people of the parish to contemplate how they can witness more credibly to the beauty and goodness of the faith.
“The answer is charity,” he asserted. “Sacrificial love is what catches everyone’s attention. Suffering for someone in need — caring for them, not just in words but in deeds — is something everyone understands.”
“Let your light shine”
Bishop McKnight pointed out that a disciple is a baptized follower of the Lord, while an apostle is a disciple who is sent to evangelize.
“Discipleship is about being a student or follower of the Lord, one who practices the faith through active stewardship,” he stated. “Disciples live the Christian discipline of life; they embrace the Gospel for themselves, knowing its challenges and joys, and they are intentional about living out its mandates daily.”
Apostles are made with the special gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation.
“As such, all of us who are baptized and consecrated with the gifts of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation are called not only to live the faith ourselves, but to draw others to the reality of the presence of God in our midst,” the bishop noted.
He reminded Fr. Duncan to always remember that the people of the parish are not perfect, “but they are here because they believe.”
He said a pastor’s vocation is to foster, encourage and animate the faithful of the parish to take up their role as disciples and apostles in the world.
He acknowledged that giving prophetic witness is often a tall order in a world that is largely indifferent or even hostile to the message.
“There are many teachings of the Church that are not accepted by some in our own community,” Bishop McKnight noted, “teachings that may cause them to insult you and persecute you for adhering to God’s Word.”
Among these are the sanctity and the dignity of all human life; the sinfulness of racism; the preferential option for the poor in public policy; and the Church’s countercultural understanding of sexual morality, the vocation of marriage and the meaning and purpose of the human body.
“We Christians have the medicine that is able to save a person’s soul and put that person’s life back together,” the bishop asserted. “But sometimes we can use the wrong method to get the message across. We may try to force it down people’s throats instead of presenting it in such a way that they will willingly receive it.”
He pointed to Jesus’s admonition to “let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father Who is in heaven,” (Matthew 5:16).
“‘In such a way’ means that we use the right method to present the Gospel so that people will be converted — that they will see the light in us and say, ‘I want what you’ve got!’” the bishop stated.
Rather than trying to prove people wrong, it calls for persuading and attracting them to the beauty of the Catholic Faith.
“This is the work of missionaries, which we are,” Bishop McKnight stated.
“As we give thanks to the Lord for our new pastor of St. Mary’s in Glasgow, let us recommit ourselves to witnessing the beauty and Joy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said.