I want to take a break from our regular scripture reflections to speak a bit about one part of what it means to be a parish: the parish as a place of joy. Our local parishes are celebrating their annual festivals this month and next, which I thoroughly enjoy. I love seeing people take a break from their routines to celebrate being a family in Christ. Some do this with great buffets, celebrating the bounty of God’s gifts to their parish, and the talents that God has given to their cooks and servers. Others provide games and prizes for young and old alike. We have live and silent auctions to raise funds for future ministry, and we provide music to lift people’s hearts. Sometimes we even indulge in dancing! These diverse expressions of joy all point to the reality we celebrate: our parish is alive! We, the Church, are God’s instrument of joy for the world.
Each parish is a local instance of God’s Church, a place set apart for people to encounter Jesus Christ. We celebrate the Sacraments as a body gathered in prayer. We sing Gloria and Alleluia and Holy, Holy, Holy, rejoicing as we receive the gift of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist.. We intercede for the people of our community, asking God to bless and protect us. We care for the physical needs of the people as well as the facilities in which we worship and serve.
Some people share their musical gifts, others their talents in baking, cooking, or making beautiful works of art. Still others share their gifts by organizing our festivals and coordinating the talents of others. These are all different expressions of God’s love, and a healthy parish combines them all. To be a parish involves a lot of effort from everyone, as we all work together to build up the Body of Christ, the Church.
Sometimes we can lose the joy of service. We can be tempted to offer our worship and service to God in a mechanical or even resentful way. Perhaps some tragedy or misfortune of life distracts us or weighs us down. Whatever the cause, we can lose our joy.
This is why our festivals are so important! Our festivals remind us that we need to take a break from our routine and remind each other of the joy at the center of our Christian lives. God loves me, and I feel that love in the joy I receive from my parish and in the joy I give to others in Christ’s name. The trials and pains of life cannot outweigh the joy we share in Christ Jesus. We step back from the ordinary to celebrate again God’s goodness. We elevate our celebration of the Mass with even more joyful music, more exuberant praise of God. We share our talents with pride and share our gifts with gratitude, for we are blessed to be the instruments of God’s generous love.
Not only our festivals, but every Mass, every service project, and even every committee meeting we have in our parish should express the joy we have in Christ Jesus. May the special celebration of our parish festivals breathe new life into our worship and service as a parish throughout the year. May our parishes be living, welcoming, joyful places of encounter with Christ for both members and visitors alike.