that can happen in the life of a parish. Its not something that can be manufactured or sold because its a God thing, a spark of life from the Holy Spirit with the power to transform people and in transforming people transform a parish.
Somewhere along the line in the business and routine of being a parish there will be a someone, or perhaps a group of people, who will take a step out from business as usual and ask “Where is God in all we’re doing?” Now, most of the time that pause will be drowned out by the systems, structures, and business as usual and everything returns to what is considered “normal”.
For that rare person or person, though, the question remains and it begins a quest to seek out and draw closer to God in everything, including their local church. After years of doing things for the sake of doing things they will start to ask about why and to what end and the lure of something more, something holier, something deeper, will start to capture their imagination. Faith begins to emerge, not faith in an institution and its plans but rather faith in God and the sense that they, and their parish, were created for something far more wonderful than what they see around them, more wonderful than even their own imagination.
As this fire sparks and then smolders to life inside of them, they start to look for answers to their questions and search for examples of the dreams growing within. The Bible, the ancient writers, the lives of Saints, all of these start to take on a new life not just as relics of some long ago past but rather as real possibilities in the present. They seek, as well, to know if there are others like them, people who are starting to welcome and listen to the Holy Spirit, people with a holy discontent and a spark of heavenly life seeking to actually live the promise for which they were baptized. It may take days. It may take years. Still this life, because it comes from God, has a quality that endures.
At first the expressions are personal. Prayer becomes more important. Being at church for worship becomes increasingly joyful. The awareness of, and repentance for, sin increases but in a freeing and not a morbid sense. The Eucharist stops being a formality and its power to give life becomes more apparent. There is a hunger there, but its not a bitter hunger but rather a hunger for that which is the best, namely God.
Then personal action follows, an increase in quiet charity, a care for people in hard circumstances, a growing list of godly behaviors that become part of the routine of everyday life. From the inside the person, down to their daily habits, is being transformed. Some in their parish will dismiss these things as the person being “religious” and they may even criticize because the light beginning to shine is exposing them, but others will recognize, instinctively, what is happening because it is also happening with them.
From there come the quiet voices speaking up. “What happens if instead of having a festival where we charge people we decide to have a meal where we invite the poor to come to our church without charge?” They’ll start to ask if their church has done anything, recently, to spread the Gospel to those who may not have heard it. They’ll wonder, out loud, why there’s no Bible study. A host of questions will emerge, and these questions are not, as some would think, about a dislike for their parish but rather a desire for that which they already love to become what God would wish it to be.
At this point the trouble may start. Priests and councils and people can become wedded to an order of things. This is not necessarily due to malice but rather the power of a routine to take the place of Faith. It can happen to the best of us, people with good intentions that have somehow gone into auto-pilot without even being aware of it. These new ideas, which are actually the real content of the historic Faith, can be troubling, seeming to be risky, extravagant, and unwise in the ways that the world measures wisdom. The world of balance sheets, reports, and keeping the lights on can be deeply challenged by a vision rooted in the Word, the Tradition, and the living reality of the Holy Spirit in the life of the parish. Those balance sheets and reports can, over time, become masters of a parish and they will relinquish their rule very grudgingly.
Still, even a small risk of faith, a willingness to see both our personal and parish life as being first and foremost about God and a heavenly way of existing, can move a parish to a next step, one after another, until the people discover something that has always been both true and widely ignored. This Christian life, this beautiful path, is dynamic, powerful, life giving, even enchanting in the best sense of the word, and in living it fully we begin to realize what God, as our Faith and Holy Tradition guide us, designed us to be.
If you are the person with a holy discontent inside of you, and you will know its holy and not just simply discontent if it draws you closer to God,and fills you with enduring love and deep peace, stay the course. Don’t give up on your parish or any of the people who worship with you. Pray for them, for your parish, for your leaders, and be an example in your own life of the kind of parish you would like to see. Seek out kindred spirits to share the journey.
If you are still going with the flow, stop for a moment. Imagine that there are possibilities in life and faith for both you and your parish that are greater than your imagination. If you hear that still, small, voice, inside of you calling you to draw close to God, to the higher, better, and blessed that your heart tells you might be inside of you waiting to get out, listen. You may be one step at a time away from the most remarkable and beautiful life of faith.
There is more. There is so much more. Seek, as our Lord says, and you shall find.