I’m writing this letter at the end of our first evening at the Amazing Parish Conference in Atlanta. Matthew Kelly, founder of the organization called Dynamic Catholic (also the name of his book, i.e., Dynamic Catholic, which I recommend to anybody), gave the keynote address tonight, entitled, “Becoming the Best Version of Your Parish”. Last Christmas many of you took home Matthew Kelly’s book, Rediscovering Jesus. Here are some of the points Matthew made:
= He first talked about the need to take care of ourselves, in order to maintain our joy. (He also wrote a book called Rediscovering Joy.) The joyless Catholic will not draw anybody to God. Nor the joyless parish. Part of taking care of yourself will mean being able to say “no” a lot. You have to say “no” much more than you have to say “yes” to things. We say “yes” to way too many things that we ought not to be doing.
= We need to become prayerful in order to become fully alive Catholics. Too bad that people, although they know the Church is the primary builder of hospitals, schools, soup kitchens, etc., etc., people no longer describe us as spiritual people. We have to get that back. When Jesus told the apostles to put out into the deep for a catch of fish, fish was really not his primary topic. He meant they have to go to a deep place in their spirit to pray. Find that deep place and go to it every day. It’s useless to think you can keep the Faith or do things for God without prayer. Matthew remembered seeing Pope St. John Paul II when he visited Australia. After Holy Communion, the Pope knelt down on a kneeler in front of the altar; and Matthew – a boy of 13 at the time – realized the Pope was going somewhere very deep. How many Catholics after Communion are doing everything in their pews except praying?
= The biggest lie for Christians today is, “I cannot become holy; it is not possible for me.” Believing this lie neutralizes everybody when it comes to living the Faith; and they all become spectators. Think of holiness as “collaborting with God and doing exactly what I think he wants of me”, starting one moment each day. Then add the moments day-by-day. Saints lived lots of holy moments. We need to convince people that holiness is possible.
= At all of his sporting events growing up, Matthew’s dad said before games, “Listen to your coach!” Why? Because nobody achieves excellence at anything without coaching. Crazy thing about American Catholicism is that nobody wants to be excellent in Catholicism in their personal life, yet they expect the parish to be excellent. They get to a new town and ask where is the best parish. Even hardly-practicing Catholics expect us to be excellent.
= The goal is not a program that zaps the whole parish and makes them engaged. People become engaged with God and the parish one soul at a time. God transforms people one-by-one.
= Dynamic Catholic did quite a lot of statistical study of parish life in the U.S. They found that 7% of the parishioners do all the volunteering; and almost the same 7% give financially. Focus on adding 1% more to that active list each year. Focus on doing the things you do to the utmost; especially those sacramental moments that are so important in people’s lives. Grab people “for good” at these moments.
= There are “Q & S” people in each parish: They quit and stay. They are totally disengaged, yet they stay on.
= One problem can be that the people who are most involved sometimes do things that turn away the others who are ready to become involved. We need the gift of awareness, so we realize the effect that is being made on those who are not yet engaged. We also have to be aware of people’s resistance; and also our resistance to changing problems.
= People who are fully engaged in the Faith are “hungry for best practices”, and they are committed to continuous learning. Think of being committed to ongoing learning. Matthew Kelly asked how many people come to church ready to take notes, in case the priest says something worthwhile. Nobody! Why is that? Do they not expect the priest to say something useful in the homily? Or more importantly, does it mean that they don’t think the Holy Spirit will say anything to them that they should remember from Mass?
= Finally Matthew encouraged us not to let the things we cannot do interfere with the things we can do. In other words, don’t get overwhelmed with all the ideas; and realize some things don’t work in every parish. But focus on what can be done to bring about positive growth.
= When somebody asked a question about how a pastor is to confront somebody who is controlling a program that is not effective, Matthew suggested making sure the conversation focuses on “mission being king”, not the pastor or the catechist or the DRE, or the business manager. Let the mission be king. Then it is not “you against me”; rather, we are both arguing about what we think will be most effective for the God’s mission.
So there is the gist of the opening talk, and an overall feel for things we discussed in the conference. The three “building blocks” of an amazing parish that we will treat are:
A passion for Evangelization and Discipleship
A Commitment to a Healthy Organization
A Reliance on Prayer and the Sacraments
On another note, please remember the Knights of Columbus book racks in the vestibules/narthex of each campus. These booklets are packed with solid stuff for your Lenten-and-beyond journey.
Also, we are looking for a few people who can help with taking weekly Communion to shut-ins in Paulding. Please contact Rita Diaz for information. She can answer initial questions you might have; and she can train you.
Finally, we would be happy to train a few more cantors, especially for our Paulding campus. I continue to think and work behind the scenes to see if we can restore our youth choir. We are slowly working on this, but it will not be happening quickly. Either way, some more cantors would be helpful. Please contact Fritz Koch regarding cantoring. Even couples or trios could prepare to sing a Mass every couple months or so.
Have a blessed week!
In cordibus Iesu et Mariae,