Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
What an amazing parish you are! Looking back over January, thinking about all the activities we packed into the month, what with Family Week in Religious Education, Catholic Schools Week, all the preparation for two Called and Gifted Workshops and the great response you have had so far for the Lenten Friends small group Bible study program — well, it is amazing.
As I write this, the big Called and Gifted Workshop still hasn’t happened, but attendance looks like it will be well over 300 people. It will be one of the largest efforts in gifts discernment that any parish has ever attempted. Add to that about 180 parish leaders, faculty and staff from three other Workshops and you have quite a significant number who have begun the work of inviting the Holy Spirit into their lives of service in an intentional way.
Do you know what might be the result of all this? Already we are a parish that is far above the national (far, far above the international average) of Mass attendance, just under half, I figure. (Most places count a good attendance as 20-22%.) Based on the figure that we see about half, or 8,000 parishioners on a regular basis every Sunday, that means that one of every 16 active parishioners will have been blessed with the opportunity to stop for a day and consider a deeper calling from God, and more actively seek to understand the working of the Holy Spirit in their lives. That is a pretty high percentage. It will raise the sensitivity that we have of one another in seeking to help each other grow in ways that we are being called to live and serve, and our culture might slowly begin to change. If only we as a Church could do this on a massive scale! The Holy Spirit can only work among those who have an awareness of him, and a welcome.
Then, add to that so many who have signed up for the new Bible study small group program BETRANSFORMED this Lent. Already over 100 people have planned to participate — probably several times that by the time you are reading this article. Not only do we Catholics have a lot of work to do to get acquainted with texts of the Bible, but the principal value of this program is getting comfortable with sharing the faith that we have. We tend not to be “wired” for small groups, to speak freely about our feelings or about our faith. Catholics tend to be introverts in this area. But in the context of friends, we can practice that sharing skill and become more effective evangelizers, and therefore more likely to speak when needed in uncomfortable situations as well. In the process, our friendships grow, and we may even make new friends.
Last week I also had the opportunity to participate in Catholic Advocacy Day at the Virginia General Assembly. We gathered with Bishops Loverde and DiLorenzo in the morning and heard an overview of the Catholic viewpoint on major areas of legislation that are proposed for this session, then caucused according to districts to plan our conversations with our elected officials and practice what we planned to say when our appointments took place later in the morning.
Our group — Sister Susan Louise, Rick Caporali, Jim Carlson, Gregg Carneal, Tess Thome, Maureen Guilfoyle, and Dr. Trish Barber (principal of Saint Francis in Triangle) made our way to meetings with Senators Reeves and Stuart and Delegate Cole to speak on the topics of life protection and taxpayer subsidy, immigration, education, the death penalty, guns after hours in private schools, TANF reform and rapid rehousing initiatives for the homeless, among others. Our conversations were well-received, and we left with a sense that we had spent the day well.
I always wonder, afterward, how this day comes and goes with so little notice. If we truly have the opportunity to speak out and help shape the laws of our society according to our beliefs, then it is a wonder to me that we all don’t take the day off and flood the capitol with information and voters. Over the past ten years, we have made a significant difference in the deliberations of our state legislature.
We especially thank Jeff Caruso, our parishioner and Executive Director of the Virginia Catholic Conference, for his constant attention to these matters, and to his staff who do such a nice job making all of us feel organized and valued in the work of advocacy.
Now Lent is less than two weeks away. Don’t forget to get in as much chocolate and TV as you can while there is still time. 🙂
God bless you.