This Wednesday, August 8, beginning at 7:00PM in the hall at St. Agnes, we will be holding a listening session open to all parishioners of Precious Blood Parish. This listening session is part of the synod process underway in the Archdiocese of Hartford as the Archdiocese continues the work of pastoral planning and looks to the future.
The purpose of the session is to focus on issues pertaining to the Archdiocese as a whole, and not the parish. While we know that Precious Blood is not a perfect parish and we know that not everyone in the new parish is entirely happy with the merger and subsequent developments, the meeting on Wednesday is not intended to be a “gripe session” on parish matters. Rather, the focus for all comments is centered on three questions that were raised by Archbishop Blair, again all having to do with the future direction of the Archdiocese of Hartford and its mission. By way of repetition, the questions are as follows: What is the Archdiocese of Hartford doing well? What is the Archdiocese not doing well? What is the Archdiocese not doing that it should be doing?
As Catholics, we tend to operate out of a very narrow understanding of what the Church really is. Most of us grow up in parishes and we become attached to the parish and its ways and customs. The parish is, after the family itself which Vatican II called “the domestic Church,” the center of the faith lives of most Catholics. The recent process of merging parishes and creating new parishes has not been without its difficulties precisely because of this. As parishes merge, things change, from Mass and confession schedules, to personnel, to religious education offerings, and more. Change is difficult for most people, but change is a reality, a part of life. The Church itself has changed markedly in the last fifty years alone. Nothing stays the same. While change may be disconcerting and even frightening to some people, in the midst of it, we know that God remains timeless and without change, and that, even as the incidentals around us may change, the Mass and the sacraments are still celebrated, the Gospel is preached, and works of charity are performed in the name of Christ for those in need.
But even as we acknowledge the centrality of the parish, we must also make it clear: the Church is much more than the parish. A parish is not and can never be an entity unto itself, for every parish is related to and connected to other parishes around it in what is for us the Archdiocese of Hartford. We are a family of parishes, a communion of local communities of faith united under the leadership of the principal shepherd of the Archdiocese, the Archbishop. This is what is known in theological terms as the local Church. For his part, the pastor of the local parish represents the parish to the Archbishop and the Archdiocese and represents the Archbishop and the Archdiocese to the parish. Thus, the pastor is appointed to serve the parish by the Archbishop. Beyond the Archdiocese, the local Church, we are also part of the Universal Church that exists everywhere in the world. The Universal Church is a communion, a family of local Churches, dioceses and archdioceses around the world, each under the leadership of a bishop. Each bishop receives his appointment from the Pope, the Holy Father, who is the Bishop of Rome, the earthly head of the Church and the Vicar of Christ. All bishops are members of a special body in the Church known as the college of bishops, united in communion with the Pope, who is the head of the college. As the bishops are in communion with the Pope, they represent their dioceses, the local churches, to the Pope and the Universal Church, and they also represent the Pope and the Universal Church to their dioceses. As the Archbishop of Hartford, Archbishop Blair has this role and function for us.
My point in all of this is that we need to think more broadly than we have become accustomed to thinking. We must stop limiting our vision to either St. Mary’s or St. Agnes’ and begin to think more in terms of Precious Blood, the wider Archdiocese of Hartford, and the Church Universal. The word “parochialism,” means “ a limited or narrow outlook, especially one focused on a local area, narrow-mindedness.” The root word of parochialism is parochus, which is the Latin word for “parish.” There is a great richness in parish life, its customs and traditions, but we must do whatever we can to avoid parochialism, which implies a resistance to change.
In the months since the merger of St. Agnes’ and St. Mary’s, there has been much cooperation on the part of the people of the parish. To be fair, little has changed in the first twelve months. I wanted to go slowly and deliberately without rocking the boat unduly and unnecessarily. However, as the approval of the new Mass schedule indicated, along with the appointment of a Parish Pastoral Council and a Parish Finance Council, things were not going to remain as they were forever. As we go forward in the next several months, there will be additional tweaking and changes that will go into effect, and these will affect the religious education program, the liturgical life and practices of the parish, and the social outreach ministries of the parish as well. Not everyone may necessarily be happy with or approve these changes. Nevertheless, I ask your cooperation, your understanding, and your open-mindedness as we seek to come closer together as a new parish community.