This homily might be hard for some to hear, but it’s necessary, and I promise you that it’ll bear fruit almost instantaneously.
Do you think our parish is growing or dying? A good way to answer this question is to focus on the facts. Just be brutally honest so that we can see where we are.
Let’s look at signs of dying first:
- We haven’t had any vocations for years. Our last vocation was Fr. Anthony Ho in 2006.
- Our numbers in RCIA are extremely low (but the quality of people is very high!): currently 4 people; we would need 9 people every year for 1% growth of the parish.
- Many of our children that go to our parish school and catechism program and high schools (Little Flower Academy, Vancouver College, and St. Patrick’s) don’t come to Mass every Sunday. What’s more troubling is that many don’t see that as a problem. This isn’t a judgement on these young people; I’m not saying they’re bad, they are in fact good! I’m just pointing out that we’re not reaching them and that’s not a good sign.
- When people ask me if this parish is young or old, I say it’s like an inverted triangle: the older you go the more we have, the younger you go the fewer we have.
- I once asked how many people are in some way involved in a ministry, and not many raised their hands. Again, this isn’t a criticism, but a fact. When a parish is growing and healthy, everyone’s involved.
- Lastly, of the children baptized in the Catholic Church, only 9% of them will still be practicing their faith by age 22. That’s shocking and horrible.
A few notes about this:
- If we think we’re doing better than other parishes, that may be true, but that could be like going to the hospital and saying the people in serious condition look good compared to people on life support.
- If we find these facts disturbing that’s because we care, and that’s beautiful. The first step to getting over a problem is to admit we have one.
- We cannot sustain the way we’re going. At our current trajectory, we will eventually get smaller and smaller—that’s just demographics. Unless a population has a sufficient number of younger people, it will die out.
- We get what we aim for. Have we ever deliberately tried to grow this parish and make it a dynamic, life-giving, on-fire parish? We don’t talk about growth—that’s why we don’t grow.
Now, let’s look at signs of life:
- When I got here a year and a half ago, I was impressed by the hospitality/friendliness and the reverence, both of which are amazing and have even improved.
- Daily Mass attendance is good.
- We went from 840 people every weekend to 960 in the past year, which is 14% growth and in the top 5 growing parishes in the diocese. We all feel the energy because of this.
- Our Project Advance donations went up by 48% last year, which was the 3rd highest increase in whole archdiocese; The participation rate doubled from 16% to 32%.
- We are very generous with the resources God has given us (e.g. in one weekend in the summer, we gave $12,000 to Sister Mary Margaret from Uganda when she appealed to us for help).
- Confessions have gone up.
- Our faith study ministry is so fruitful right now that His Grace, Archbishop Miller, is very impressed with it and other parishes are asking what we’re doing right (today we had another 41 sign up for a total of 112 for this April).
- We have the best deacon in the diocese!
A few notes about this:
- Every parish that talks about problems improves, because facing reality makes things better. Merely by pointing out problems, we can find solutions.
- We have all the ingredients for massive growth. Jesus is the center of our parish, and if we’re more faithful to Him, good things will happen. Deacon Lucio was blown away by the quality of people we have here. The more each of us grows as individuals, even if slightly, we immediately have a better parish.
- We’re aiming to grow this parish and we have a plan. We are following the best practices of other parishes that are vibrant, dynamic, and growing.
Here’s part of the solution. I was deeply inspired by the first reading which shows the first Christians growing at staggering rates and doing signs and wonders, healing people, and casting out demons. What stuck out to me in particular was how they were helping so many people. Of course, their primary concern was spiritual, to evangelize and bring people to faith, but they were also taking care of people’s physical, more human, needs.
Then I realized: I tend towards comfort and focus mainly on you, my brothers and sisters, because it’s easier for me. This parish too mainly focuses on itself: overall we take care of our own needs. We come here every Sunday and nourish ourselves but we have no concentrated effort to help the community around us. But the early Christians weren’t like this. They focused on Jesus, they focused on the spiritual, and then focused on the people outside of them!
I remembered something that Fr. Doyle told me, when I was 14: love, if it’s to grow, must be given away. If we keep love to ourselves, then it dies. But if we give love away, then we grow!
Jesus was telling me in prayer, “Get out there!” We need to think about the community of Marpole and the people who will work through our doors.
Pope Francis in 2013 said, “What do I expect as a consequence of the Youth Day?… I want people to go out! I want the Church to go out to the street! I want us to defend ourselves against everything that is worldliness… comfortableness… clericalism, that is being shut-in on ourselves.”
There are two ways we can do this: as a community and individually.
As a community, what we’re doing today is changing our mentality: we’re shifting to becoming a more outward-focused parish. A number of people have mentioned to me over the past few months how we need to do more to help those in need. One of the suggestions was to welcome a refugee family and help them improve their life. So, we’ve started this: we’ve set up a refugee committee and we’ve already started giving towards this. Praise God! Thank you!
We can do so much more. I know God is calling us to do more to help the poor. He’s asking us to give a greater pro-life witness and defend unborn babies against abortion. He’s even asking us to donate blood to those who need it (I had a great response today on this one). Whenever we have a petition in church (e.g. against pornography or euthanasia), this is outward-focused love; please sign the petitions. We also want to be the most friendly and hospitable place in Vancouver. When people come here, we want to welcome them and nourish them emotionally with love. We will launch the world famous Alpha program soon. Let’s support these endeavours in whatever way we can, with prayer and enthusiasm. Let’s not complain, be negative, or cynical. Let’s look for solutions, offer help, and get involved.
Individually, I’d like to share with you a prayer that is so powerful, that can help us love everyone around us.
Tom Peterson was “an award-winning and record-setting national corporate advertising executive and entrepreneur” who had a conversion in 1997 while on retreat. After his conversion, someone said to him, “Tom, pray every single day for God to use you to help somebody, to lead somebody to Christ.” So, one day, while at Mass, he prayed, “Dear God, let me help someone today.” After Mass, he got a tap on the shoulder from a Vietnamese lady next to him, who said, “Will you help my son?” He asked, “What do you mean?” She said, “I have a son named Jimmy and he’s been away from the Church for over 20 years, will you help him?” She told him where Jimmy worked, so, Tom, nervous and not knowing how to do it, went home, got his Cursillo cross and some tracts, and went over to Jimmy’s work. He spotted him immediately and asked, “Are you Jimmy? Somebody who loves you and cares about you wants you to come home, and Jesus Himself would want you to come back to Church. I’d like you to have these things, out of love, and I’d like to invite you back to Church.” Jimmy said that was nice, but he was a professional fisherman and experienced God in the joy of nature, so he didn’t need to go to Church. Tom talked about Jesus’ cross, how God wants us to have a relationship with Him, and how He gives us our Church family to help us to heaven. But it didn’t work and they had a nice parting.
Every time, however, Tom drove by the store he felt a tug to go in. So two times he invited Jimmy to Mass and Jimmy said, “Yes,” but never showed up. One day, however, Jimmy called: “Tom, I will go with you to Mass, I will come this Sunday.” Tom ask, “What changed your mind?” Jimmy responded, “I went fishing this morning and I pulled a crucifix out of the water. Do you think it was a sign?”
When they went to Mass, Jimmy asked where was the ‘box’ that he’s supposed to go to, meaning Confession, because Tom had told him that he had to go to Confession before receiving the Eucharist. He did and then received the Eucharist for the first time in years and was so happy.
A couple of months later, Jimmy got married, and after the honeymoon, dropped by Tom’s house. He said, “Tom, I am so grateful that you helped when my mom prayed for someone to help, and you took that minute to stop by and see me. My mom had been praying for me because… I was a convicted felon. I was in the Chinese mafia in Los Angeles. I had gone to Leavenworth federal penitentiary for the past 20 years and just got released. I almost committed suicide in prison. We’re very grateful that you prayed for me and you helped me to find my way back to God” (Tom Peterson, Change the World in 60 Seconds, Track 5, 3:13).
That is the power of one simple prayer made from the heart. How is God not going to answer that prayer? That’s His greatest joy! All 960 of us are meant to love the people we meet. Let’s all make this prayer today during Communion and then be ready to respond to wherever Jesus leads us. “Jesus, let me help someone today.”
Our parish is dying in some ways and it’s growing in some ways. Jesus, like a good doctor, has identified the cause and given us a prescription for healing. Talking about this stuff gives life; I feel life just by bringing this up. We’re here to be like the early Church and Jesus is saying, “Get out there!” Love is outward-focused.