Why God Is Asking Us to Build a Parish Centre

I can’t remember which bishop said it, but I remember hearing one say that priests don’t like dealing with meetings and administration, because they’d rather focus on pastoral work and being with the people.  This bishop, however, said he didn’t buy that, because a priest is a father of a family, and a father has to deal with all the practicalities of family life, including housing and finances.

So, today, we’re launching our nine-month fundraising campaign in order to build our parish centre.  This will not be an add-on to what we’re doing as a parish family, but part of who we are as disciples of Jesus.  This is our Gospel perspective: The parish centre is necessary for our community to grow as disciples.

In 2011, three months after he took over leadership of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Archbishop Charles Chaput said, “In the coming year we will face very serious financial and organizational issues that cannot be delayed….  These are not simply business issues; they go to the heart of our ability to carry out our Catholic ministries.”  The same is true for us.

In the Gospel today, we have a rare treat: God the Father speaks!  Realize that we hear Jesus speak all the time, thanks to the Gospels; we have only a few recorded words of Mary, and we never hear the Holy Spirit speak.  But, of the Father, we hear Him speak only seven times in the Gospels.  So we better listen up!  What does He say?  “I love you,” “You are good,” or “Follow Me”?  No.  He says, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (Mk 9:7).  This statement is recorded in three of the seven times He speaks in the Gospels.

Why?  Let’s look at the context of today’s Gospel, which is called Jesus’ “Transfiguration,” when His radiant face and garments reveal the glory of His divinity, which is veiled from normal sight.  Yet, just before this event, He revealed that He’s going to suffer and die.  This is so shocking that St. Peter took Him aside, saying, “God forbid, Lord!  This shall never happen to you” (Mt 16:22).  Then Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan!  For you are not on the side of God, but of men” (Mk 8:33).  That Jesus is going to suffer and die is very hard to accept.  That Jesus then tells His disciples that they must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him (Mk 8:34) is also hard to accept.  So, if doubting Jesus’ teachings is now likely, the Father reminds His loved ones to listen to Jesus!

For me, I believe Jesus has been telling me to start shifting some priorities to get the parish centre off the ground.  For three and a half years, I’ve known we had to focus on the spiritual, because if we don’t, then we fail in our primary reason for existence and there’s no point in even having a church building.  If we’re not growing, we’re dying.  If we’re not spiritually healthy, why build a parish centre?  So we’ve had to put all our attention into making disciples, focusing on God’s creating us out of love, our distancing ourselves from Him, His coming to save us, and our response to Him.  And I still believe we have to focus on this.

Nevertheless, God got my attention in a few ways: 1) The Fundraising Committee told me that we’re never going to meet our goal at the current rate of fundraising, which is good, and the sacrificial giving last year helped us have our best year ever, which raised $210,000, but, the reality is we still need more.  We debated for a while, and then I realized we are ready for this.

We’re spiritually in a good place, meaning this parish’s focus is firmly on Christ and spiritual growth.  We’ve been taking care of the soul, and now it’s time to give more attention to the body.

2) Right after I made the decision to begin focusing on this campaign, a 19-year old asked, “Father, when are we going to get the parish centre?  Because we’ve talked about it since I was in Grade 7 [seven years ago].  And, aren’t prices of construction going to keep on going up?”  I asked him, “Did you realize that yourself or did your parents tell you that?”  “I figured it out myself.”

3) I remembered that, when I was at St. Paul’s in Richmond, when we built our parish centre in the mid-1990s, it breathed new spiritual life into the community.  We had this beautiful gym and meeting areas, and we filled up the place.  It was something for which we were grateful and of which we were proud.  So, taking care of the body will help us take care of the soul!

4) Our Leadership Team has told me that our facilities are slowly breaking down and we’re spending a lot of time and money fixing things, rather than on spiritual matters.  So the old buildings are actually now distractions from our spiritual mission!

5) The City of Vancouver recently did an occupancy assessment of our basement and told us that our basement can only fit 200 people for safety reasons.  That means our school, which has grown in enrollment from about 175 to 223 in the past few years, plus staff, can’t fit downstairs for assemblies.  Now I asked, “What if they’re really small people?”  “Nope.”

6) The seismic upgrade is still a major issue: We have to replace the old wing of the school, and eventually this church, in order to be better prepared for an earthquake.

7) It looks as if we’ll be re-opening the preschool.  This means Sr. Janet will lose her classroom, which goes back to the preschool, and she’s going to kill me.  So, we need this new centre to save me from her!

Tentative Proposal

I’ve done my best to listen to Jesus.  Now I’m asking that we all listen to Him.  It seems that He’s using all these events to converge on a single idea: That we have to do this now.

There are periods of growth in parish life that are steady, and then there are growth spurts.  Whenever we start a new ministry, that’s a growth spurt.  And now we’re launching a nine-month campaign to get to $2.75 million, which is 50% of the assessed construction cost.  Currently, we have $1.5 million, so we need to pray that we give and get an additional $1.25 million.

This is what Jesus, I believe, is asking of us: That we give more generously than ever before; that we give sacrificially; and that we spend time asking family and friends not at this parish to help support this.

Today, we’re just warming up, and I’d ask you to pray first: “Lord, how can I help?  Lord, what do You want me to do?”  Pray first!  Then let’s talk to our family about how we can make sacrifices this year to get there.

If we all give what we’re used to giving, we’ll get the same result as last year, which is good, but won’t be enough.  Thus, we need to stretch ourselves.

During the announcements, we’ll meet Hadi Susanto, the head of our “Give St. Anthony a Brick” Committee, and he’ll explain one concrete way to support the campaign; and there will be more ways which we’ll mention in the future.  Hadi will also introduce some of the members of his team, who will be available at the doors to answer our questions.

I’m extremely excited!  Why?  Because I’m convinced this is what God wants for us.  We need it and we’re capable of it.

For the first time in my life, I’ve started asking people individually for money, even though I’m horrible at it.  However, I’m overcoming my discomfort because this is for the good of our children and community.  And I’d like to suggest that you do the same.

With God, all things are possible.  We need to trust Him and work hard, and be creative.  We need to keep our eyes and hearts fixed on Jesus.  We want to listen to Him alone.

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