The answer we wait for…

TheAnnunciationAt our local house we friars meet on Tuesday morning to read and share about the upcoming Sunday’s reading. It is our communal “musing” if you will. Sometimes another friar will have a great insight that inspires your own ultimate direction; sometimes it is an image that you take in a completely different direction. Sometimes there is “preacher’s block” and sometimes the ideas are full, free, and flowing. Continue reading

Building belonging

Belonging_crHow do we build a sense of belonging? Today’s column is the fourth of a six-part series about belonging and engagement as individuals and as a parish. Here is where we are in the discussion: although many people would suggest a range of characteristics as being the most critical to have an engaged parish that is “good soil” in the lives of the faithful who call this their spiritual home – many studies have shown that “belonging” is the critical characteristic. There were nine statements that best described people who are spiritually committed and have a sense of belonging to their parish:

  • My faith is involved in every aspect of my life.
  • Because of my faith, I have meaning and purpose in my life.
  • My faith gives me an inner peace.
  • l am a person who is spiritually committed.
  • I spend time in worship or prayer every day.
  • Because of my faith, I have forgiven people who have hurt me deeply.
  • My faith has called me to develop my given strengths.
  • I will take unpopular stands to defend my faith.
  • I speak words of kindness to those in need of encouragement.

Studies show that 18% of people with a faith/church affiliation are spiritually committed. But in parishes in which there is a strong sense of belonging, almost 39% of individuals are spiritually committed! But what about people not in parishes? Can’t they be spiritually committed? Is belonging really critical? That’s a fair question.

We live in an age when we are more likely to hear: “I’m spiritual, but not religious…” meaning they do not belong or affiliate with any organized church. Commentators tell us that this is the “fastest growing segment” in “post-Christian America.” The conclusion is that churches just weren’t “spiritual enough” and should not be surprised at their declining attendance. Yet, there is a huge industry of books, videos, seminary, programs, and the like all focused on deepening individuals’ spiritual lives. It is hard to imagine a time when there has been more emphasis on individual spiritual growth and commitment than is true today. Yet we increasingly hear, “I’m spiritual, but not religious…” Yet….the same studies note that only 5% of people with no faith/church affiliation are spiritually committed.

But if the nine characteristics above are indeed the measure, then only 5% of people without a sense of belonging to a family of faith can truly say “I’m spiritual, but…” and point to the intrinsic effect it has in their lives. Again, it points to the importance of belonging to a community of faith.

Belonging is when people speak of their communities as “family.” Those churches/communities are places where an individual knows he or she is valued – and not just by parish leadership. Places where a person’s gifts are recognized and nurtured to enable the person to make a meaningful contribution and be part of something greater than themselves. Places where their sense of belonging creates the environment that draws people to want to belong. Places where spiritually committed persons come together to make an engaged parish. How do we build a sense of belonging as a family?

I don’t have an answer for that as of yet, but I do know that there are four outcomes that are the most relevant indicators of a parish’s spiritual commitment/engagement: its parishioners express a fuller satisfaction in life, invite others to join them in worship, give generously of their time serving inside and outside the parish, and make giving to their community of faith a priority. One looks at those outcomes, and it can be said, “That is a good soil church. People who plant themselves there take root and blossom.”

How do we build a sense of belonging as a parish? We need to prepare the soil.

Previous post in the series:

1: Musings about belonging

2: What are you looking for?

3: Do you belong? Are you spiritually committed?

The Ringing of Bells

BishopCoyneThe Most Reverend Christopher Coyne was installed as the 10th Bishop of Burlington, Vermont on Thursday.  Here is his homily:
There is an inscription that was found on a bell that hung in the tower of a church in Northern Wisconsin that read:

“To the bath and the table,
To the prayers and the Word,
I call every seeking soul.” Continue reading

Authority: response

Jesus-in-Capernaum-SynagogueDemonic Knowledge. That the demonic powers possess a certain knowledge of Jesus’ identity is clear from the cry of recognition, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” This formula of recognition, however, does not stand alone. It is part of a larger complex of material exhibiting a striking difference between the forms of address employed by the demoniacs and the titles used by ordinary sick individuals. The latter group appeal to Jesus as “Lord” (7:8), “Teacher” (9:17), “Son of David” (10:47–48) or “Master” (10:51). The demoniacs, however, address Jesus as “the Holy One of God” (1:24), “the Son of God” (3:11) or “the Son of the Most High God” (5:7), formulations which identify Jesus as the divine Son of God. The contrast in address is an important characteristic distinguishing ordinary sickness from demonic possession, and reflects the superior knowledge of the demons. Some scholars make the distinction that the recognition-formula is not a confession, but a defensive attempt to gain control of Jesus in accordance with the common concept of that day, that the use of the precise name of an individual or spirit would secure mastery over him. Continue reading

Authority: something new

Jesus-in-Capernaum-SynagogueThe word kainos is not restricted as a reference something that did not exist before, e.g., the new teaching was something unheard of before. It can also refer to something that is “fresh”. Brian Stoffregen recounts this gem: “A Treasury of Jewish Folklore: Stories, Traditions, Legends, Humor, Wisdom and Folk Songs of the Jewish People, Edited by Nathan Ausubel, contains this wonderful story (51):  Continue reading

Authority: in teaching

Jesus-in-Capernaum-SynagogueMark 1:21–34 appear to be intended by Mark to represent the activity of a single day, or of two days if judged by the Jewish perspective that a new day begins with sunset. Jesus’ sabbath activity includes teaching, exorcism and healing. In comprehensive fashion the acts of God are initiated by Jesus, restoring men to wholeness, but in a manner which occasions both excitement and alarm. The continuation of the four fishermen with Jesus is indicated by the plural form “they came to Capernaum.” This is confirmed by Mark 1:29 where Jesus and the four enter the house of Simon and Andrew; it is probable that Capernaum was the town in which all four fishermen lived. Continue reading

Cutty Sark

Not one of my usual post, but then again I am always fascinated by words – for example, the expressions “cutty sark.”  Many folks are familiar with that word because of the brand of cutty_sark_1whiskey. Others might know that the expression has an earlier origin – the whiskey’s name inspired by the legendary clipper ship “Cutty Sark” cutty_sark


But did you know, the name of the ship was inspired from an even older source? Continue reading

Authority: context

Jesus-in-Capernaum-Synagogue21 Then they came to Capernaum, and on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. 23 In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; 24 he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” 25 Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!” 26 The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. 27 All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” 28 His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee. Continue reading

Fishers of men

Jesus-boat-storm2Two weeks ago we celebrated the Baptism of the Lord, when our gospel has that great image of Jesus plunging into the waters of the Jordan, into the water of Baptism, plunging into the midst of our lives, all-in, showing us he belongs to us in his full humanity – and to show us a life with a higher purpose – fulfilling the deepest desire of God: that all might be saved. Continue reading

Do You Belong? Are You Spiritually Committed?

Belonging_crThis is the third of a six-part series on my musings about belonging and engagement as individuals and as a parish. Last week I wrote about the way we consider our parish to be thriving – after all, by any measure (Mass attendance, sacraments, ministry, offertory, etc.) we are indeed thriving. We are people who “believe in, sign up, show up, and chip in,” – and so our instinct is to say that believing, volunteering, attendance, and contributing are all things that lead to a sense of belonging and engagement in the faith community. As was noted last week, it turns out these are well-studied things and, in fact, it is belonging that leads to increased believing, volunteering, spiritual growth, and financial support. It raises the question: what are the indicators that individuals and the parish community have a sense of belonging? Continue reading