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Elevating Our Standards

Dear Friends: Happy Summer!  We are now officially in the season where most people have become accustomed to relaxation and finding ways to refresh their body, mind and soul. Given what we’ve all just been through, despite our need for rest, I’m betting that this year Summer will be different for many of us.   If you’re like me, while observing the lockdown and stay at home orders, many of us have worked harder than ever.  I know that parents have been juggling full time jobs on top of learning a new career - teaching their children!  Our seniors have reported that their work of checking on and caring for one another has been quite busy and has left them exhausted.  And many parish staffs, ours included, have taken the crash course in making ministry available in new and unique ways.  The bottom line is ... we all need a break! In these days, while we all seek that necessary rest and refreshment, I ask you to take some time to think about how we can become a better parish - how we can elevate our standards - how we can go from good to great.  Surely, this will require some change.  In his book of the same name, Good to Great, Jim Collins writes: “Companies [and Churches] that make the change from good to great have no name for their transformation—and absolutely no program. They neither rant nor rave about a crisis—and they don't manufacture one where none exists. They don't “motivate” people—their people are self-motivated.” Here at St Teresa of Avila, we are not embarking on a new program, and thus have no name for our transformation.  We also have no new program.  We are aware of the crisis that we’re still navigating through and we know that to be successful and to survive for future generations, we need to make some changes today.   Life in 2020 is different and has left an indelible mark on human history. Things will never be the same - and that includes things in our parishes too!  It’s not possible to live one day more on the fumes of the past, and we cannot simply return to the pre-COVID days.  Instead, we need to move forward in faith with a new mindset, focusing on the essentials, eliminating the distractions and fully engaging in our important work.  And we all must be motivated to engage!  Every book I read on how to be a better parish, how to be a stronger Church and how to become a more faithful believer all have a part that underlines how fear seems to get in the way of success.  It’s this fear that holds leaders back from making the hard decisions, allowing mediocrity to prevail.  The Scriptures tell us more than 365 times - be not afraid. That’s more than once a day! In his writings, James Mallon often reminds pastors that in making change, we need to be attentive to culture.  He quickly adds that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  While it is very important for us to remember and respect the beautiful traditions and St Teresa of Avila culture, we cannot fail to see the importance of having a clear strategy for our future.  If we are ever going to be successful in realizing our vision - to make disciples of Jesus - then we will need a plan and a strategy. Our strategy will focus on four essentials: 1.  Proper celebration of the sacraments - with the Eucharist being pre-eminent 2.  Generous service especially to benefit the poor and most vulnerable 3.  Reigniting growth in understanding and teaching our Catholic faith 4.  Celebrating the dignity and worth of all human life People have asked me over the years, and even in my time here with you whether I’m happy being a priest.  My answer is, “I love being the Pastor of St Teresa of Avila because it’s a great parish with so much potential!”  Perhaps it’s the frustration of unlocking that potential that is my greatest challenge.  Some days my happiness is dimmed a bit because I know that it’s the failure of truly living to the level of our potential that will prevent us from becoming great instead of just settling for what is good.  (We would never do that in other realms of our lives. It seems to me that the Church today and many parishes too have settled for mediocrity.  Some priests have become lazy, unfocused, even disobedient.  In those parishes, Masses have become “routine” and uninspiring, service is only at the most expected times like holidays, religious education is rote and neither creative nor engaging, and all human life is not respected as reflecting God’s own image.  As priests, we have to own our shortcomings before change can happen in our parishes. Unfortunately, some people have also prevented the Church from truly becoming great.  And while there are many different reasons, one older priest describes the most concerning group as “cultural Catholics”.   A cultural Catholic is a person who identifies with  Catholic traditions but does not actively practice the religion.  Some cultural Catholics may still attend church at special occasions, such as Christmas, Easter,  infant baptism, Confirmation, weddings and funerals, but that’s it!  We all know cultural Catholics and surely we love them, but if we are to succeed, we all need to do better! Parishes need engaged members who are highly passionate, enthusiastic and excited to be a member AND they also need priests and ministers who understand that we are doing God’s work, and we have to give it our best.   Next week, we will close our series with looking at how we build a mentoring culture, that is, how we pass on the faith and our Church to the next generation.  Surely, one of the best ways is by our good example.  I hope you will join me in that challenge today so that we will have a Church to pass on tomorrow.    Blessings! RSM

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