HoH_Listecki3-ColorMost of us are introduced to the community of the faithful through parish life. The parish is more than just a designated place where we attend worship services. There is vitality as each parish establishes its own character.

I have been privileged to be a member of my home parish and to serve in a number of parishes throughout my seminarian and priestly life. I quickly became a part of the communities, their celebrations, their fundraisers as well as their memorial commemorations. I was seduced by their fish fries, pancake breakfasts and spaghetti dinners. In the best sense, I was with family.

The very first week I arrived at the installation base chapel to serve our military personnel in Germany, there were already several invitations to dinners, lunches and even overnight accommodations if they were needed. One Protestant Army chaplain confessed to me that he observed a unique relationship that a priest, even a visiting one, enjoyed with the Catholic community, that was not shared by other ministers. He said people treated the priest as a family member and immediately invited the priest into their lives. I’ve never forgotten that comment.

Of course, when I arrived, everyone knew my name – “Father.” For me, it was a compliment paid to the experience many of us have in our parish life. In the best sense, parish is like being a member of a family. Although the parish communities I experienced varied quite radically in financial resources, structural beauty or congregational size, there was one common experience. That was the sense of belonging which could not be denied. We were parish. We were family. We write many articles about many aspects of church ministry but we rarely reflect on the dynamic of parish life.

Perhaps it’s like many things in our life; we are so close to the experience that we tend to overlook the obvious. As I travel the archdiocese, it is such a pleasure to experience our parish communities and the pride expressed by their parishioners.

I have recently administered a number of installations of pastors. An installation, a wonderful moment in the life of a parish, is a liturgical ceremony that celebrates the canonical possession of the parish by the pastor. The ceremony is administered during the eucharistic liturgy and offers an ability to pause and give thanks for all those who so generously have contributed to the history of the parish.

I am often told of significant events or periods of crisis that have contributed to the formation of parish life. There is always the description of former pastors who assume mythic dimensions. It is interesting how these colorful characters influenced their communities. A pastor reflects the threefold ministry of the bishop: administration of the temporal goods, teaching and sanctifying. He achieves this in a collaborative manner, supporting and promoting the various ministries that serve the pastoral needs.

During the ceremony of installation, the pastor is introduced to the various ministers who assist him in the care of the parish. Although in most instances the pastor has been administrating the parish for a numbers of months, he is introduced anew because he is now in a different relationship. The pastor is introduced to the pastoral staff of the parish and reminded that it will assist him in the care of the parish, the priests and deacons, religious and ministerial staff.

Then the parish council is introduced as the voice of his people. They will assist and counsel him as he ministers to the parish. He is reminded to be attentive to the needs they express. The pastor responds, “My friends, I pledge to seek your counsel, guidance and advice in the spiritual and temporal care of my pastorate.”

Lastly, the members of the corporate board are introduced as a reminder of the legal responsibilities. The pastor, as a teacher, is then asked to lead his people in the Profession of Faith. We often take for granted the words we proclaim in the Profession of Faith. Yet these words reflect our belief; they represent the expression of the universal church. We are not individual entities, self contained congregations but we are united in our faith which joins all our churches together as the Body of Christ. The pastor leads his congregation in the words that define their identity.

The pastor continues after the Creed to state his acceptance of the teachings of the church proposed definitively on faith and morals. He further gives a religious submission of will and intellect to teachings proclaimed by the Roman pontiff or college of bishops even if they proclaim those teachings in an act that is not definitive.

Lastly, the pastor takes an oath of fidelity. With his hand on the Book of the Gospels he promises to live a life in accord with ecclesiastical laws and the norms of canon law and rejecting all things contrary to the deposit of faith. The new pastor then signs the oath.

Many parishioners achieve a deeper understanding of the commitment and responsibilities of the pastor and the relationship the congregation has in forming this pastoral community. I invite you to learn about the history of your parish. Experience the pride of belonging, discover the great figures that have made contributions to the development of the community and understand that you are building a family that represents Christ.