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Father Muench Says...

The path to holiness isn’t walked alone

July 18, 2018

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

I have been rereading Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, “Gaudete et Exsultate” lately. As you may remember in this letter Our Holy Father says his goal “is to propose the call to holiness in a practical way…with all its risks, challenges and opportunities. For the Lord has chosen each one of us to be holy and blameless before him in love.” (2)

In this letter, Pope Francis has a section on community – the importance of community in our journey to holiness. Pope Francis writes this: “Growth in holiness is a journey in community, side by side with others.” (142) Our Catholic Church has included innumerable monastic orders of priests and religious brothers, as well as religious living in community. In addition, there are many religious orders – communities of priests and communities of religious Sisters – living out their Catholic vocations as communities leading toward holiness. In addition, the heart and soul of our Catholic Church is the parish, which is a community formed to help and lead all people, lay men and women, as well as priests and Bishops to find holiness.

Pope Francis encourages us to realize that in our journey to holiness, our parishes must be truly communities, praying together and praying for each other, uniting us in life and love, and bringing us to holiness. Each day is filled with tasks and challenges from the Lord that lead our parish communities to holiness. As a member of a parish, we find our holiness best through our community.

Pope Francis writes this: “Sharing the word and celebrating the Eucharist together fosters fraternity and makes us a holy and missionary people.” The Sunday Mass is the moment when our parish communities throughout the diocese and throughout the world join together as the people of God to renew the life of the community and to renew our journey to holiness.

If someone came up to me after I talked about the importance of community to tell me that – for them – religion was only me and God, only a personal journey, then I believe I would respond: you are in the wrong Church – the Catholic Church is always about community. We function best as a community, working and praying and living together as we work to become saints.

Pope Francis has an interesting thought in this section on community; he speaks of the importance of “little things.” He writes: “The common life, whether in the family, the parish, the religious community or any other, is made up of small everyday things. This was true of the holy community formed by Jesus, Mary and Joseph, which reflected in an exemplary way the beauty of the Trinitarian communion. It was also true of the life that Jesus shared with his disciples and with ordinary people.” (143)

I have seen this over my years of experience in the parishes of the North Country. I see those “little things” that truly make a parish a live and robust community. Each parish has so many “little things” which unites it as a community. There are so many examples, like a parish St. Vincent de Paul Society that helps the needy in the area; parish dinners that bring the people together for an evening; parish missions that bring the people of a parish together for prayer; even parish campaigns that bring people together to work for a common need; and, of course, all the special Sunday celebrations or Feast day celebrations. I have noticed the wonderful “little things” that parishes do when a family of the parish experiences death. It truly becomes a time when the parish unites together as a family, reaching out to a part of the family.

Let me close with one more quote from Pope Francis: “Contrary to the growing consumerist individualism that tends to isolate us in a quest for well-being apart from others, our path to holiness can only make us identify all the more with Jesus’ prayer ‘that all may be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you.’”(John 17:21) (146)

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