In the fall of 2010 after the Parish Council retreat, I invited the people of St. John to consider the path before us. At that time, I had been pastor here for 4 years, and my term was ending after 6, but was also seriously considering hanging around for another 6. For those counting, I am now at about 10½. In a letter to the parish, I listed what I believed to be going well—increased attendance at mass, increased enrollment in youth and adult Christian Formation, well-attended parish social functions, great energy and participation in parishioner-led outreach ministries. So I invited us to seriously look at who we claim to be as a parish, where we’ve been, and where we wanted to go. I wrote, “The church that we have become these past 4 years is the church I am excited to call my own, and I believe you do, too. Mindful of this, I propose we look forward to the next 30 years and anticipate where we want to be as a parish. [Some] among us most likely will not be here to see how this dream comes to fruition. To these, I ask you to seriously consider what you hope to leave behind. For if we believe we are seriously laying the foundation for the next generation who will be stepping into our shoes, the time to plan for the future is now. If we show our young people how to celebrate good liturgy, if we show them by our example what authentic Christian discipleship means, if we model for them true fraternal support among the baptized, and exemplify genuine love for our neighbors beyond our walls, we are, in fact, raising our children in the faith we profess.” I also said, that “if I have any say in it, [I would] stay [to the] completion [of whatever we chose to do]. … [So] if you desire effective leadership, I place myself at your disposal. Simply put, I would love a good reason to stay. So I invite you to join me in the great adventure before us. We cannot leave the future of our people to chance. Let us dream a very possible dream as we form, shape and build the next generation of the parish family of St. John.”
That was 6 years ago. Some who were here then are no longer. And others have arrived since. But we have also moved forward steadily in praying, planning and preparing for our future. The following fall, after a few more town-hall meetings and a parish-wide survey, I appointed 7 parishioners to examine all the data we had gathered, and propose some well-thought-through, viable options to consider. These options went out in a survey, and 69% of those who participated favored the option to purchase land and build a new church, or wait 3 years, then purchase land and build a new church. The summer of that year, the bishop reappointed me to St. John for 6 more years.
In the fall of 2014, after 3 years of further prayer and discussion, and juggling a 4th weekend mass, I appointed 9 parishioners to study our diocesan manual for the construction of new churches, and present a proposal to the appropriate diocesan commission to officially launch our project. I then assembled a Building Committee to gather ideas of what we wanted to build, and put together a preliminary financial plan. At every step, we consulted with the Office of Real Estate, the Building and Renovation Commission, and the Office of Finance. Last fall, after an all-day workshop with our design firm, the parish reviewed a set of conceptual drawings. This past spring, in partnership with the historic capital campaign “Living Our Mission” that our diocese conducted, we raised more than 6 times our annual offertory. And 2½ months ago, we completed the purchase of a new site for our building, which you can go visit any time.
In a few weeks, our Building Committee will present schematic drawings and our financial plan to the Building and Renovation Commission. And when we get the green light, we may then schedule the groundbreaking, and commence construction.
Now a few times these last 6 years, I have agonized and pleaded with God, that if he truly wanted this, he would show us how. On a few occasions, the people who have assisted me have been vilified as misguided, self-serving, and incompetent, a not so subtle vote of “no confidence” for me as pastor. Now I have never been absolutely certain that I am in fact doing God’s will in all this. Maybe I’m doing it for the accolades, or my health. And if I was asked at the start if I understood and embraced the true cost of this project, I would have said no. I also sometimes wonder would I have just agreed to move on after 6 years, if I knew then what I know now?
Today at 10:00 AM in Rome, the little old nun in the white sari with three blue stripes who embraced God’s call to serve the dying poor in one of India’s largest cities was proclaimed St. Teresa of Kolkata. It wasn’t an easy decision when in 1948, after 2 years of prayer and discernment, Teresa left the convent where she resided since she was 18, to live and work among the poor. That mission she started has since been taken up by several thousand other sisters, priests, lay brothers, and ordinary Christians in 135 countries. Needless to say, even Mother Teresa has a few critics and detractors, who have voiced opposition to her being honored by the church. Now by proclaiming her a saint, we are not saying she is perfect. Far from it. In one of her letters published in a book after her death, she revealed how for over 10 years she felt most alone and abandoned by God. And were it not for her admission, no one would have thought she ever wavered from her firm conviction that she was doing God’s work.
The cost of following in the path and mission of Jesus Christ is not cheap. We have been warned many times. The road is steep and the gate is narrow. You will be brought before judges and magistrates. You will face persecution, and some of you will be put to death. Admittedly, there are many occasions of rejoicing along the way, and the promise of an eternal reward in the life to come. Perhaps that is what makes the whole journey worth all the trouble. And clearly from today’s gospel reading, Christian discipleship is not a part-time commitment. You’re either in it for all it entails and the long haul, or you’re just a fan. And fans will have no trouble heading for the parking lot in the last quarter when everyone thinks they know how the game will end.
The passage from the book of Wisdom doesn’t tell us anything new. “The deliberations of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans.” God alone truly knows the road ahead. And if we are accomplishing his purpose, he will see us through. If we set out to accomplish our own will, there is no guarantee we will succeed.
St. Paul challenged a fellow Christian to follow Jesus in a new way, to stretch himself beyond what the law allowed, and to take back a runaway slave as a brother in Christ. Authentic Christian discipleship comes at a cost. And many who call themselves Christian want nothing to do with Jesus and his cross. They’re just fans. Don’t be one.
Rolo B Castillo © 2016