It was six years ago this very weekend 2014. I recall standing in this very same spot after hearing this very same gospel on a fine fall day and I suggested, well I really did more than just suggest, I announced that we would be setting out on an exciting new adventure. We reflected on the journey of our parish community the last 80+ years and 15 pastors, and that the initial goal then was to simply serve a handful of Catholic families who had moved and settled in the valley to work the local industries. We can all agree that was a realistic and manageable goal. And I believe we can say we have far exceeded the expectations of our forebears.
As pastor of this parish for over 14 years, there is much I have witnessed that give me great courage and confidence that we will be around for a while longer. My partners in the care of the vineyard that is St. John, have truly come to delight in their work—of binding, trimming, even fertilizing. We have achieved some measure of success, especially in identifying and equipping other workers in common vision and mission. And our vines are robust, well-suited for all manner of challenge, full of life and promise. We have contended with weeds, thorns and rocks, slugs, and other critters hungry for sustenance. And although there is much volatility in the marketplace, the generosity of our people and our excellent financial stewardship continues to keep us stable in difficult times. And we have attracted some notice as well. Caretakers of other vineyards have acknowledged our resilience. And we know that the vineyard isn’t really a vineyard, and I’m not really a caretaker of vines.
I announced six years ago that “the Lord’s vineyard in Waynesboro needed room to grow. We needed adequate room to celebrate the church’s liturgy with proper care and honor. We needed adequate room to raise our young people to know and love God through education and service toward their neighbor. We needed adequate room to gather and celebrate fellowship with one another. We needed adequate room to plan and execute our outreach in service to the larger community beyond our walls. We needed adequate parking space so all who desire can participate in the life and mission of our parish. And we needed adequate facilities to accommodate those with physical challenges.” Since then we all have watched with wonder and awe as a sizeable portion of that adventure began to take shape.
Just yesterday (Friday) I emailed Bishop Knestout to check his calendar and pick a date to come dedicate our new church building. And as we continue to see progress at the construction site, which I know many of you have been following online on the parish website and have even seen firsthand yourselves, we cannot but raise our hearts to God in loving wonder and gratitude.
There are still many details yet to hash out. And I will do my best to keep you informed. Last September the rose window above the altar was taken down. It is now safely installed in the new church. The stations of the cross were taken down around the time pandemic restrictions came into effect. So if you have not been back to church since, you may not have noticed. Along with the statues of Mary and Joseph in the back of church they are being cleaned and retouched to be installed in the new church. Their absence though not too conspicuous has certainly not gone unnoticed.
Now brace yourselves. This coming Friday, the crucifix in the sanctuary, the crucifix above the front doors, and our church bell will be taken down. They will be installed in the new church the following Monday. But that blank wall will be an even clearer reminder that our transition to the new church is indeed happening. It will give us pause to grieve what appears at first glance to be a loss. But we need also to take time to remember and give thanks that others who have not personally met or known us had provided us a wonderful home for many years, a place where we gathered for the sacred liturgy, where we celebrated many significant events in our own families’ lives, where we grew in love of God and our neighbor through fellowship with our church family and our outreach to the poor and the vulnerable, and where we handed on to our children and many new members our very way of life. Now we are preparing to do the same for the many we have not yet met who will come after us.
Since the new church at 301 Sheppard Court no longer has a gate that can lock, although that was little deterrence for the truly persistent and curious, we have been asked to keep off the concrete sidewalks, roads and parking lot that will need time to cure properly. We have waited patiently for 6 years to arrive at this moment. What is 6 more weeks really? And now that the scaffolding at the façade has been taken down, you can view the progress on the grounds from a safe distance.
The imagery of vines and vineyards provides tangible and measurable evidence of renewed energy and excitement and progress in the vision and mission of our parish and in the larger church of our diocese commemorating 200 years of Catholic presence in Virginia. But the evidence of our progress in taking more seriously Jesus’ invitation to perfection as the Father is perfect and to greater intimacy with him is not always as tangible and measurable as vines bearing abundant fruit and as we witness an awesome church building near its completion. Add to that the disheartening divisiveness of our political discourse, the devastation on many levels inflicted by a global pandemic, and the deafening silence of many to the enduring struggle for racial and economic justice, we cannot grow complacent or rest on our laurels. There is no movement forward when we are standing still. And in the spiritual life and our Christian discipleship, the work is ongoing until we are safe within the gates of the eternal kingdom.
St. Paul invites us, encourages us, reminds us, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.” So I invite you, encourage you, remind you to keep your eyes on Jesus. Do not give in to distraction and discouragement. Call on God in prayer and petition with thanksgiving, and greater fervor and perseverance. Do not resent your neighbor by failing to extend compassion and kindness and forgiveness especially toward those who are not as inclined or willing to extend compassion and kindness and forgiveness back to you. Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.
A magnificent church building will definitely serve its purpose for the work of proclaiming the gospel and serving our neighbor. But our advancement in discipleship and virtue will endure unto eternal life. We invoke the favor and intercession of Blessed Mary our Mother, and St. John the Evangelist our patron. We place ourselves at the service of the Lord in his vineyard, and God-willing, we will reap a bountiful harvest.
Rolo B Castillo © 2020