It’s late at night, and I’m sitting in our lovely rectory chapel overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I often say, “If you can’t pray here, you can’t pray anywhere.”
I’ve been sitting here giving thanks to the Lord for the beautiful Mass I took part in this afternoon. It’s become an annual tradition. We invite all the people of the parish actively involved in ministries to come to a special Mass offered for them in thanksgiving for their services and ministries in the parish. We have more than 30 towns, villages and churches in the parish and some are hours away. Many different ministries are represented.
On Thursdays a group travels an hour and half to a large prison where 400 prisoners await them as they share the Good News. At the Mass today a young man with large numbers on his shirt, representing a prisoner, walked down the aisle while two missionaries on either side shared the scriptures with him; they left their Bibles and the numbers at the altar.
A man and woman representing the John XXIII retreat movement — following their custom — went down the aisle on their knees with their rosaries.
Last year a dynamic 81-year-old nun came up from Lima and trained more than a hundred people in reflexology. The theory is that by massaging certain parts of the feet you can heal the corresponding part of the body. The week she arrived one of our ex-seminarians who works with us developed kidney stones and was in agony. X-rays showed that they were very large — much larger than the exit area. The nun sent word, “They’ll dissolve in two treatments.”
He and I were incredulous, but that’s what happened in three days. He never returned to the doctor and feels great. This ministry is offered weekly in two of our main churches. Today large colored foot charts were carried in the procession and laid at the altar.
Large pots and pans were carried down the aisle representing our many parish soup kitchens that feed a hot meal to hundreds and hundreds of hungry children every day.
Twelve different ministries in all went down the aisle, leaving the symbols of their ministry before the altar.
It was moving and inspiring to realize hundreds and hundreds of parishioners are serving the Lord and his people in so many different ways. But then it struck me that all that is only a part of what they’re doing. There was nothing today about our 27 parish councils in 27 different towns and villages or the 3,500 parishioners taking part in the “Gran Mision” of the church or several other ministries.
During the Mass four people shared briefly about their particular ministry and what it has meant to them. One man said that four years ago he was hostile to anything religious and was a terrible husband and father. Then the men of “Bodas de Cana” (the Marriage of Cana retreat movement) began to proclaim the Gospel to him. He finally made their retreat with his wife and his life, along with his family, has been transformed. He now heads the “Bodas de Cana” missionary movement in the mountains.
A young fellow from the Youth Pastoral of La Cruz spoke in a similar way and said that even a thousand years from now he will always remember the last day of his John XXIII retreat. It was the turning point of his life and now his life is filled with the ministries and works of the Lord.
I’m sitting here before the Lord and the ocean trying to assimilate all this. How did all this happen? It’s all so different than before. Not so many years ago no one showed up on Sunday for Mass in our largest town of 7,000 Catholics. Now we’re working to build a larger church to hold the hundreds of people now squeezing into two Sunday Masses.
I know that all these different ministries have defects and problems. None of them are going perfectly and yet there is real life pulsating in all these works and various different ministries just seem to keep bubbling up as if by some invisible force. Where is all this coming from? I believe it’s the Holy Spirit responding to the prayers of so many people both inside and outside of this parish.
I’ve worked in parishes all 46 years of my priesthood and have come to believe that that’s the most important step in renewing a parish: have large numbers of people inside and outside the parish praying for it’s renewal.
It seems the Lord can’t resist that kind of appeal — nor does he want to. After all that’s why he gave his life on the Cross. It’s what he most wants to give us.
If you’re one of the prayers, please keep praying — and may the Lord continue to respond in so many beautiful ways making this parish a many splendored thing.
Know that our prayers are with you that the Lord may be doing the same work in your life and your parish.
Msgr. Donald Gorksi is a priest of the Diocese of Charleston who ministers in Zorritos, Peru.