“The parish is the presence of the Church in any given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship, and celebration.” —Pope Francis (Evangelii Gaudium, 28)
Parish life is the lifeblood of the Catholic Church. Local communities allow faith to be ignited, passed on to children, and developed throughout one’s life. However, pastors, chaplains, or any member of the faithful rarely discuss how one moves to a new parish and continues their deepening relationship with Jesus Christ. For example, I just graduated from college with my undergraduate degree and moved away from my incredibly Catholic college. While I was an undergrad, I was heavily involved in our campus ministry as a lay ecclesial minister who helped students transition from high school to college. This changed considerably with graduation, as I went from being incredibly involved and busy in “Church” activities to having no structure. Although I joined a new parish immediately, it took some time to feel connected to God and the community.
Going through the summer, I attended Mass regularly and made efforts to meet people. However, I still felt a disconnect. Knowing no one and trying to readapt my prayer life for life after college was incredibly difficult. Eventually, I settled into a new personal prayer life, reestablishing my connection with the Lord. Despite this, there was still no connection with the greater parish community. This changed when my fiancé and I attended our parish’s yearly “Fiesta” celebration. Celebrating the parish's diverse ethnicities and artistic pursuits, I was not only able to meet more people around my age and stage of faith, but I was also able to connect with ministries that connected with me. Specifically, I joined my parish’s Knights of Columbus Council and became a seventh-grade Confirmation catechist.
Becoming a catechist was what helped me immerse myself in the parish community. Not only was I able to meet fellow parishioners who wanted to become more holy, but also, as a group, we wanted to help the parish youth foster their personal relationship with God. For example, starting Confirmation preparation classes with the seventh graders was incredibly eye-opening. Not only could I show them that young people care about faith, but the class also allowed me to share my passion for Jesus with others, just like I did as a lay ecclesial minister during my time as an undergraduate. Although when working with the seventh graders, it can be incredibly difficult to get them engaged, particular moments of curiosity or engagement help me see that they are desirous of a deeper relationship with God, or at the very least, they want to learn more about God. My new ministry as a catechist has helped me realize how much our personal prayer lives are integrated with the greater parish. The parish—its community of people and its connection to God in the sacraments—allows us to meet God in our everyday life, and it is through the parish that God calls us to new challenges to grow in relationship with Him.
If you are new to a parish, I hope you will talk to people and get involved, because it is through service to the community that you begin to put down your roots and realize God’s presence in the parishioners around you.