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From the Heart of the Shepherd

By Fr. David Hottinger, PES - Pastor


From the bulletin for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (January 14, 2024)


Second Sunday of Ordinary Time


After all the comings and goings of angels and visitors from near and afar died down, St. Joseph had to get back to work. So we at St. Mark’s. Now that the Christmas festivities are behind us and the Yuletide decorations have come down (right?), I want to look ahead at the work that we as a parish need to do in the coming year. Mary “treasured up” a long “honey do” list for her hubby (find us a house, make a proper crib, get a good price for all this frankincense and myrrh). She also has one for the Church of Saint Mark.


It all flows from the mission. St. Joseph had been told by God to “take his wife Mary into his home” and give a name and protection to the Child she had conceived. In other words, to be head of the Holy Family. Our mission at St. Mark’s is to live and share Christ’s call to holiness. If we are faithful to that mission, what will result? We will be transformed into a parish of saints evangelizing Merriam Park and beyond. To live the mission and fulfill the vision, we identified last fall three major areas of growth: 1) increasing parishioner engagement with the parish community and mission, 2) improving our facilities, and 3) undertaking intentional outreach to the “lost sheep” and the unchurched in our parish territory. For the Catholic Church in Merriam Park in 2024, these priorities are implicit in the perennial commission to “Go and make disciples of all the nations” (Mt 28:19). They are all about creating gatherings where the Gospel can be proclaimed, received, understood, lived, and shared again. 


Each of these growth goals will require both discernment and cooperation to achieve. In the area of parishioner engagement, the immediate task is that of creating a structure of small groups within the parish and then connecting each parishioner with a group, a process already underway in the training of our small group leaders. Starting this Lent, the first roll out of new groups will take place. But more decisions are in order. From listening to those involved, it has become clear that we need to both clarify the purpose and find a better time for the Parish Festival. Is it for raising funds, celebrating our community, or reaching out to our neighbors? Given the size of our parish and the other events on our calendar, we need to focus our energies. (And on the topic of feasts, as a parish we have yet to to develop a way of honoring our patron every April 25!) 


Regarding facilities, we need to develop a comprehensive vision for our campus. Not only to address the deferred maintenance. Not only to identify the renovations and improvements that will furnish our parish with the spaces it needs to receive “all the nations” of Merriam Park and beautify (even more) the House of God. Even more fundamentally, to discern how we are called to best align our facilities with our mission. How are we called to be good stewards of the school building? How are we to not just maintain but employ our material resources to “live and share Christ’s call to holiness”? This will require us to also address the question of how our families will educate the many children with which God has blessed our parish. Will we do so as a parish or not? 


Lastly, and more importantly I think, we need to discern how we are called to be more intentional about bringing people to Jesus at St. Mark’s. Thankfully this is already happening through Christian Initiation, reverent liturgies, the Preschool, the Rummage Sales… but in light of the great treasure God has entrusted to us, and all the many gifts with which our community is adorned, I am certain that the Holy Spirit is willing to do much more to turn the steady trickle of new parishioners into a flowing stream. 


Don’t get me wrong: God does not need state-of-the-art facilities or a brilliant master plan to convert the neighborhood. He only wills to need saints: people who are faithful to the Gospel, passionately in love with Jesus Christ, and obedient to the movements of the Spirit. The shepherds of Bethlehem were evangelized in the open field, after all, and the “house” the Holy Family received them in was a stable. But typically He prefers not to use angelic appearances, but ordinary means: a faith-and-love-filled evangelical community who attract more and more living stones through sensible beauty and the proclamation of the Word. I count on your prayers and input as we embark upon this new year, and these important discernments, we might continue to grow into that reality with His grace.





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