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  • Writer's pictureChurch of St. Mark

From the Heart of the Shepherd

By Fr. David Hottinger, PES - Pastor

From the bulletin for the Fourth Sunday in Lent (Mar 10, 2024)

Fourth Sunday of Lent

At next Sunday’s scrutiny Mass, we will hear another long and beautiful reading from the Gospel of St. John: the raising of Lazarus (John 10). For the catechumens of the Church, the reading is yet another image of what will happen to them at their baptism: they who are “asleep” in the death of sin will be raised, at the Word of the Lord, back to life, and called out of the tomb of their life without Christ into His marvelous light. 

Here at St. Mark’s, we can also see this episode as an icon of what the Lord wants to do in the lives of our many neighbors who (to all appearances) live in a tomb of spiritual death. 

We’ve been saying in recent months that fulfilling our mission to live and share Christ’s call to holiness will result in a parish of saints who are evangelizing Merriam Park and beyond. Fulfilling that vision begins with baby steps. Big as these might seem, for those used to crawling! We hope that with time our small group structures will become landing pads for the unchurched. First, however, these communities of the already-faithful need to coalesce and garner the long-term commitment of their members. We hope, too, that we can build into our parish calendar events that will attract our neighbors who might not be attracted to a beautiful Sunday worship service (yet!), as the Rummage Sales and Fish Fry have the power to do. But given that our relatively small (but growing) parishioner base is in many ways already maxed out (with family and professional duties, robust prayer lives, small groups, rummage sales, festivals, and fish fries!), I’m not eager to laden our parish events calendar with more offerings. 

So: baby steps! One of those baby steps is rather exciting, and it is happening this week. We are sending a mailing to all the households in the 55104 zip code, the very souls to whom we as a parish are responsible for bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ. The (lage) post card will remind our neighbors that St. Mark’s is the Catholic Church in Merriam Park and that they are welcome to it. Specifically, it will invite them to “pray with us” at the upcoming Penance Service, Stations of the Cross, Fish Fry (the meal prayer!), and Easter liturgies. And if coming in person is too much to ask, the card will also provide links for submitting prayer intentions and to request a home visit. 

Like Jesus calling Lazarus out of the tomb, this small but important gesture (God willing!) has the power to call our neighbors out of the darkness of their unblessed homes, rouse them from the sleep of spiritual sloth, and bring them to encounter Christ’s truth and love through this parish community. I want to thank those generous parishioners who responded to the call to help fund this modest project, and for the work of our parish staff to craft the eye-catching card so many are set to receive. With the mailing arriving sometime this week, there are two things remaining for us to do: first, pray and fast! That those who receive it might be well disposed to the invitation and to respond in the way that would please God best, overcoming whatever obstacles the Enemy might try to erect in their minds or lives. Second: help us prepare to receive them! It will do little good and perhaps some real harm if the invitation has its effect and many work up the courage to darken our doors, only to be made to feel like an outsider, unwelcome, or otherwise leave thinking to themselves, “this is why I never go to church!”

We plan to assemble a hospitality team to serve as greeters at the events to which our neighbors will be invited. If you discern that you have gifts for reaching out to newcomers and making them feel welcomed (but not bothered or put off), consider volunteering to serve on that team. But I would like all of our parishioners, especially those who have been around the longest, to be a part of the culture of outreach and welcome. If you see a new face, walk over and introduce yourself! Welcome him or her to St. Mark’s and show interest in this person whom God has sent us. Be open to the voice of the Spirit who may be inviting you to sit at the table of a stranger at the Fish Fry instead of your familiars. Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus’ prayer to the Father and a word of command. You might do the same for your neighbor by a holy hour well spent and a hand extended to a stranger after an Easter Sunday Mass!

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