About every six weeks, I am asked to write the pastoral letter. This is the letter that is addressed to the parishioners on the inside front cover of our parish bulletin.
I live in the downtown area of a fairly rural section of Gloucester county. The best tomatoes I ever
tasted were from a parishioner who brought enough for everyone at a Columbiettes’ meeting. Another family in our parish grows some amazing apples and one of the family members was explaining to me a certain technique they use to minimize the use of pesticides. These folks are the real deal-, not a poser farmer like me who grew a sunflower on her fire-escape once. There is a fertilizer distributor not too far from my office and early on a summer morning, you can see these funny looking trucks driving through town to go “food shopping” for their crops. We celebrate mass on the farms during the summer, and from those experiences, I’ve developed a new appreciation for the work that it takes to get a zucchini from the ground to my freezer.
Once spring comes, it seems that this town is bursting with life. I discovered an apple tree on our
parish grounds, complete with a nest made by the Toll Brothers of the avian kind. Parishioners who might simply have a modest sized backyard are able to grow some remarkably beautiful fruits and vegetables. The house behind my office has several fig trees and two pear other trees that were
planted by the owner’s grandfather. The grandfather grafted several cultivars to one tree, and as a result, to this very day, there is a tree with three different types of pears on it. In the fall, he trimmed a branch for us and allowed us to include it as part of our liturgical environment.
When I prepared my pastoral letter last week, I began to think about ministry from the perspective of the growers, the farmers and the people in our parish who can nurture the earth so that she may nurture us. Here it is.
A parishioner [who actually isn’t a farmer] offered some strong, insightful guidance:
“Form your own opinions.”
In fifteen years, this was probably some of the best advice I had ever received. During my early twenties, when I was starting out in ministry, I made a lot of mistakes because I based many decisions on second-hand information and preconceived ideals. I discovered that it takes time and patience to build a healthy relationship with a community that I have been entrusted to nurture. Before taking a desired course of action, I need to hear and witness things for myself, and then take some time to deliberate as to whether it will truly foster growth in the parish.
How does your garden grow?
At most of the masses this week, (unless you are celebrating the first scrutiny) you will hear a parable about a gardener who stumbles upon an underproductive fig tree. Should he tear it down? No. He is advised to nurture it with more time and wait to form an opinion. The tree has potential.
As your pastoral associate, I am here to help you care for the orchard that is our parish. I’m here to answer questions so that we can nourish our little orchard to prosperity. Many trees appear fruitful. Together we can determine if it is necessary to prune, graft, or simply leave the trees alone as they continue to thrive. Other trees might be a bit more mysterious and there might be some explanation involved in their care plan.
Here are some pastoral tree-ditions that we are cultivating right now…
Some parishioners have noticed that the responsorial psalm that we sing for several weeks at mass might be different that the one that is in the Lectionary or Sunday Missal. This is because the Lectionary (the compilation of readings from the bible which is proclaimed at mass) offers two options. The responsorial psalm is supposed to be sung, and learning a brand-new song every week can get complicated, we can choose to sing what is a called a “common” or “seasonal” responsorial psalm instead of the specific psalm for that day. The common (seasonal) psalm pertaining to a particular liturgical on, such as Lent or Advent, can replace the psalm of the day for season’s entire duration. Throughout Lent, we will be singing Psalm 130: With the Lord there is Mercy by Rick Modlin. . The common psalm allows the musicians to proclaim the words with confidence as it becomes more familiar to the worshipping assembly. The familiar song becomes a unifying thread throughout the parish because the psalm we sing in Paulsboro is also the psalm we sing in Swedesboro.
When it comes time for communion, there is more to discover. First, during the season of Lent, we will be singing a hymn for the Holy Year of Mercy. While we sing it here, in New Jersey, we unite ourselves with other Catholics throughout the world who are also learning this same tune. Verses are chanted in the common language, which in our case is English, and everyone is asked to join in the refrain, “misericordia, sicut Pater,” which means “full of mercy, like [God] the Father.”
Since the first Sunday of Lent, the musicians have been asked to begin the communion song when the first person, usually the priest, receives communion. This is practice has been outlined in the General Instruction to the Roman Missal for several good reasons. First, it unifies the entire communion procession with a single song from beginning to end. The song at communion is intended to have a refrain that we can sing with enthusiasm! Moreover, this evolving parish practice reminds us that during the communion procession, everyone, regardless of how they participate at mass, is called to exercise ministry as member of the Body of Christ. Furthermore, those who, for a particular personal reason, do not feel disposed to receive communion are nevertheless, engaged in a song which unifies the entire worshipping assembly.
Each of these parish customs have been implemented or continued in the spirit of a single purpose: unity. We are called to unity with one another in Christ, and moreover, we are called to unity that transcends limits of time. New ideas do not suggest their superiority over existing practices, nor do they discredit older traditions. On the contrary, evolving pastoral initiatives become fertile soil. In fertile soil, we are assured that the fig-trees of faith— treasured horticultural heirlooms, planted by our great-grandparents –continue to bear tender, flavorful and satisfying fruit for our children and their children’s children