I was thinking in mass this morning about how great a parish we have in Barry's Bay - St. Hedwig's. What is it that makes a good parish? A good priest and good parishioners.
A good priest, since it is a single individual, is easier to account for. Our Fr. Christopher Shalla is the best. He is just what you want in a priest: all substance and no show. He believes the Faith and lives the Faith. That's all you really want in a priest. That's all I want in a priest - a priest who celebrates the mass like he thinks it's important, and who offers confessions like he thinks they're important. I might have ranted about parish 'programs' before. When a parish speaks about 'programs' it's a bad sign. It implies a deviation from the basics, from the essence of parish life - the sacraments. It implies that something is missing and we have to think about finding something new to 'spruce up' parish life.
A congregation who has the basics down, a life that revolves around the mass and confession, just simply does everything else in the right way. Our parish is so good for a few reasons. First of all it is because of the nucleus of traditional Polish families who have been living out their Faith in a very simple and faithful manner for over a century. The storms of revolution have not effected this parish as keenly as it has most other places, because the people were generally content with what they had. I don't want to exaggerate this place into an Ars or something, but the people here have really proven their mettle by living out what they've always known, despite 'expert' advice from elsewhere.
The next significant factor is, of course, Madonna House, 20 kms away in Combermere. We are all the children of Madonna House, and, in a way, I think (although I'm no expert) that the fact that there was already a traditional Catholic community in place probably helped Catherine Doherty found her community here. Madonna House lead so many new faithful families to the area, and they were the ones who founded Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy. The Academy brought additional good Catholic families - like the Kerrs! - and all our wonderful students, and turned this place into the best parish I have ever been a part of!
I guess most people here realize how good we have it, although some, I'm sure, don't.
I often think to myself that a good sign of the parish's vitality lies in the average age of the congregation at mass. Sometimes - like at lunch masses or the 5 o'clock Monday mass for the Academy - the average age would be something around 30. Even early morning mass, where there are a great number of home-schooling children and Academy students, the average wouldn't be much higher than 40, I am guessing. This is not age-ism, but just a thought about the future. The weekday mass at most of the parishes where I have been a member, would average more likely around 60.
Perhaps one of the most peculiar things about Barry's Bay is that with a population of about 1200 it has two - yes two - operational parish churches, each with its own pastor! St. Hedwig's pulls in a collection that is literally 10 times as large as my previous (tiny) parish in Nova Scotia. The people support their church here.
The only thing we need to careful about, of course, is the human-factor. Sin is everywhere there are people. If we ever forget how good we have it here, we will start (and it happens here and there, I know) bickering about trivialities. I generally think that the liturgy is the domain of the priest alone. I never say much about it - of course, because it's so good here - but also because no two people ever agree on what is best, and I think that it's our pastor's 'best' that should prevail, not anyone else's. If I have ever spotted something in a homily that I disagree about, I leave it be. Being a pastor must be one of the most humbling of jobs, especially when it comes to homiletics - everyone is a theologian! If I am asked, I might offer my two cents, but, even then, most charitably. The details of the liturgy, where certain statues and flowers should go, all of these are so trivial compared to charity.