Moving forward in faith, hope and love

In my prayer over the readings for this weekend, I reflected on how the situation in the first reading from the prophet Jeremiah speaks to the circumstances we find ourselves in as a Church, in particular the Diocese of Fall River. Much of Jeremiah’s prophecy up to the current chapter has been a bit doom and gloom. He had challenging the people and the leaders of the time to renew their commitment to the Lord. The structures in place were distracting them from the Lord. 

Soon before the verses we hear this weekend Jeremiah shifts gears and begins a message of new hope. The past is not to be rejected, but is to be the past, the foundation of their moving forward with the Lord. The hope he refers to comes from the fact that the Lord has consistently promised to be with His people, that He would never forget them. He is reminding them of that promise, and also reminding them that they have a commitment involved as well.

There is a lot of uncertainty in our world and even our Church today. So many things seem to be changing, even failing. We were all saddened by the closing of St. Anne’s in Fall River last week, as well as St. Bernadette’s last August and the other churches that had been serving as chapels. Whenever a parish or church closes it seems to be a harbinger of dark times or death. Many of us can recall overflowing Masses, filled churches for devotions and other activities.

Yet, the message of Jeremiah and of Advent seeks to refocus our attention. Many of the current structures and activities were implemented at a time that they addressed the realities of the congregation and community at that time. The current challenge is we are still living with these old structures in a world that doesn’t understand them or that they don’t address. Our response is to try what we’ve done in the past hoping for a better result. Many of these attempts are activities and initiatives that aren’t connected to our fundamental identity. The danger is we become what Pope Francis has called a museum of the past.

Now, this is isn’t to say we reject the past. Certainly not. However, we need to realize that we are 2,000 years old. Our past goes beyond the past 50-100 years. Jeremiah, the Church and the Lord challenge us to ask ourselves (not only as a Church, diocese and parish, but also as individual disciples of Jesus Christ): Who are we? What are we about? Are we living that? Then we are able to see what needs to be done and move forward in faith, hope and love.

We must remember this is a joyful task. God is with us. He has promised that He will be our God and we shall be His people, for all time. The message and mission haven’t changed, the world has and how we engage the world has.

There will be a lot to do in these weeks leading up to Christmas. Let us be sure that we don’t get swept away with it all. Let us take advantage of what the Lord offers us during this season of grace and take the time to reflect on those three questions: Who are we? What are we about? Are we living that?

Anchor columnist Father David Frederici is pastor of St. George’s Parish in Westport and diocesan director of Campus Ministry and chaplain at UMass Dartmouth and Bristol Community College.

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