Rediscovering parish boundaries

Archbishop Aquila

When you meet a fellow Catholic, the question oftentimes asked is, “What parish do you attend?” Over the past year, every parish in the archdiocese has been involved in an evaluation and planning process to determine, among other things, how people answer that very question and to help me decide how to best align our resources with our needs.

As you can imagine, with 114 territorial parishes, this is a very large and complex project. Working with the pastors of the archdiocese, we are engaged in systematically reviewing and, where advisable, making changes to parish boundaries to reflect the real scope of their ministry. Once these changes have been determined, they will be officially decreed, printed in the Denver Catholic and published on its website (www.denvercatholic.org).

I am aware that many of you are not familiar with the idea that each parish has boundaries. Typically, they are drawn along roads or using landmarks. The purpose of these boundaries is to establish a spiritual home for the Catholic faithful living in a particular area and to indicate to the parish’s pastor the people for whom he is responsible.

The concept of parish boundaries is obviously easier to understand and adhere to in areas where natural boundaries, such as great distances, exist. In cities, where many parishes are easily accessible, the idea of boundaries is less definite. While proximity to their home is usually a key factor, people choose a parish for a variety of reasons. It is sometimes a reality that the parish within whose boundaries people reside is not technically the closest parish to their home.

As we make known the new boundaries, many of you will discover that you are members of a parish but live outside of its boundaries. Thus, as your shepherd, I would like to give you the following pastoral guidance.

  • Parish boundaries are relevant from an administrative point of view. Not only are parishes planned in such a manner that they provide a church for people living in the area, they also help determine which priests are responsible for the pastoral ministry needs of hospitals, nursing homes, religious institutes, etc.
  • It is my intention that you will try, in good faith, to attend the parish within whose boundaries you reside.
  • If you choose otherwise, I ask that you have an honest reason for doing so and that you commit yourself to being a faithful parishioner wherever you go.
  • I discourage the practice of “parish hopping,” which is often done to find a Mass time that “fits in” with one’s weekend plans. Mass is not something that we “get out of the way.” Sunday Mass is to be the focal point of our weekend. Setting aside time to worship the Father in the one Sacrifice of Christ with fellow believers, which he gave us as a final gift before his death and resurrection, helps us to live as his faithful sons and daughters and feeds our souls to help us keep God’s greatest commandment to love him with our whole being and to serve others as he did.
  • Parishes should be communities where people generously give of their time, skills, and resources, building up the kingdom of God among us. Achieving this requires committed parishioners who are not routinely attending different parishes.
  • The practice of seeking out, or following a favorite priest can also be a pitfall. While I understand the desire to enjoy Mass, hear a good homily, and be among friends, the central focus of our faith is the Eucharist, not the personality of a priest. We participate in the Eucharist to join our lives to Jesus Christ and offer ourselves to the Father with him. If we are to be faithful for our entire lives, then our faith must be founded on our personal relationship with Jesus Christ, living in the heart of the Trinity and nourishing this relationship through his sacraments.

As we work through this important process, I ask that you take the opportunity to pray for your parish, your pastor and priests, all of those living within your parish’s boundaries and the whole archdiocese.

screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-1-46-43-pm

With a renewed awareness of our parishes and neighborhoods, we should recall the parable Jesus told of the Good Samaritan who cared for the man he found beaten on the side of the road. “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” Jesus asked the lawyer who had questioned who his neighbor was.  The lawyer answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him and to us, “Go and do likewise” (cf. Luke 10:36-37). Let us pray for our parishes and our neighbors in this Year of Mercy.

For more information visit www.ArchDen.org/Boundaries 

COMING UP: Finding renewal in a grumbling stomach

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

Finding renewal in a grumbling stomach

Lent and the art of fasting

Aaron Lambert

One interesting thing about liturgical seasons in the Church is that despite the fact they happen at roughly the same time every year, they still manage to sneak up on us.

Lent begins in just a few days, on Ash Wednesday, which falls on Feb. 26 this year. Never mind that most of us are probably just now fully recovered from the craziness of the Christmas season; it’s now time to enter what is arguably the most important season in the liturgical year. Oh, and we’re supposed to be extremely prayerful, reverent and intentional in how we approach Lent. Given all the other things happening in each of our lives, no big deal, right?

Don’t worry — you’re not alone in feeling just a bit overwhelmed at the thought. But let’s take it a step even further and add some icing to that cake in the form of fasting (no pun intended). Fasting is an ancient practice that pre-dates even Christianity and is common to nearly all religions of the world. In fact, the act of fasting is mentioned more times in the Bible than baptism. In recent times, much has been said about the physical benefits of fasting — weight loss, stronger immune system, more effective cell regeneration — but it’s important for us to remember that fasting is first and foremost a spiritual discipline, one that’s meant to spool the thread which connects us to our loving Creator.

Admittedly, the rules for fasting during Lent have loosened up over the centuries; it’s not a stretch to say that in the time of the apostles, fasting was a hardcore thing for disciples of Jesus Christ to do. You see, back then, fasting during Lent meant fasting for all 40 of those days leading up to the feast of Easter. While many of us may tremble at the thought of not eating anything of true sustenance for over five weeks, there is something to be said in the spirit of denying ourselves our usual pleasures during the Lenten season as a way to draw nearer to he who can provide true nourishment and satisfaction.

The act of fasting can help foster in us three characteristics that ultimately make Lent not only a penitential season, but also one of renewal.

Asceticism
The word “asceticism” comes from the Greek askesis, which means practice, bodily exercise and most especially athletic training. Essentially, it is the act of rigorous self-discipline and avoidance of overindulgence, with the aim of instilling in oneself a sense of self-control and virtue. In its most basic form, fasting is a type of asceticism; willingly denying ourselves the everyday comforts of life in an effort to unite our spirits more closely with that of Christ.

Of course, the practice of asceticism is counter-cultural in almost every way. We live in a world where our needs and desires are met on-demand, and to voluntarily abstain from one of these seems a preposterous proposition to the outsider. But it’s interesting, to bring back the Greek root of this word, to think of how the world’s best athletes implement this practice. Think of the intense training, strict dietary restrictions and long hours of work they put in the be the absolute best at what they do. Yes, it’s likely unbearably difficult at times, but they know deep down that their discomfort has a purpose.

Society tells us that suffering and discomfort are bad things to be avoided at all costs. But we as Christians look to the example of our Lord, who was willingly led to his death on Calvary, undertook unspeakable suffering and was made to feel like less than a man. Through his suffering mankind was redeemed, and because of his victory, we, too, can find redemption and renewal in our own trials. By practicing asceticism during Lent and giving up those things we find comfort in — sugar, Netflix, technology, or any other vice — we are not only reminded of the sacrifice Christ made for us, but we are strengthening the muscles of willpower and virtue that lead us closer to the Lord, and ultimately, true joy and peace.

Humility
“Humility is to the various virtues what the chain is in a rosary. Take away the chain and the beads are scattered; remove humility and all virtues vanish.”

St. John Vianney is quoted as saying this, and it’s a simple yet effective illustration of how all virtue flows from humility. To use a metaphor, if asceticism is what it is to, say, learn a new instrument, then humility is the marked improvement and mastery of that instrument over time.

By observing the Lenten fast, we are humbled rather quickly. Nothing makes us reflect on our own mortality and brokenness quite like the low grumble of a hungry stomach. And yet, by offering up this minute suffering during Lent and allowing the Lord to take it, it becomes apparent just how much we rely on him to not only provide the various provisions of our life, but also to provide meaning in our various sufferings. Mankind, for all its wonders and brilliance, cannot be sustained without the provisions of God.

From a more practical angle, there’s also no harm in fasting from food and technology to remind us of the many different walks of life people come from. It’s easy to take all the conveniences of our cozy lives for granted but Lent especially presents a great opportunity to remember those “least of us” who live in third-world countries, or even just down the street. Instead of buying two Big Macs for yourself for lunch, why not give one to the woman holding a sign at that intersection?

By maintaining a disposition of humility, we tap into the very core of what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God.

Freedom
So, through fasting, you have committed to a practice of asceticism for Lent, are reaping the benefits of staying humble, and you’re feeling pretty good about yourself. Now what?

Ultimately, there is a profound freedom that comes from fasting. Father Richard Simon of Relevant Radio said in a May 2019 episode of his show Father Simon Says, “Fasting is an exercise in freedom. The purpose of it is to train your will to do God’s will. To train your will to obey the Lord. Freedom is the absolute requirement for the Christian life. Most people think that freedom is getting what they want, but they don’t understand that they don’t want what they want, it is their passions controlling them.

“It is their desires, their hungers, their preferences that want what they want when they want it,” he continued. “The self is not free. The self is subject to this sort of barrage off weakened human nature, but fasting is about freedom.”

True freedom, as defined by God, isn’t the ability to say “yes” to your own desires whenever you want — it is the discipline to say yes to the Lord’s desires for you. Therefore, as we go through the Lenten season and prepare ourselves for the celebration of Easter, we fast in remembrance of the perfect image of true freedom: Christ crucified on the Cross.

One of the lessons of the Lenten season is that we, too, are capable of achieving this freedom. By strengthening our will through the practice of fasting, we can grow in humility, from which all other virtue flows. In our humility, we find freedom to do the Lord’s will for our lives. And in that freedom, waiting with open arms, is the sweet renewal that our souls yearn for — renewal in the self-denying, humble and freely-given love of Christ.