Why We Exist
A couple years ago, we went through a discernment process attempting to figure out why our parishes exist. We asked questions like: why do these parishes exist, what purpose do they serve, and, ultimately, what is the goal. After some discernment and tinkering with words, we came up with the phrase, “We exist so that the deepest longings of the people can be met by the deepest longings of Jesus Christ.” The statement touches on our desire for God and God’s desire to be near us. Also it points to the depths of our faith – our Catholic way of life touches the depths of the soul.
However, there is one glaring issue with the statement: it is not easy to remember. A mission or vision statement should be easily recalled. Although our statement hit something central to our mission and faith it is a little verbose and wordy. This has become clear over the past couple months.
It could be said, “Who really cares?” A mission statement is just simply words on a page that often times are written and ignored. They get plastered on poster-boards and bulletin covers, but largely don’t matter and are ignored.
While the utility of mission statements is a real issue, it is important to know why something exists. If we know the identity and goals of a parish, our actions, decisions, and programs can flow from this. Our identity sets the tone for everything else that we do. It is how hard decisions can be made and clarity can be provided.
I’ve been praying about this for some time now. Also I’ve noticed a lot of similar themes come up in discussions with others. The theme that keeps arising is becoming saints. The saints show us how to live a Catholic life in every time and place. Every one of us is called to become a saint and help others become saints. The lives of the saints attract and inspire us. Their stories are dramatic interventions of divine grace and relatable insights into human nature.
The phrase we’ve settled on is, “We exist to become and form saints.” It is simple and easy to remember and it touches on both becoming a saint ourselves and helping others to become a saint. For me personally this means becoming a saint. First and foremost I ought to be dedicated to my own prayer life, growth in virtue, union with the cross, and generosity. From that interior transformation flows the active life of helping those in our parishes to become saints. The same goes for all of us. Our first task is to become a saint ourselves and then we help to form saints.
Becoming saints and forming saints will be the lens through which we will view parish life. For example, in discussing a Sunday Mass schedule, the primary question won’t be, “What is going to make the most people happy?” Nor will it be, “what schedule is going to be the least change or easiest to manage?” The primary question will be, “What schedule will give us the best opportunity to form saints?”
This lens will be applied to every program. It won’t be the only way to view decisions, but it will be the primary view. We’ll have to ask, “What do people want?” or “What will be most convenient?” But those sorts of questions will always be secondary to “What will help people become saints?”
I love this mission statement because it is full of hope. It reminds us that God wants to do something incredible with our lives and becoming a saint is possible. The reality that each one of us is called to be a saint opens us to the incredible workings of divine grace. God actually loves us and wants us to do something beautiful for Him. You and I matter and we’ve been put on this world for a single purpose: to become a saint and help others on their path to sainthood.
Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Sean Wilson