During the Easter season we’ve been reading the book of the New Testament called “the Acts of the Apostles.” It’s the second half of a two-part work written by Saint Luke (his Gospel is the first half), and it describes the results of the work of Jesus that Luke had described in his Gospel. The conventional name of this section is “the Acts of the Apostles,” since it describes the work of the Twelve in the first generation of the church: missionary journeys, setting up congregations in various parts of the Roman world, and preaching to various groups. But some theologians say we miss the point using the conventional title: Saint Luke’s story is actually not so much about the work the apostles did as it is about what the Holy Spirit was up to. It might be better, they say, to call this book “the Acts of the Holy Spirit.”
And we believe that the Holy Spirit is still “up to something” in our own place and time – namely, guiding and encouraging Christ’s church and its members as they live and spread the Gospel. The parish – including our parish – is a key feature of the church’s mission, and thus can rely on the presence and action of the Holy Spirit. The work of paying attention to the Spirit’s guidance doesn’t just belong to me as the pastor – it’s shared by all the baptized, according to our different gifts. Our Pastoral Council is the primary forum I turn to in order to understand what the Spirit is saying to parishioners.
The Council’s job is wisdom, not planning or execution. Its focus is our mission and priorities, not the administration of programs. (For example, it had no role in the recent parish restructuring.) The Council is the primary formal structure which I consult on how to accomplish the pastoral mission of the parish.
Take one instance: It’s become clear in Council conversation over the past several years that there are many young Catholic families in our neighborhood, and our parish needs make helping them a priority. Thus the “family Mass” has been encouraged, we’ve invested heavily in our new day care program, and we’re trying to build connections among the various parish activities and programs that touch young families. Our parish has limited resources and can’t do everything we might like to do. The Council helps me to understand what we have opportunities and resources for; and on the other hand, what we might like to do but would not be so appropriate. This searching out what we have opportunities and gifts for is exactly what it means to be attentive to the continuing guidance of the Holy Spirit. It’s not magical or mysterious: It’s simply a matter of taking seriously what we hear at Confirmations and on each Pentecost Sunday, that the Holy Spirit gives gifts to all disciples for the building up of the church.
Our Pastoral Council has nine members, each of whom serves a three-year term. Since the terms are staggered, each spring we ask parishioners whether they sense that the Spirit is encouraging them to offer their gifts for the work of the Council so that the three seats that open can be filled. This weekend we begin that process. I encourage any interested parishioner to consult the materials on how to make your interest in serving on the Council known: You read and agree to a “statement of interest” (available from the parish office and on our website), and write a one- or two-page letter about your vision for the future of the parish and how you can contribute to making that vision a reality. These letters are shared with present Council members, who each give me their judgment on the strength of each candidates’ offering. I take these into account in making a decision whom to appoint.
The particular gifts of the Spirit I look for in appointing members to the Council (which by diocesan law is how members must be selected) are wisdom and credibility to the wider parish. Wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with age: Saint Benedict decreed in his monasteries that, when opinions were to be sought, the youngest monks had to be heard from first: they might bring an unfamiliar but necessary perspective. And credibility does not mean worldly accomplishment: it means that a person is known for having the good of the entire parish first in mind, rather than that of a particular ministry or circle of friends.
So I encourage you: Over these next few weeks, pray and consider whether the Holy Spirit is giving you gifts to be put into service for our parish. If you believe He is, put your name forward. Until next week, peace.