Fr. Bevil Bramwell, OMI: “What Would a Class “A” Parish Look Like?”

Originally Published in The Catholic Thing Click HERE to see original article
Fr. Bevil Bramwell, OMIJust a little blue-skying: How about each diocese turning at least one parish into a Class-A Parish? By that I mean a parish that publiclypresents itself as proactively working to help each parishioner to become a saint.

After all: “The laity have the right, as do all Christians, to receive in abundance from their spiritual shepherds the spiritual goods of the Church, especially the assistance of the word of God and of the sacraments.” (Vatican II) A Class-A Parish is a parish of spiritual abundance, not just the Sunday Mass parish with some catechetics and the sick getting visited in hospital. In fact, given the call to evangelize, this parish is set up to reach out to every person in the area: Do you want to be a Catholic? Do you want to be a saint?

A Class-A Parish is a challenging place where one can be and is pushed to learn about the faith no matter what your age. When Benedict XVI was preaching about the Gospel story of the fig-tree and the vinedresser, he explained that we must not underestimate, “the need to start to change both our interior and exterior way of life straight away in order not to miss the opportunities that God’s mercy affords us to overcome our spiritual laziness and respond to Gods love with our own filial love.”

This could be chiseled on the wall of the parish church.

The Class-A Parish further differs in that all of the learning is based on official Catholic doctrine and does not come from any political party or the New York Times. The education in the parish involves the further step of helping people learn how to understand and apply their faith in practical circumstances such as family life, business, voting, etc. This is a special kind of pedagogy far more sophisticated than stating a few truths. It involves the teacher getting his/her hands dirty understanding and empathizing with people’s lives and deeply understanding the faith, too.

Learning is important because we are exhorted to “be transformed by the renewing of your minds.”(Romans 12:2) There is only one truth, which is why Paul says that we should be transformed “so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”(Romans 15:6) This unity witnesses concretely to the One Spirit of the One God: “Giving the body unity through Himself and through His power and inner joining of the members, this same Spirit [of God] produces and urges love among the believers.”(Vatican II)

There is a rich spiritual cohesiveness too: “it follows that if one member endures anything, all the members co-endure it, and if one member is honored, all the members together rejoice.” (Vatican II) This goes far beyond sitting alongside people at Mass. Such a parish involves actually knowing people and relating to them in a comprehensive way.

Benedict XVI richly expresses how this integrity develops: “You do it in a way that helps those who have already received Baptism to rediscover the beauty of the life of faith, the joy of being Christian. ‘Following Christ’ [and it] demands the personal adventure of the quest for him, going with him, but always also entails emerging from the closure of the self, breaking out of the individualism that all too often characterizes the society of our time, to replace selfishness with the community of the new person in Jesus Christ.” This is the spirituality of Catholic community, and it involves a lot of moving beyond your self.

This is not a self-selected community. Nor is it a community of people from one’s own social class. Rather it is a community drawn together by the Living God which also means that everyone is there. Moreover in this parish: “The laity should, as all Christians, promptly accept in Christian obedience decisions of their spiritual shepherds, since they are representatives of Christ as well as teachers and rulers in the Church. Let them follow the example of Christ, who by His obedience even unto death, opened to all men the blessed way of the liberty of the children of God.”(Vatican II)

Hence, rather than the cafeteria-style operations of some parishes, the Class-A Parish is a community where leadership is exercised. This community strives for sanctity and that involves leadership.

Parish buildings might need to be reworked to serve these functions. For example, having texts from Vatican II on flat screens in the foyer or somewhere else where people can stand and read them for a better sense of their faith would be great. Some of the texts from theOffice of Readings would help, too. Changing them each week would keep informing even the passersby.

Lastly, such a parish would live in awed and understanding appreciation that: “In the celebration [of the Eucharist] we enter into the mystery of God, into that street that we cannot control: only He is the unique One, the glory, the power. . .He is everything.” (Pope Francis)

He is worth a high-effort, Class-A Parish.

 Fr. Bevil Bramwell, OMI PhD is the former Undergraduate Dean at Catholic Distance University. His books are Laity: Beautiful, Good and True and The World of the Sacraments. © 2014 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: