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As Director of the Department of Parish Life and Formation, Fr. Richard Hynes oversees the efforts of many Archdiocesan agencies. Prior to his appointment, he served in parishes in his native New Jersey and in the Archdiocese.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Worship and Health

A successful physician said to me a few years ago: “Father, you have to get more people to go to Church.  Medical research and my own practice tell me that those who attend Church (or synagogue or the Mosque) weekly have fewer ailments!  I now ask my patients if they worship along with asking if they exercise.  It’s healthy!”

When I was a pastor, concern over church attendance filled many a conversation with staff and parishioners.  In the suburban parish I served as pastor, Christmas was a telling sign of the work cut out for addressing this challenge.  Among many indicators to grasp the data, I found that the amount of households represented in the Christmas collection provided some helpful, although anecdotal, insight.  Almost half of the registered households were represented.

What insights were here?  People who attended weekly or “often” during the year, all showed up on Christmas.  Another insight. Several households were present but unable to make a contribution (yes in a suburban parish!) and additional households were visiting family in other places.  So, here is the challenge I saw: 1) strengthening the 15% who worshipped “often” toward “weekly” 2) strengthen the “usually absent” toward “more present.”  An additional insight - many of the remaining households registered were among the “missing”.  So, every first communion, every confirmation, every wedding, and every funeral become moments for what Pope John Paul II called, the New Evangelization - preach Jesus and invite all to the abundant life of belonging to Him as Church!

How might the Catholics Come Home evangelization initiative engage a broader practice of worship? Visit www.catholicscomehomechicago.org.  If the “frequent” worshippers increase their behavior and the “infrequent” worshippers strengthen their behavior, the Church grows. Why is this important?  First and foremost, it is right to worship weekly.  From the very beginning, Sunday was the Lord’s Day for the followers of Jesus. Our ancestors knew the Paschal Mystery allowed them to do two things; worship God and live more fully their complicated lives.  And the converse was true; distance from the Lord’s Day decreased worship and left complicated lives less hopeful!

Catholics understand themselves and the world as created good, marked by sin, and redeemed in Christ. This means: we approach the world and one another with gratitude, because all is good; we approach the world with suspicion, because it is marked by sin; finally, we approach the world with hope, because it is redeemed in Christ. Complicated describes ourselves, our family life, our world!  Only routine worship, placing ourselves in the presence of one another as listeners to the Word and receivers of the Eucharist, do we become a “still center” in our complicated world.   Everyone I know - including me - needs a centered “stillness” for a full, active and loving life.  And it is healthy!

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