Experience St. Agnes

Fr. Edlefsen's Sunday Column
February 1, 2018
Experience St. Agnes

You just pulled in from SoCal to the outskirts of Oak Park, Illinois, where you bought a roomy three-bedroom 1970s rambler.  Your well-paying job with Zyco Consulting brought you here.  You’re a 29-year-old eligible bachelor.  You’ve been lonely since breaking up with Germaine – the daughter of a wealthy wine distributor in Alsace – who’s back home in France, for now.  You loved each other, but there were roadblocks.  Germaine was a Ruby Tuesday, a restless soul.  She took it out by travelling.  To Vancouver.  To Buenos Aires.  To Ipanema.  To Jakarta.  To  Mumbai.  To Cape Town.  She chalked it up to her “large d’esprit.”  But she wouldn’t follow you to Oak Park.  Goodbye Ruby Tuesday.  So here you are alone, somewhere west of Chicago, not knowing a soul.  You took the job with Zyco after graduating from UCSD, and you were promoted quickly.  But now you’re beginning to wonder what it’s all about.

Looking around your empty new home, you think the guestroom with the orange wall and green polka dots and soiled yellow shag carpet is creepy, but you’ll take care of that later.  You bought plenty of beer, cheese and smoked salmon on the way in, so you’re set for tonight.  Perhaps there’ll be a baseball game you can live stream on your iPhone.  It’s a sweltering Tuesday afternoon in late July.  Atlas Van Lines arrives tomorrow, and you don’t start work until Monday.  In the meantime, you ponder getting active in church again, for the first time since Confirmation at St. Yoakam’s in Bakersfield.  You’re not sure you believe a word of it, but what the heck?  It worked for grandpa, it could work for you.  You take out your iPhone and google “catholic church oak park.”  You find out that your parish is Precious Blossom Catholic Church, less than a mile down the main drag.  You drive over and check it out.  As you pull in, you see a decaying parking lot, with dandelions in the cracks, surrounding an imposing, circular, cream brick edifice with vertical narrow windows rising from ground to gutter, about 20 feet apart.  The steeple looks like a missile silo jutting up the center.  The church is a cross between a cyclorama and medium security prison.  The Howard Johnson’s style porte-cochère indicates where the entrance is.  That’s Precious Blossom.  You miss Germaine.  But you know she wouldn’t stand for this.

Back in the day, when the church and your house were new, the cream bricks must have gleamed brightly in the sunlight.  But now the church needs a power wash.  It’s green near the gutter, with occasional green-streaks of algae running to the ground and dark gray dirt buildup near the base.  You park your car.  No one is around, but the church is unlocked.  You enter the vestibule, beneath the Howard Johnson’s porte-cochère.  It’s slightly cool inside, though dank and musty.  You survey the bulletin board.  You see a Pro-Life poster with a picture of a baby.  “Is this place Republican?” you ask yourself.  Then you notice a Catholic Relief Services poster with a picture of a child eating rice and another about helping refugees, and you think, “Maybe it’s bipartisan.”  You’ve been away from the Catholic world since 8th grade, so it’s a bit confusing.  But you remind yourself, “I voted for Bernie in the primary but for Gary Johnson in the general election.”  Dad said you were hard to figure out ever since you moved from Bakersfield to La Jolla.  A bit unsettled, you might say.  Like Germaine.  Perhaps that’s why you two clicked, at first.  Then, from a stairwell corridor, you hear a guy playing a guitar and singing some glib song about eagle’s wings.  You ask yourself, “Maybe I need a church that’s hard to figure out?”  “Now,” you say, partly cynical, partly wishful, “here’s a chance to get involved in something bigger and more complicated than I am.”  You keep looking.  There’s all kinds of stuff.  Welcome Dinners (sounds good).  Gardening (nope).  Food for the homeless (check).  Mission trip to Peru (if I can get off work).  Lectors needed for Mass (nope).  TBIY (That Bloke is You) men’s Bible study developed in Liverpool (hmmm…haven’t seen a Bible since Confirmation).  Young adult book discussion with wine and cheese (check).  Romper room volunteers needed (naaah).  Meals for Jesus Shelter (maybe).  Adoration Chapel needs 3AM shift (that’s a thought, I’ve got early morning insomnia).  You thumb through the bulletin and check the web page on your iPhone.  You jot down contacts.  You think to yourself, “For the first time since interning with the Seal Conservancy in La Jolla, where I met Germaine, I feel I’m on to something bigger than myself.”  You’re getting involved. Something groundbreaking is about to happen in your life.  But you don’t see it coming.  Not yet.

It’s an old cliché.  “I want to be part of something bigger than myself.”  Young men have enlisted in armies and joined wars, medieval towns went on crusades, youth have joined movements, idealists have started revolutions and uprisings, and students have become activists for peace, justice, love and human rights.  Mostly trying to escape boredom.  For good or ill, people love causes “bigger than themselves.”  It may never have occurred to you that there is a simple, down-to-earth way of partaking in “something bigger than yourself”: getting involved in your parish.  It may not have a romantic or radical vibe, at least not on the surface.  But, believe it or not, when it comes to partaking in a “bigger cause” that’s tributary to a liberating outcome, your Catholic parish is the real deal.

The Catholic Church is neither a fly-by-night outfit nor a local chain.  Your parish is but one planet in a local solar system, orbiting with other parishes, organizations, causes and movements around a Bishop.  Your diocese is part of a global galaxy of dioceses in union with a Pope.  The Pope is the “Vicar of Christ” on earth.  The Universal Church is not just “now” but also “then.”  The “dead” are just as active in the Church as the “living.”  Perhaps more so.  The Son of God “founded” this Church two thousand years ago with twelve Apostles, and He still presides over it.  It has deep historical roots in the Faith of Abraham and the People of God under Moses.  But it’s not just historical.  It transcends history.  It includes folks in Purgatory and Heaven.  But all you see, on the surface, is your musty spaceship of a church in Oak Park.

This Lent, we’re all invited to get more involved in a “cause” that’s not only “bigger than ourselves” but “bigger than the Universe”: The Catholic Church.  As another cliché goes: We support our Church with our “Time, Talent and Treasure.”  Time in prayer.  Talent in serving.  Treasure in giving.  This is total involvement.  It’s the way to experience Precious Blossom.  Or, St. Agnes. 

1. Time in Prayer: Commit to an occasional hour of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  For an exceptional experience, sign up for a wee-hour-of-the-morning time slot!  Help get the Adoration Chapel back to 24/7.  This might be the encounter with God you’ve been looking for.

2. Talent in Serving (Lenten Help, “Experience Lent!  Prepare for Easter,” February 10 & 11 after all Masses): Lenten Help is a volunteer fair that will be in the School Gym after Masses next weekend.  Volunteer to serve others and your parish.  Need service hours?  We’ve got you covered.  Need to feel involved, meet new people?  Here’s your chance.  Need to “get out of yourself” and do something for someone else?  Come to Lenten Help.

3. Treasure in Giving – Bishop’s Lenten Appeal: Pledge to financially support the outreach of something “bigger than yourself.”  This is another opportunity to experience a Lenten sacrifice – an experience of giving – that supports various good causes: The outreach missions of the Diocese of Arlington.  Your gift supports priestly formation, outreach to the poor and refugees, food pantries and meals, prolife activities, counseling services, campus ministries and youth events, etc.  Your generosity with the BLA does an enormous amount of good.

A Word from Paul Chaloux and Fr. Edlefsen about LENTEN HELP

Paul is a St. Agnes parishioner whose good work and creativity have put together our Lenten Help experience for all St. Agnes parishioners.

Lenten Help, “Experience Lent!  Prepare for Easter,” brings Saint Agnes together.  Next weekend, February 10 and 11 after all Masses in the St. Agnes Gym, we’re opening up new ways to experience St. Agnes and the Universal Church – and fulfill your Lenten commitment.  With 40 active ministries participating, there’s something for everyone.  There’ll be donuts, baked goods and drinks. Joyful Spirit Gifts will sell books and religious items. 

Ideally, it’s best to experience something new.  Get out of your comfort zone.  Try Eucharistic Adoration.  Weekday Mass.  Monday Night Spanish Mass at 7:00 PM.  Friday Stations of the Cross at 7:30 PM.  First Friday Vigil at 9:00 PM on March 2.  Confession.  Got little ones?  The Lion and Lamb club gathers caregivers for bimonthly play dates.  We have a nursery for ages 1-5 during the first 9:00 AM Sunday Mass of every month.  Feed the homeless at Christ House.  Visit the elderly at Cherrydale Health and Rehabilitation or Sunrise.  Make “return bags” for prisoners re-entering society.  Help refugees.  Provide food and clothes for the poor.  Make rosaries for missions.  Help with Holy Day parties.  Help prepare Welcome Dinners.  Help with Donut Sundays, etc., etc., etc.…  Forget Oak Park.  Experience St. Agnes!

Fr. Frederick Edlefsen, Pastor