Celebrating Parish Elves, a.k.a. Faithful Volunteers! Thanks!

Little elves of all ages silently appear, disappear, reappear. We call them parish volunteers who do so many tasks that there are no formal rules–except to do what needs to be done to make the wheels of the parish-bus go round, round, round without breaking down. What do these silent helpers do? Usually Sunday Mass attendees may never have seen them at work–that’s why I call them parish elves.

  • They fold handouts, neaten up the display racks, and check for debris in the pew racks because they treat the sanctuary as they would their own homes. It’s their church home and ours.
  • They man sign-up lists, distribute bulletins and special handouts from parish groups–and neatly re-stock the closest invitatory.
  • They place new votive candles throughout the sanctuary and monitor them daily.
  • They come from hill and dale to decorate the shrines and altars not just for Christmas and Easter.
  • They maintain flower vases and pick up fallen flower petals on the altar.
  • They assist at masses in a variety of ways.
  • They install Christmas lights and keep the walkways clean of debris and snow.
  • They serve as traffic control for the safety Catholic school students.
  • They teach adult education classes, RCIA’s, and initiate parish support groups.
  • Last, in many parishes paid staff are also elves doing many tasks above and beyond their job description every day.

Without these selfless volunteers, parishes die slow deaths even if the priest and the paid parish staff do their jobs. The parish elves are the heart of parish outreach because they encourage their friends of all ages to become engaged in parish activities.

Effective experienced priests know this secret to success. New priests and deacons who become acquainted with parish volunteers learn much about the intricate workings of the parish for their planning.

Active Priest Leader + Good Lay Leaders +Energized Parish Elves/Volunteers = Healthy Parish

The Good Pelican Wins The Battle In the End

I have always been in love with the sculptures of saints and animals on our church’s high altar. They never cease to lure me into meditation-mode. Since the Basilica of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Appalachia is about as far away from pelican habitats as that of whales, the pelican on our altar seems at first peculiar.

Yet, the mythic legend of the pelican sheltering its brood and exposing its bloody breast to feed hungry nestlings is so moving–and research makes it more so. Perhaps those in the back pews have never seen the statue’s details. To each his own; I love this pelican.

The early church symbol of the pelican and its sacrificial relationship with its offspring can be found in art, music, stained glass, and altars. The articles I have read suggest that the pelican is symbolic of Christ Crucified and his Church Militant on earth suffering for the sins of the faithful. So, if Christ is the sacrificial Good Pelican, are Christians like us the hungry offspring?

One day at Mass in late September at the height of the shock and disgust about the Cardinal McCarrick sex abuse news, it dawned on me that Jesus and the Church he founded was so very like the bleeding pelican trying to feed its suffering faithful trying to weather the storm with their faith intact.

Months have passed but the scandal storm is still rocking the boat especially in parishes and dioceses affected. I cannot imagine how the affected parishioners and sex abuse victims are coping or remaining Catholic. Also, I feel so sorry for the majority of good priests like the ones I know because they have been swept into the storm.

The latter is why I have appreciated the good pelican on my altarpiece even more: it shows that the suffering Christ and his Church is ongoing. Both Christ and the symbolic Good Pelican look down from the altar as if to say, “It’s going to be okay. Be fed here with my Body and Blood. Be not afraid. Keep the faith.” What a consolation!

This is the Age of Narcissism–the perfect culture for scandalous sexual abuse and abortion since both arise from selfish misuse of power over another person to feed the “self”. Foxes and wolves are the symbols for the Age of Narcissism–never the self-sacrificing pelican. Never. That would require love, the ultimate sacrifice for someone other than oneself. Those who sexually abuse others or abort human life prefer to sacrifice others for their benefit.

Today each practicing Catholic needs to adopt the “pelican option” and offer up sacrifices and prayers of reparation for the sins against the Body and Blood of Christ. Parishes can offer Holy Hours of Reparation, and all of us can spend more time in intercessory prayer for the sins against the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Catholics must be countercultural, brighter beacons of hope to win this narcissistic battle against evil. The Good Pelican always wins, by the way. Look to Christ Crucified if you doubt the battle has been won for us.

“The Good Pelican” Altar Detail. Basilica of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Charleston. All photos by the author Diane K.

Get Closer to Jesus If You Believe in the Real Presence

If you had a chance to see Jesus in person, would you hide in the back of the crowd or run to be closer to him up in the front? Of course, you’d run up front–yet so few run to the front pews for Mass or Eucharistic Adoration. Why?

When you love someone and believe in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ on the altar, you want to be closer to the one you love. Why would you treat Jesus any different than you would a spouse or good friend? You don’t go to the opposite side of the room to communicate with them, do you?

The problem I have with sitting too far in the back during holy hours is very simple: it’s too easy to be distracted by those adorers in front of you. You are aware of every movement, sigh, turning of pages and clacking of beads.

If parents have children with them, I find it easier to sit in front the them than behind them. Friends have told me that they prefer a pew to themselves for holy hours for the same reason. That isn’t a problem with low attendance.

Mass attendance is down in many parishes; however, the same people who go to Holy Hours continue to go. Yet the percentages are so low, especially for Holy Hours which are so important to the parish spirituality. Who else will be lifting up prayers for priests, seminarians, and fellow parishioners during this time of church scandal and upheaval everywhere?

I have no solution on how to get more people fired up enough to actually show up for Holy Hours, but I pray daily that we increase attendance and widen the spiritual net to whole families. I dream that young people will run to the front pews to be with Jesus and get down on their knees to pray too. Frankly, I will be crying tears of joy in my pew if that happens.

Basilica of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Charleston. Photo Diane.

Just Offer Up 2019 to Mary!

Resolution 1 out of 1: Spend more time with the Blessed Virgin Mary. Ponder more, talk less.

The statue of Our Lady in my church was the first statue to draw me closer to The Blessed Virgin Mary. 

One of the first treasures I fell in love with at the Basilica of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart was a relatively small statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary set in front of a lovely stained glass of the Baptism of Our Lord. Sadly, today the beautiful glass is blocked by a large lovely wooden shrine for Mary. I wonder what the stained glassmaker, Our Lord or Saint John the Baptist would say? The Blessed Virgin Mary watches and listens.