Learning by Example

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

May 23, 2005


            Almost 20 years ago, I went on retreat with my classmates a few weeks before ordination. Our retreat master gave us some advice about holiness. He said, “Listen to the people of your parish. They are probably holier than you will be. They will teach you about holiness.”

            He was right.

            Certainly the Holy Spirit is speaking through lay spirituality.

            For instance, I have learned about Eucharistic Adoration from the people. It was never part of my life as a child. A few years ago a lady of the parish came to me about starting adoration. We began slowly. First one day per week. Then two day per week. Now three times per week. This year, for the Year of the Eucharist, we had a week of perpetual adoration at the beginning of Lent. Some 370 people participated. It was a real week of grace.

            I have also learned about novenas. This year with the papal election we were all concerned about the church. Another lady came to see me with the idea that we have the novena to the Holy Spirit. She suggested that we imitate the first Christians who prayed between Ascension and Pentecost for the gift of the Holy Spirit. (The nine days between Ascension and Pentecost are, after all,  the origin of “ novenas” which comes from the Latin for nine.)

            We took her suggestion and prayed the novena to the Holy Spirit.  About 400 people picked up novena books to say it at home. I can say it was a real time of grace.

            We have other devotions in our parish that have come from lay imitative.

            In May, we have a Marian procession and rosary outside in our cemetery.

            This year we will have a Eucharistic procession through our town center around the court house square for the feast of Corpus Christi.

            At lay initiative we also have started doing Stations of the Cross in our cemetery

            On Good Friday our musicians and lectors organize a three hours meditation from noon to 3 PM, the hours Jesus hung on the cross.

            Our children’s choir began the custom of visiting the nursing home at Christmas and bringing each of our parishioners a vase of Christmas flowers.

            Our deacon’s wife started a children’s liturgy of the word that the little ones go skipping out to at our last Sunday mass.

            Each week I receive and instruction in holiness from our musicians. I am amazed at how carefully they select the music and how closely they follow the readings. A lot of the “instruction” at each liturgy is done by the choir rather than by the homilist.

            The Eucharistic ministers have taught me a lot about reverence. I observe how carefully they move and how they bow as they receive the Eucharist.

            The presence of so many small prayer groups and Bible studies in our parish taught me the importance of the study of the word.

            The Cursillo movement is an example of lay lead spirituality.  In our parish we have dozens of Cursillistas, i.e., people who have participated in a four day “short course” retreat. They continue their commitment to prayer by joining large and small prayer groups for many years after they make their retreat.

            From our permanent deacons I have learned a lot about commitment. I see them juggle the obligations to family, job and parish without payment or very much thanks.

            Over the years I have learned a lot about holiness from the people of the parish.

             I have come to realize that while the Holy Spirit is certainly guiding the Church; divine direction is not always from the top down. Sometimes it is from the bottom up.