St. Benedicts Parish: Hope for the Church
St. Benedicts Parish in Richmond, Virginia is a Sign of a New Springtime in the Church!
St. Benedicts Parish: Hope for the Church
and the World
Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
Christ yes, the Church no! - is the protest heard from some of our contemporaries. Despite the negative element, this stance appears to show a certain openness to Christ, which the Enlightenment excluded. Yet it is only an appearance of openness. Christ, if he is truly accepted, is inseparable from the Church, which is his Mystical Body. There is no Christ without the Incarnation; there is no Christ without the Church.
The Incarnation of the Son of God in a human body is prolonged, in accordance with is will, in the community of human beings that he constituted, guaranteeing his constant presence among them: "And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Mt 28:20). Admittedly, the Church, as a human institution, is continually in need of purification and renewal: the Second Vatican Council acknowledged this with courageous candor. Yet the Church, as the Body of Christ, is the normal locus for the presence and action of Christ in the world.
Pope John Paul II, Memory and Identity (pp. 116-117)
At the invitation of a priest friend I now travel to Richmond, Virginia every six weeks or so, on the weekends, to preach and serve as a Deacon at St Benedicts Parish. This dynamically orthodox Roman Catholic parish is one of a growing number of similar parishes in the Catholic Church in America that give me great hope.
I use the phrase dynamically orthodox, to describe the Catholic life present in this thriving parish. Yes, the parish is characterized by an unwavering fidelity to the Magisterium, the teaching office of the Catholic Church, on every front. However, is also alive and moving forward- toward all that the Lord has for His Church as He continues His redemptive mission - through her - in this Third Christian Millennium.
I am not numbered among some who long to return to a perceived better time past in our history as a Catholic Christian people. Of course, I have concerns over the attempted kidnapping of the Second Vatican Council by some who try to hold it hostage to their own agendas and present it as standing for things it simply does not. However, they have not- and they will not - succeed.
I also hold a deep appreciation for the ages of our Church in the past and appreciate the rich history of our Catholic Church over these two millennia. However, I am confident that, under the prophetic leadership of Pope John Paul the Great - and now guided by the wisdom and steady hand of Pope Benedict XVI, the reform of the reform is well underway.
I know that this is a dark time. We live in what was aptly labeled a culture of death by the late Pope John Paul II. Some refer to our age as post modern. I prefer to go further, it is neo-pagan. However, the Catholic Church has walked this way before. This is not the first time that what appears to be a weakened Church has been sent by Her Lord into a culture of death with the seemingly impossible mission of effecting a deep and profound conversion of human hearts and human culture.
In fact, this task lies at the heart of the Churches mission. She is navigating the waters of this new pagan age as she has navigated other rough waters in ages past. She is throwing out the nets to the increasing number of empty souls who are searching -knowingly or unknowingly- for the God who is their Maker and Redeemer, having become emaciated by the fare of the new nihilism. After all, coming into a communion of love with the Father through His Son - and finding their home within the Church through Baptism, is where they will find authentic human fulfillment and salvation.
The true and rich teaching of the Second Vatican Council is being defended and re-presented, within the trajectory of the entire Tradition, through the Magisterium in our day, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. No Pope in Church history has written as much as the late Pope John Paul the Great. What he left us as a living legacy will lead to a Catholic millennium. It has been taken up and enhanced by the wisdom and steady manner of Pope Benedict XVI. I believe that this is a wonderful time to be a Catholic Christian; the beginning of a new missionary age.
My experiences at St Benedicts parish only confirm that my hope is not misplaced.
I am a Catholic Christian by choice and deep conviction. I love the Divine Liturgy, the Mass and I want it to be celebrated in a manner that is fully faithful to the rubrics and instruction of the Church. The faithful deserve such worship and hunger for it. However, there is room within authentic Catholicism for differing expressions of liturgical worship within the proper bounds of orthodoxy. I am grateful for and at home in a Latin Novus Ordo Mass, an authorized Tridentine Indult Mass or a Novus Ordo Mass in the vernacular. I am simply always awed by the sheer miracle of being able to participate in the timeless gift of Calvary and to join the communion of Saints in the miracle that is present at any licit Mass. So too are these wonderful parishioners at St Benedicts.
Under the inspired leadership of Fr James Kauffmann, St Benedicts Roman Catholic Parish is thriving in its liturgical worship. To experience the Liturgy there is to experience one of those signs of spring that our beloved Pope John Paul II so often spoke of. I know that he is now with the whole communion of saints, bowing before the Lord in the eternal liturgy which we glimpse in the beautiful image of the Book of Revelations. I also believe that he is praying for the green sprouts of the new life of the Church to begin to break through the soil in this missionary age. Well, the vines are visible around the holy altar at St Benedicts as the faithful enter into the beauty and mystery of the Sacred Liturgy.
During the course of the weekend I usually serve as a Deacon at four Masses, including the High Mass at 11:00 which features a full and beautiful choir, solemn worship and a beautiful use of Latin, the universal language of the Roman Catholic Church, in many of the responses. The other liturgies are celebrated fully in the vernacular; but all are done with the beauty and dignity of worship that the Sacred Liturgy deserves. After all, in this extraordinary act of worship that Western Christians call the Mass, heaven touches earth and mere mortals are fed from both the living word of God and the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life, in the Holy Eucharist.
Fr. Kauffmann presides at the Divine Liturgy of this parish with the dignity and carriage that befits a priest who stands in Christ the High Priest. His demeanor and presidency inspire the faithful to fully participate, with the beauty, awe, vibrant worship and reverence that the Holy Mass demands. No mere observers, these folks are participants in the timeless beauty of the Holy Sacrifice.
He also leads the parish throughout the week by properly training and establishing the faithful in various roles of service and by his own teaching.
Located in an urban area, St. Benedicts has become a point of destination parish for a growing number of families who hunger for a full and rich experience of Catholic faith, worship and life. Not only are the liturgies beautifully offered at this parish, but there are multiple opportunities to experience both good catechetical instruction and outreaches in multiple areas of social concern. For example, the pastor leads a thriving bible study that is well attended - as are all of the parish teaching programs conducted by a well catechized, energized and enlisted group of lay leaders.
The demography of the parish reveals a refreshingly wide age range, with the most rapidly growing area being the increasing number of young Catholic professionals and families. Some drive considerable distances to come to this particular parish because they hunger for both the beautiful worship and the experience of a fully faithful Catholic Christian life.Perhaps it is that sacrifice that partially helps to motivate their participation in the parish.
Throughout the last weekend that I served at St. Benedicts, some of the members of the parish shared with me their love for the Catholic Church. They are happy with and understand their faith. They have no axe to grind against their Church. Well aware of the challenges that the Catholic Church faces in our age, they, like me, believe she is the true hope for an age that has lost its way. Their Catholic faith is relational and organic, they identify as sons and daughters of a Catholic Church who is their mother.
Some of them are Christians who have come into the full communion of the Catholic Church from other Churches and communities. Though they have respect for the Christian communities that they left, they were eager to share with me of their desire to help their brethren experience the fullness that they had found in the Catholic Church. I found no trace of triumphalism, just a refreshingly genuine love for their fellow Christians that leads them to want to share what they have found, the hallmark of an authentic ecumenism.
Having left what they experienced as a limited worship experience, some of these converts shared with me that it was the experience of the fullness of the sacramental life and symbolic beauty of Catholic faith, worship and life that drew them home. They also raised concerns of the Catholic Church becoming Protestant by stripping its walls and its worship of the beauty of sign and symbol. Still others, like me, were reverts, having been raised in the Catholic faith they had let their faith and practice grow cold and then, for one reason or another, returned home to fully practicing that faith. These folks exhibited the great joy that a homecoming elicits in returning pilgrims. All spoke of now being Catholic, in one of their expressions, to the bone. All of these parishioners were happy to be at Mass and very eager to share their faith with me.
The weekly pattern of Catholic life at this parish is also contributing to building a Catholic culture in the midst of the City. These Catholics have grasped the unity of life that lies at the heart of Catholic teaching and practice. They carry their faith with them into their workaday week. They do not, in the words of St. Josemaria, check their faith like a hat upon leaving the Sanctuary. This commitment to living a unity of life is a part of what I earlier referred to as dynamically orthodox Catholic faith and life. Both the Council Fathers and Pope John Paul the Great warned of the the separation between faith and life that is one of greatest errors of our age. People at St. Benedicts parish, aim to change that and have rejected the error.
What is happening at St. Benedicts parish is only one example of a growing trend that is well worth watching. This is a vibrant and faith filled Catholic parish, a communion of the faithful who, in Jesus Christ and through Baptism, participate in the very communion of the Trinity in their worship on the Lords Day. Through that worship at the altar, they grow in their love for the Lord who is Alive and present among His people. The daily experience of their faith is then lived out in an authentic community of purpose where they encourage one another to selfless giving, fidelity and holiness in the vocation that each has been given. Out of the richness of this lived faith they then participate in the ongoing missionary work of the Church.
These are wonderful weekends for me as a Catholic Deacon. I always leave tired, but with the kind of fatigue that one experiences through Christian service, the kind that brings a great sense of joy in its wake.
St. Benedicts Parish in Richmond, Virginia gives me great hope for the Catholic Church and for the future of the world into which she is sent.
Deacon Keith Fournier is a Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia. He is the founder of Catholic Way and Common Good.