What is the role of Catholic parishes in a changing and polarized world? 3 lessons from a church in Louisiana

Editor’s note: This fall, America Media released the groundbreaking documentary, People of God: How Catholic Pfarre Life is Changes in the United States, with the goal of stimulating a nationwide discussion about the many ways the Catholic faith is changing at large country is lived . To facilitate these conversations—in your community, with your family, or in the comments section—Jim McDermott, SJ, offered a reflection on each of the film’s four segments, along with a series of discussion questions. You can read Part III below and follow the links for Part I, Part II and Part IV.

In the third part of “People of God: How Catholic Church Life is Changing in the United States,” report producer Sebastian Gomes and the America The film crew visits Cut Off, La., a bayou shrimp community, and the people of Sacred Heart Catholic Church. While the previous two stories in the film dealt a lot with issues within the church, the story here is about a community grappling with issues around the world, particularly climate catastrophes, but also political divisions. They sound like two very different types of obstacles, but the underlying question is the same: How can we as a church stay afloat amid the storms we face?

The Cut Off folks have some great answers. First: WBasically we have God and each other. Living near the ocean requires an act of humility; You have faced something over which you have no control. And as challenging as that is, it also seems to make things easier for the people at Cut Off. You cannot rely on things to be predictable, and so you must truly trust in God’s care and care for one another.

In the third part of People of God, we travel to Cut Off, Louisiana, a bayou shrimp community, and to the people of Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

After Hurricane Ida, Sacred Heart parishioners, finding their homes and sometimes their lives in ruins, found solace in the church as a place of prayer and request. And they found solace in each other, including the complete strangers who sent them an 18-rad full of supplies. Even in the face of their own catastrophic losses, they were there for each other. This experience uplifted them all in a very real sense.

Whether we are among those who have experienced a climate catastrophe or not, we all have a sense of imminent change that we cannot entirely evade. This can seem very scary, but the folks at Cut Off remind us that we are not alone in facing the challenges ahead. we have each other

A second lesson from Cut Off: Keep your conflicts in context.It’s enlightening and refreshing to see Ashley and Al Archer talk about how they work out their differences and then start laughing. Aside from being a fun glimpse into their relationship, it hints at something important: Archers approach their conflicts and differences within the broader context of their lives and the beliefs they share.

In both secular society and within the church, political or religious disagreements have become an almost existential threat. Sometimes we can’t even imagine looking past them. But the Archers’ relationship points to the actual reality of our lives, which is very different: we may disagree, even fiercely, but we are not each other’s mortal enemy or existential threat. We may not have the intimacy of husband and wife, but we are all capable of appreciating one another even when we disagree. We are all pilgrims on the same path.

It’s hard to eat with someone you’re angry at. Indeed, the nourishment and fellowship we find at the Lord’s table gives us hope.

Maybe Cut Off folks understand this better than some because they’ve experienced real existential threats. The point is, when you’re in the middle of a conflict, don’t trust any “take no prisoners” or “all or nothing” impulses. There’s a bigger picture; Take the time to go back inside.

One last lesson: The mission of the Church is actually quite simple. In speaking about life after Ian, Mr. Archer sets forth what the Church has provided for the community and his words truly capture what Church can be. “The church was a place to beg the Lord for mercy and support. The church was there for the community. The church was there as a sign of hope.” If we’re looking for criteria to judge how well we’re doing as a community, his description seems like a good place to start.

We could boil it down even further. At the beginning and end of Cut Off’s story, we hear that the only thing you can count on in this community is that you will “eat well.” Meals are central to these people. And meals are central to our faith. The table is a place where we experience God’s mercy and care and where we are invited to friendship.

It’s hard to eat with someone you’re angry at. Indeed, the nourishment and fellowship we find at the Lord’s table gives us hope.

Questions for reflection and discussion:

How do you think about the future? what gives you hope What is on your mind?

What should the church be like when you face a crisis or tragedy? How can we as a church stay afloat amidst the storms we face?

How is your church dealing with the division? What are some specific and effective things your church community is doing to support you or to encourage you to support one another? What would be some things you would wish for?

How does your church use meals as a community space? How could it?

How well does your church live each of Al Archer’s points about church: “It’s a place of mercy; it is a place of community; it is a sign of hope”?

Listen next:

In this bonus episode of the Jesuit Podcast, hosts Ashley McKinless and Zac Davis join Jim McDermott, SJ, and Sebastian Gomes, producer of People of God, to discuss the importance of church life in a changing church.

Subscribe to Apple Podcasts
Subscribe on Spotify