Parish Festivals Offer a Glimpse Into the Joy and Community that Mark Catholic Life
Can you imagine the risk that Simon (Peter) and Andrew took when they left their fishing boat and nets to follow Christ? They left behind their livelihood, family, roots and identity to take up a new life. Foremost, they were captivated by Christ, the Son of God. But when they became disciples, they gained both Christ and a new community, a dynamic family of faith.
The disciples lived a radical life together. They followed Jesus, listened to His Word, learned from Him, helped feed the multitude, preached and healed. They ate together, prayed together, worked together, struggled to understand Christ’s teaching together and together were graced by his loving presence. After Christ’s death, they went forth to spread the Gospel to the nations.
That, too, is our vocation. While many ministries and programs have been successful in bringing people to the faith, parishes are able in a special way to offer the community that comes with Christian life. This and every fall, the invitation to Christian community often comes in the form of parish festivals.
My parish recently held its 10th annual Oktoberfest. It started out as a small parish fundraiser and has grown into one of the premier autumn festivals in the City of Richmond, Virginia. The parish parking lot adjacent to the church was converted into a Munich "Biergarten": German bands, busy beer trucks, bratwursts and pretzels and families from all across the city.
As my husband commented — after volunteering to pour drafts of beer (rough job!) — putting on a festival of this magnitude builds community within the parish. People have the opportunity to make new friends, work together for a good cause and enjoy the company of the people they worship with on Sundays. An added benefit, of course, is that anyone can feel free to join in our community life. You don’t have to be Catholic or even believe in God. You just have to like music, food, drink and beautiful fall weather.
One of the beautiful things about festival evangelization is that it’s an opportunity to share in the joys of Christian life without anyone feeling pressure to explain or embrace Church teachings. The witness of joy and camaraderie is enough. Guests almost certainly leave a festival with a more accurate impression of Catholics than what they get from the media and Hollywood.
Recently I signed up for a trial gym membership at a Jewish Community Center. Their welcome folders were entitled simply “JCC—You Belong Here.” When I walked through the doors of the JCC, hands full with a baby and toddler, I was welcomed and made to feel a part of their community. There is a lesson here about welcoming people of all faiths and backgrounds to join us in our prayer and in our way of life — a life centered on our faith.
In the midst of a culture drifting ever further from belief in God, relativism has become a way of life for many. And yet …
And yet, the Church offers us much that the world cannot. The Church offers us the Eucharist and the rest of the sacraments, all encounters with the living Lord. She offers us the saints. She offers us years of wisdom guided by God’s hands. She offers us Rome — a place where my husband (like so many others) felt instantly that he belonged, even though he didn’t grow up in the faith. This is our inheritance as Catholics: an incomprehensibly rich and beautiful community that is rooted in the Real Presence of the Creator of the World.
When you encounter the lived experience of the Catholic faith, it’s tough to maintain indifference or agnosticism. We Catholics are privileged to be ambassadors of the faith through catechesis, apologetics and, sometimes by sharing a smile and friendly word with the guests and other volunteers at parish festivals.