Palm Sunday Homily: Parish Renewal Inspired by Pope Francis

J.C. Superstar

Holy Week begins today with Palm Sunday.  Fittingly, last evening my wife and I listened again (as we do every year) to Webber and Rice’s “Jesus Christ Superstar.”  (You can listen to the 1970 version here; last year we attended the actual play.) The familiar score and story always have me tearing from the overture on.

Of course, “Jesus Christ Superstar” is a brilliant musical that captures the final events in Jesus’ life.  As in today’s liturgical readings, the play takes us from Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, to his cleansing of the city’s Temple, his betrayal by Judas, his trials before the Sanhedrin, Pilate and Herod. It finishes with his death on the cross and a reprise of Judas’ questions about Jesus’ place in history and among the world’s other spiritual geniuses.

Through it all we agonize with Judas about accepting blood money and with Mary Magdalene about her unrequited love. We shake our heads at Jesus’ uncomprehending, self-interested and cowardly disciples. We’re amazed at the fickleness of the crowd and by Jesus’ compassion, indecision, fear of death, and forgiveness of his executioners.

The rock musical score is haunting. The lyrics are hip and inspiring. I find it amazing that the story though repeated so often retains the power to move its audiences. I feel grateful to Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice for their audacity in making the tale so accessible and meaningful to contemporaries.

Similar feelings have been evoked last year by Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel.” That too was on my mind as I listened to “Jesus Christ Superstar” this year. That’s because during this year’s Lent, members of my parish community have been studying (for the second year in a row) the pope’s publication.

Through it, I think Pope Francis is calling us to do something like what Webber and Rice have done – make Jesus and the church once again relevant to a world that has long since dismissed them as quaint and detached from daily life.

As we’ve studied “The Joy of the Gospel,” all of us have marveled at Francis’ own courage, boldness and audacity. Almost from the beginning, our group has asked each other, “But what should we do in this parish in response to the pope’s general directions?” That same question surfaced last Lent, when I put forth a proposal published here.

Then it was well-received, but there was virtually no follow-through. Virtually nothing has changed in our church as a result of the pope’s exhortation. For us it’s still a question of “business as usual.” And our numbers of aging parishioners are dwindling as a result.

This year, things are different. Pope Francis’ planned visit to the United States next September has inspired our parish Peace and Social Justice Committee to reformulate the proposal in a way that honors his visit. And this time the formulation has legs. We’re actually might implement it.

Here’s a shortened summary of our revised plan (all parenthetical references are to sections in Francis’ exhortation) :

 “The Joy of the Gospel:” St. Clare Moving Forward

A Proposal for Parish Renewal Guided by the Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation

Rationale: The visit of Pope Francis to the United States provides St. Clare Parish with a unique opportunity to highlight and appropriate the pope’s directions for church renewal offered in his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel (JG). Those directions called on the church to embark on a new chapter in its history and a new path, where things cannot be left as they presently are (25). Pope Francis urged Catholics to adopt new ways of relating to God, new narratives and new paradigms (74), along with new customs, ways of doing things, times, schedules, and language (27). Parishes were instructed to act boldly, and without inhibition or fear (33), in implementing processes of reform (30) adapted to particular churches (82).

With the above empowering directives and guidelines in mind, the Parish Peace and Social Justice Committee suggests adoption of the following plan towards beginning implementation of the renewal processes suggested by JG:

  • In preparation for the pope’s visit to the United States (September 22-27, 2015), the parish will be invited to read his forthcoming encyclical which is expected to be published this June. (Reading the encyclical is intended as a vehicle for revisiting and applying the pope’s vision found in “The Joy of the Gospel.”)
  • Copies of the encyclical will be purchased for each member of the parish over the age of 16 who wishes to receive a copy.
  • CCD teachers will be encouraged to develop study guides for younger children.
  • The encyclical will be discussed on the two Sundays preceding the pope’s visit, viz., September 13th and 20th.
  • To maximize participation and to experiment with on-going adult education (or “Sunday School”) discussions will be held from 9:00 to 10:00 on those Sundays and also on October 4th (see below).
  • Sunday School sessions will be followed by a half hour for coffee and snacks in the Friendship Hall and then by Mass in the church at 10:30.
  • On those days, (to highlight the unity of our parish) the 10:30 Mass will be the only Mass at St. Clare’s (“inconveniencing” everyone.) The 10:30 celebration will be bi-lingual incorporating both the Anglo and Hispanic communities and concelebrated by Fr. Michael and Padre Eulices (the clerical leader of our parish’s Hispanic community).
  • On Sunday, September 27th, there will be a viewing of the pope’s addresses to the U.S. Congress (9/24), and to the United Nations (9/25), as well as his homily delivered at the papal Mass concluding his U.S. visit.
  • The viewing of the pope’s addresses will take place in the parish Friendship Hall at 6:00 p.m. and will be preceded or accompanied by a special spaghetti dinner..
  • On their return from attendance at the papal visit, members of the St. Clare delegation will give formal reports during the “Sunday School” session of October 4th.

Follow Up

Following these events, an ad hoc committee (including the pastor) will review the entire experience outlined above.  It will formulate a strategic plan for the parish for later discussion. The plan will address issues such as:

  • Improved community outreach.
  • Closer relations between the Anglo and Hispanic communities.
  • Specifically how to better integrate the Saturday night and Sunday morning communities.
  • Prospects for institutionalizing adult education “Sunday School.”
  • Ways of improving Sunday liturgies taking advantage of the unique resources in our parish.
  • Revising the St. Clare Mission Statement to make its expression more inclusive.
  • Expanding roles for women (103, 104).
  • Specific plans for drawing young people back into the worshipping community.

So what do you think? Are we in tune with Jesus, Pope Francis, and Webber & Rice? Is this pointing the way to Easter Resurrection? What else might we do?

Discussion follows.

Published by

Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

2 thoughts on “Palm Sunday Homily: Parish Renewal Inspired by Pope Francis”

  1. Mike, fantastic what u and ur people have done around the Joy of the Gospel. How do I forward this to others? Also do u still have ur same email address? I would like to respond to some of ur blogs, but only by email. What happened to the celebration re. Bishop Romero’s martyrdom? Love to Peggy and ur whole family. Just watched ur Wildcats squeak by my boys from South Bend. What a battle!!

    Sent from my iPad



    1. Thanks, Larry and Paqui. Too bad about the Cats & Wisconsin. As it turns out the new bishop (“Fr. John,” as he signs his letters at this point) has accepted an invitation from our parish’s Peace & Justice group to attend our celebration of Romero’s beatification (though the bishop won’t be able to come here till June 3rd). A real coup! This sends an important message to our pastor, our parish, and the diocese. My e-mail address remains the same Love to you both. I think about you often. Hope all is well.


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