by John White
The celebration of our church anniversary is significant because of its threefold impact: It expresses gratitude to God, appreciates parishioners for their dedication, diligence, and hard work, and looks toward the future.
The Eucharist was first offered on November 3, 1952, in the Cassville fire house. For 65 years, the people of Jackson have continued building upon the foundation established by the pioneers of this parish. Today’s parishioners are the beneficiaries of this rich tradition of faith and we are filled with gratitude and praise for all the good work accomplished in the past. The anniversary of the church commemorates the church when it was still relatively young and the vision of the original founders was still fresh.
The 65th anniversary theme is one of optimism and hope that encourages all members of the parish and community to dedicate themselves to the journey ahead with a sense of reverence for the work of the past.
By the time a church celebrates its 50th anniversary, it has achieved a certain recognition within the community. It may be “the church on the corner” or “the church that feeds the hungry”. Our recognition is Where Everyone Is Family! On our 65th anniversary we make a declaration about what our church means today and that is Moving Forward by Faith.
As we celebrate our church’s anniversary we draw our community of believers together to pause and reflect on the life of the church. Whether marking the first anniversary of a small group of believers without a permanent meeting space or ringing in our 65th anniversary of a well-established warm welcoming parish offers us the opportunity for our parishioners to acknowledge and thank their past and present clergy and to reflect on the church’s past and discuss the it’s future.
Henry Ford once said that history is bunk. We all know that isn’t true, and perhaps no institution is more clearly defined by its history than the Church. The Catholic faith is based on a collection of writings that dates from antiquity. And the Bible is not only a historic book, but a historical book: it tells the history of God’s dealings with His people.
We read the stories about what God did for His people thousands of years ago: about the birth of Isaac, the burning bush and the parting of the Red Sea, about David and Goliath. We tell the story of the risen Savior just as it was told the first time, two thousand years back in our history. That ancient Word seizes our attention and makes us the people of God.
Our faith is further shaped by the centuries of Christian history since the Bible was written. We make our confession in the words of ancient creeds; we sing hymns hundreds of years old; we practice rites and liturgies older than the languages in which we recite them. And of course, on this anniversary we remember the history of this parish in this community: the generations of your own families who have been born, baptized, confirmed, married and passed here; the traditions that you have created, and that have in turn made you the people you are. Today we are proud to say that we are part of that whole history, just as Jesus was part of the history of Israel, all forty-two generations from Abraham on down.
There is this story about a father’s uncle who was a banker and the son of a banker, and rose to prominence in banking circles. At a bankers’ meeting he met an old friend of his father. He introduced himself, but his name didn’t register with the old-timer. He tried to explain who he was, but without success. Finally, he said, “Don’t you remember me? I’m Mark’s boy!” Then the old man knew who he was, and for years afterwards his friends teased him about having to introduce himself as “Mark’s boy.”
But we’re all identified by our histories. The banker was Mark’s boy all his life; Matthew introduced Jesus to his readers as Mary and Joseph’s boy, David’s twenty-eight-times-great-grandson. We owe who we are to our past, our heritage, our upbringing and education, our traditions. You and I, and this parish, are products of where we have been.
Matthew also knew that the past isn’t enough. He wanted to correct the vision of those people who always looked to the past for meaning. The real point of all those generations of Israelites, he claimed, was that they were leading up to something that was to follow them. We can learn a lot from the past, but its most important function is to lead us into the future. Jesus made that plain. He told His disciples to remember what He had done, but He also turned their attention to the future task that His ministry was preparing them for. “Go and be my witnesses,” He told them. “Go and work in the vineyard. Go and make disciples.” Jesus never let His disciples dwell on what had already been done. Their purpose was not to be found in where they had been, but in where they were going.
Our faith is born and nurtured in a historical experience, in what God has done for us in the past, but it always leads us into the future. As a church today, our anniversary celebration naturally turns your gaze back on our history. But you must let that history be part of your movement into the future. Jesus has commissioned you and sent you into the world with a mission: how will you fulfill it?
You have a responsibility to your young people, to prepare them for what they will face in life. You have a responsibility to your old people, to help meet their needs in a changing world. You have a responsibility to the community around you, to proclaim the good news of salvation and to be examples of Christ’s love. Let the stories of faith, commitment, and service that are told today as we recite the history of this parish strengthen you, prepare you, and propel you into the next century of your ministry in this community.
And the question “Where are we going?” has a still greater significance, because as Catholics we know that our history has an eternal direction, an ultimate goal. In the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ the world has been set toward its final moment, in which it will be both finished and begun anew. We — along with Abraham and Sarah, Boaz and Ruth, Joseph and Mary, and hundreds of generations of the sons and daughters of God — are part of the history that flows into God’s own eternity.
It is our faith in the end of time that directs our journey through time. The Church is the first-fruits of the Kingdom of God, the first dawning of God’s presence in the world in our day. Its purpose is both to remember God’s faithfulness, kindness, mercy, and wisdom through our history up to now, and to move us and our world toward the goal God has given us.
So, during this anniversary celebration we stand at a place like the place from which Matthew told the story of Jesus. We look to our history — the history of God’s people, of the Catholic Church, of this parish — remembering who we are and where we have been. And at the same time we look to the future, remembering what we have been put here to do and where we are going. Our history is always leading us somewhere; our glory as God’s children is always yet to come.