The Late Father Dick Martin:
would that there were more
priests like him.
I think we need to go back again to the Council and take a new look at the Council’s call to be Church. In particular I think that we need to re-read and re-study Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes, but this time through the lens of the overlooked Apostolicam Actuositatem, the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity. The first time around I think many of the clergy overlooked the Decree on the Laity. We, laity and clergy alike, still have not bought into that new vision of the Church that took the laity seriously and we all—priests and laity alike—thought that the work of the Church was the province of the ordained. And while we are at it, we need to take a look at Christifideles Laici, John Paul II’s 1988 letter on the holiness and apostolate of the laity. I find that we still work on the assumption that the ordained are there to minister to the laity and the laity are there to be ministered to by the clergy. This is short-circuiting the action of the Holy Spirit that is meant to drive us all out into the world in witness and in service.
I saw a few months ago on one of the Katholic Krazies blogs an attack on the message in front of Nativity Catholic Church in Burke Virginia. The message reads: “The Ministers of the Parish are the entire congregation.” The KK blogger made fun of the idea that the parishioners share in the ministries of the Church. They obviously believe that “ministry” is something the ordained do while they, the laity, sit back and have their feet washed or, if they are women, passively watch while the priest washes the feet of their husbands. They don’t get the message that is so clear to the parishioners at Nativity. The Church of the Nativity is one of the most dynamic congregations in the United States—due primarily to the leadership given by its late pastor, Father Richard Martin. In Father Martin’s first year at Nativity a number of parishioners—knowing his reputation—fled for safer ground where they could daydream their way through a quiet Mass. They knew things were going to change at their parish and they didn’t want to be part of it. But under Father Martin’s guidance the parish has grown immensely in active membership as people have come from all over the diocese of Arlington to be members of this dynamic church. It has all the usual activities—bible study, sodality, Knights of Columbus, Scout troops, pro-life activities, Just Faith, Bereavement Ministry, Vacation Bible School, Prayer-Shawl ministry, home visitors, etc. There are six weekend masses and all are filled to standing room capacity; five choirs ranging from traditional to contemporary to family; a fully accredited blue ribbon school with over 400 students, another thousand kids in Religious Education. Most exciting is Operation Starfish—the parish’s program of outreach to the poor of Haiti. Hundreds of parishioners have gone to Haiti to have a “look/see” and come back energized for mission. In the 20 years or so since Father Martin came to the Church of the Nativity, Nativity has built over 800 homes in 7 different “Nativity Villages” throughout Haiti. They have rebuilt an orphanage for handicapped children after it was destroyed in a fire. They have bought nine fishing boats to provide employment for residents of the various Nativity Villages that are on the coast. They have planted over 5000 fruit trees and dug numerous wells for irrigation. They have built health centers, clinics, and provided relief in the cholera epidemic. After the 2010 Earthquake the parish raised $300,000 for immediate aid to those in distress. And this is only a few of the things parishioners of Nativity have done for the poor.
I asked Father Martin several years ago when we were talking and he was introducing me to the parish and its operations, what made this parish so thriving in a Church that overall was in decline. He told me that he thought the single most important factor was a serious attempt to provide the very best possible Sunday liturgy. It was in the Liturgy above all that people are catechized; that they experience community, and that they receive a sense of mission. While so many other parishes in his diocese were establishing the Tridentine Mass, Father Martin was focused on the renewed post-conciliar Liturgy and its power to open people to the reality of the Kingdom of God. Unlike so many of his fellow clergy in the Diocese of Arlington, Father Martin understood that the true worship of God demands a sincere commitment to the betterment of our neighbor and that God’s Kingdom of Justice, Peace, and the Joy of the Holy Spirit begins in the Liturgy. Sadly, Father Martin went to his eternal reward two months ago, but hopefully the Church he helped to build at Nativity with a committed laity will stand strong on the rock of Christ’s word.