Airing this Tuesday April 30th, 2013 on EWTN at 6:30 ET/5:30 CT is the story of a parish on the brink of being a statistic and how the pastor and his people have been able to turn it around. It is a story, ably told by the StoryTel Foundation and titled “Where Heaven Meets Earth: Restoring the Sacred at St. Peter Church,” that points beyond the young, vibrant pastor. It is more than merely a tale about the right ministries and good preaching. The parish stands as a testament to the power of tradition, of reverence, of a community whose sole purpose is to make sure everybody encounters Jesus.
St. Peter’s Catholic Church is located on 27th and Leavenworth in what is viewed by many in the Omaha Metro area as a rough part of town. Personally, I’ve been there many times in the evenings and have never felt unsafe, but then I only live ten blocks West and a short jog North of the parish.
When Father Damien Cook took charge of the parish as his first assignment, the parish roles did not look healthy. The school, which still stands there, was closed many years before. The highway that shoots right beside St. Peter’s all but destroyed the old neighborhood that kept that Catholic community alive. But after his first few years, Fr. Cook has managed to bring back people from all over the Omaha area and Iowa with his passion for one person and one thing.
The person is Jesus Christ. Father Cook lives to tell his congregants that Jesus is alive and wants to be in relationship with His people. The thing is Catholic tradition, that tradition which helps us connect to a sense of the sacred, that breeds a theological imagination.
I’m a parishioner at St. Peter’s Church. My family and I have been for about four years now. What drew us there was certainly the large number of large families, families who know and live out the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of life. But the “smells and bells” also drew us there, because I wanted my children – well I wanted to be able to engage my senses and my imagination while I worshiped a God who loves us so much He is willing to humble Himself in the Eucharist.
Those things drew us there, but what has kept us there is the community. This love for the sacred, this care for our children’s souls and the souls of our brothers has meant that we have a community of Catholics who care for one another and are involved in each others’ lives. I will never forget attending the donuts and coffee session after Mass and having someone, a mom, just come up to us and introduce herself. She talked to us and made my wife and me feel comfortable and welcome.
She wasn’t part of a hospitality committee or a welcoming ministry – not that there’s anything wrong with those. But she did it because she loves Christ, and why wouldn’t you? Jesus propells us to love our neighbor and at least say, “hello” to the stranger.
This documentary on April 30th, 2013 is a must see because it show us what can happen when you combine the sacred with the personal touch of a pastor who loves. Lives change. Communities change. Whole neighborhoods can change.
While I’ve been at St. Peter’s I’ve had the pleasure of seeing several young Evangelicals enter into the Church. They’re drawn by what they see and what they don’t see. They don’t see the “frozen chosen” as it were (their phrase not mine). The people participate in the Mass by singing. They don’t see a mob of totally disinterested Christians who seem not to give a fig about what Father is saying.
They do see an intentional community of Catholics who want so much to know our Lord and to have their children know our Lord that they travel from all parts of the city to attend Mass. They see a pastor teach and preach with the conviction of the best Evangelical preacher, sans any showboating. They see Catholics live up to what they imagine the Catholic faith should be if what the Fathers of the Church they’ve read have any truth to them. At St. Peter’s these Evangelicals see a Catholic Church alive and serious.
I should note that this story about St. Peter’s is not a slam about any other parish. Neither is it to say that Fr. Cook loves Jesus more than any other pastor. It is only to say that this parish, my parish, has a pretty special story that is worth watching in a world of bad news and downtrodden spirits. This story is a hopeful one that can benefit every Catholic, regardless of their particular parish situation.
Do watch this story about St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Omaha, Nebraska. Say a prayer of thanks to the folks at StoryTel Foundation for having been moved so much by the work of St. Peter’s that they’ve entirely donated the cost of making the film. Better yet, come visit St. Peter’s and allow yourself to get lost in the beauty of the sacred. From beautiful music, to Latin responses, to good vestments, to powerful homilies, to altar boys who act in concert with each other, to the incense, to the Corpus Christi procession every year and all the rest, you are surrounded by the tools of Catholic imagination that have fed Catholics for centuries. It only makes sense that these things should still win converts and move souls to greater love for God.
See the trailer below.