Grace-Filled Unpredictability (Teaching Parish Reflection)

by on July 21, 2018

This article was written by Father Michael Brungardt, ordained for the Diocese of Wichita on May 26, 2018, about his experience as a Deacon in the Teaching Parish Program at Mundelein Seminary during the 2017-18 school year.

It’s a typical Sunday morning. About 5:30 a.m, the alarm starts going off. I’m scheduled to preach the 8:00 a.m. mass at the parish to which I have been assigned for the year: Good Shepherd in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood (or La Villita as we call it down there). I’ve been preparing to preach all week: praying and meditating on the readings for this Sunday, looking at commentaries, having conversations about them with other deacons preparing to preach as well, and then sitting down and organizing it all into a coherent homily. Now that the morning has come, it’s time to go down there and deliver.

As I pull into the parish, I’m greeted by the typical empty parking lot (which is to be expected since it’s still forty-five minutes until mass begins). Once the masses start for the day, though, the parking lot will literally be completely full for all six masses during the day.

I walk in to the church and greet the faithful sacristan–Don Limón–and take a moment to sit and pray in the pews of the church before people begin gathering. I always find this time of prayer calming and refreshing; a chance to place myself in the shoes of those who are about to come to attend mass.

After mass I stand outside greeting all those who are exiting the church. “¿Como está? ¡Que tenga un muy buen día!” (How are you? Have a good day!) Then it’s back to the sacristy to prepare for the next mass which begins in only fifteen minutes.

When all is said and done, it’s time to head back to the seminary, back to studies and to prepare for the coming week.

A typical Sunday, indeed. But typical does not mean mundane, irrelevant, or casual. In fact, for Sundays at the parish, typical really means anything but that; typical can only really be used ironically. On several occasions I have been approached asking for prayers for one who is about to undergo surgery, or for a parent, sibling or friend who has just passed away. I have been asked about advice and prayers surrounding the recent separation of a married couple. I have been invited to house parties for birthdays, baptisms and quinceañeras. People have told me their whole life story based on one simple thing I said in a homily, and others have taken the time to tell me how they would have done it differently. I guess we could call it “Gospel Typicalness,” which is really just a way of saying “Graciously Unpredictable,” or better yet, “Grace-filled Unpredictability.”

The most “typical” thing I see at the parish each and every Sunday are the people who come looking for meaning, comfort, peace, stability, and clarity in their lives; people who come perhaps not fully clear as to why they still come at all, but come because of the need they feel within themselves, one that the parish has filled throughout their life. As a deacon, as an ordained minister of the Gospel, one of the most important duties I carry out is that of fostering this encounter with the One who presents Himself as the answer to their need. And at mass, at this encounter, this liturgical event in which we come face to face with the very Word and Sacrament of Jesus Christ, the “typical” does indeed happen: we are placed in a position to allow God to perform his unpredictable and grace-filled action in our lives.

Typical? Yes.

What is the Teaching Parish Program?