Catholic Herald Staff
July 21 was a still and sunny Sunday morning. The red brick church stood out against the lush green grass and clear blue sky. Parishioners of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish in East Farmington gathered outside the newer, handicapped accessible entrance to celebrate the old and the new during the parish’s 150 years.
Bishop James P. Powers blessed the building improvements – finished in 2015 – praying that all will “come and go in safety and convenience” and that “we may be reminded of the comfort and safety found in the arms of Jesus and Mary.”
Symmetry is apparent inside and outside the church building. Narrow, rounded arches frame the stained-glass windows adorning the sanctuary and add architectural detail to the red brick exterior.
Bishop Powers called the “celebration of life” a milestone for the parish and diocese, of the long-standing presence of the Catholic Church in the region.
In his homily, the bishop referred to the hospitality exemplified by Abraham and Sarah in the Old Testament first reading and Martha and Mary in the Sunday gospel.
It is “more than welcoming,” he said. “They are instruments of God’s love and presence.”
He said Jesus turned the traditional norms upside down by allowing Mary to sit at his feet, and he wasn’t discrediting Martha’s efforts to serve, but was “challenging her to ask why she’s doing it.”
Did Martha want to serve? Or did she feel she had to?
“And why do we do what we do?” Bishop Powers challenged the congregation.
“How do we define hospitality? Is it repayment? Are we happier when (the guests) arrive or when they leave?” Chuckles from the aged wooden pews affirmed attendees knew what the bishop was talking about.
He asked them to reflect on how they make themselves present to others – with our time, or our busyness serving?
“The most important gift nowadays is that face-to-face, sit-down time” with another, he said.
A healthy balance of Martha and Mary should be the goal, Bishop Powers said – Martha’s activity and Mary’s presence.
He gave thanks to the many “Marthas” who had made the anniversary celebration possible. He recounted the many “Martha and Mary” moments of the parish’s history. The many celebrations, festivals and gatherings, as well as the thousands of times Jesus’ body and blood had been present on the altar and tens of thousands of spontaneous prayers the faithful had offered in thanksgiving and petition.
“How important it is that we know and we believe and we hold on to that truth – that church isn’t just an hour a week. That our faith isn’t just something that we do when we gather in this space … but that faith of our is to be a lived faith, a 24-7 faith, every single day of our lives, giving thanks and praise to our God, and witnessing that love of God to all people,” he said.
The bishop invited those present to go forth from that Mass more mindful of the need to take time and just be, “to recognize that the most precious and greatest gift we can give, it isn’t something material but that gift of our self.”
He concluded his homily saying, “In the year 2169, when they gather to celebrate the 300th anniversary of this parish, may others look back and give thanks to God for our having gone this way before them.
“Thank you for being Martha. Thank you for being Mary.”
At the end of the Mass, Dcn. Dick Peterson, parish life coordinator for Assumption Parish in East Farmington and St. Anne in Somerset, shared his gratitude for the bishop’s presence. He said in his 13 years serving the parish, that day was the first time a bishop had visited.
“A good trend,” he called it.
As part of the parish’s hospitality and gratitude to the bishop and other honored guests, after a time of fellowship and chance to peruse historical items on display, a short program was held in the church hall.
First to be recognized were three sisters, daughters of the parish who had all entered religious life. The Demulling sisters – Sr. Delores, Sr. Adele and Sr. Denise, were applauded.
In the printed booklet of parish history, prepared by former parish secretary Connie Demulling, two other religious nuns were noted as vocations from the parish – Mother Jeanne Constance, J.S., daughter of August Bonneprise, who died in 1987, and Sr. Rita Bonneprise, daughter of Joseph and Mathilda Bonneprise, who died in 2016.
A former pastor, Fr. Jim Brinkman shared a few words. He reminisced about how much he appreciated his time as their pastor and how their councils and committees “had it all together.”
Bishop Powers was given a basket of local goods and produce from the area and asked if he had further thoughts to share.
He addressed the many falling away from faith, even in areas of long, rich faith tradition. He called on “those of us who do believe to remain steadfast.
“Be proud of our faith. Do not shy away from the tough issues in word and action,” he said, and acknowledged again the parishioner’s ancestors.
Faith communities like this “don’t just happen,” he said. “It takes Martha, but we have to have the Mary moments.
“Those are what sustain us, carry us through the tough times” and allow us to still find joy.