Parishioners look for purpose together - Catholic Courier

Parishioners look for purpose together

If you’re looking for the meaning of life, you have plenty of company at St. Joseph Parish in Penfield.

Hundreds of parishioners there recently participated in a “40 Days of Purpose Mission,” a program based on the 2002 book The Purpose Driven Life, by the Rev. Rick Warren, pastor of a Southern Baptist church in Lake Forest, Calif.

The mission began Oct. 9 with an introductory session featuring Rev. Warren, which was broadcast via satellite simultaneously to numerous churches nationwide, including St. Joseph’s. The St. Joseph’s parishioners also participated in a six-week program of small-group discussions based on The Purpose Driven Life.

Subtitled “What On Earth Am I Here For?,” the book has been a nationwide best-seller since it was published, and offers a practical guide to Christian spirituality, according to Father Kevin P. Murphy, pastor of St. Joseph.

“It talks to the simple reality of everyday life,” Father Murphy said. “It’s Spirituality 101.”

The book outlines a 40-day program of study centered on discovering what Rev. Warren calls the five purposes of the Christian life. The book states that people were planned by God for “God’s pleasure;” formed for God’s family; created to become like Christ; shaped for serving God; made for a mission. In short, each Christian was born for worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry and evangelism.

Rev. Warren eschewed the approach found in many self-help books today, which he said have the wrong starting point — the self.

“If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God,” he wrote. “You were born by his purpose, and for his purpose.”

Father Murphy said a parishioner had told him about the book earlier this year, adding that even though the author is a Protestant, his insights are useful to Catholics. For comparison’s sake, Father Murphy compared his parish’s program to Protestants learning valuable spiritual insights from the television programs of the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, who served as bishop of the Rochester Diocese from 1966-69.

“Maybe the shoe’s on the other foot,” Father Murphy said. “Maybe we can learn something from a Protestant or evangelical minister about our faith in God.”

Like others who have read The Purpose Driven Life, Father Murphy said he liked the fact that the book changed the focus of life from the self to God. For example, he said, the author stressed that we go to church for God’s sake, not our own. Hence, to complain that you are not getting anything out of church is to ask the wrong question, Father Murphy said the book emphasized.

“It’s what you bring from your life that brings praise and glory to God,” Father Murphy said.

In his book, Rev. Warren emphasized that while we may enjoy worship — the opportunity it affords for fellowship, for example — we should aim to please God, not ourselves, through worship. And worship isn’t just singing in church, he stressed.

“Every activity can be transformed into an act of worship when you do it for the praise, glory and pleasure,” Rev. Warren wrote. “The Bible says, ‘So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God’ … How is it possible to do everything to the glory of God? By doing everything as if you were doing it for Jesus and by carrying on a continual conversation with him while you do it.”

Apparently, this approach to spirituality caught fire at St. Joseph’s. Father Murphy said the parish sold 575 copies of the book, and the 40 Days mission saw 285 people sign up for small-group discussions. Another 280 people read the book without participating in small groups, Father Murphy said.

The mission culminated with a Celebration Sunday program on Nov. 21 at the Hospitality House in Penfield featuring testimonials from 10 parishioners who had participated in the program. The mission was so successful that Father Murphy said many of the small groups formed want to stay in existence.

“Hopefully, what has started in these 40 days will continue and find new expression in our relationship with God and with others in the community of believers,” he said.

Mary Feasel, an active parishioner at St. Joseph’s, had nothing but praise for the 40 Days mission. In particular, she said she liked the heavy use of scriptural passages in The Purpose Driven Life. She added that the book’s short chapters made it easy for her to fit contemplating its lessons into her busy schedule. She also noted that she met with a small group throughout the mission, and enjoyed sharing insights with four other people of various backgrounds.

“I don’t think that anybody dominated the discussions,” Feasel said. “Everybody did an equal amount of sharing of ideas.” She added that the small-group discussions have inspired her to keep up the spiritual work she started during the mission.

“It helped me to get a little bit on track because I have to admit, I had gotten a little bit out of the habit of meditating on things.”

Michelle O’Brien, who also attends St. Joseph’s, participated in the same small group Feasel did, and said she also enjoyed sharing insights with her fellow group members. She added that she liked the fact that The Purpose Driven Life emphasizes practical steps toward becoming holy, steps anyone could take.
“There wasn’t a big ‘Aha!’,” she said of the book’s lessons. “There were a lot of small things I could use in my everyday life.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: To learn more about The Purpose Driven Life, visit

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