April 21, 2024 Essay: Faces Without Names

Apr 3, 2024

I write this essay for people who identify St. Ignatius Loyola Church as their parish church and who come here to celebrate the Eucharist with some regularity. If you come to St. Ignatius only occasionally, or if you are a visitor, of course, you are invited to continue reading. But the people I wish to address primarily are those I see here at church with some frequency.

Let me not beat around the bush. I’m making an appeal. It is not an appeal for your financial help (though we certainly need that). It is not even an appeal for your volunteer help. We need that, too, for the important, worthwhile services we offer as a Christian community. It truly is impossible to function as a vital parish without a coalition of men and women who generously donate their financial resources and offer their time and talent to the myriad ways we follow Christ’s bidding to serve the needs of others. Some of these generous volunteers teach Christian doctrine to grade school children in our afterschool religious education program for public and private school children. Others act as lectors and Eucharistic ministers and ministers of hospitality at our liturgies. Others help to run toy, food, and blood drives. Throughout the year, we will be soliciting your volunteer services for a wide range of activities and interests.

But today, my appeal to you is much more modest and basic. It is an appeal to register as a parishioner of St. Ignatius, to stand up and be counted, as it were, as one who identifies with this parish and with our community. For registering as a parishioner is more than putting your name on a mailing list. It is more than signing up for Sunday offertory collection envelopes. Registering is really a statement about how you see yourself as a Catholic in New York City. It is about your sense of belonging and connectedness to a particular parish church. It is about ownership and about your endorsement of what this local church is attempting to do.

Sometimes I wonder why some people who regularly attend our church never become members. What does it mean when you don’t want to put your name to something? I can answer only for myself. For me, it means I don’t want to be involved. I don’t want to go on record as a supporter of a particular organization or group. I may enjoy receiving benefits from the organization now and then but don’t ask me to give anything, not even my name. It is all very safe and sanitary. It allows me to feel part of something from a safe distance and quite anonymously.

If you react the way I do, maybe it is time you thought through the decision to register. As a priest on the staff of a large church in a very large city, it is a great help in my ministry to know, as best I can, the people I am called to serve in a special way: the parishioners of St. Ignatius Loyola. I wish never to exclude anyone from my ministry as a priest, but I can’t claim to serve the entire Catholic population of New York City. I am most strongly committed to the people who make up St. Ignatius Parish. But some of you remain anonymous. How am I to know who you are if you won’t give your name to a list of parish members? How can any organization function with members it cannot identify?

I am reminded of the invitation John Daly used to give every Sunday night during the twenty-five years he hosted the popular TV show “What’s My Line?” The panelists on the show would try to guess the occupations of several guest contestants during the evening. At the end of the show, the panelists would be blindfolded, and a celebrity would make a guest appearance amid howls and applause. And gesturing to the blackboard, John Daly would say: “Will the mystery guest sign in, please?” So how about it, you mystery guests out there, would you sign in, please!

— Rev. William J. Bergen, S.J., Senior Priest