Today the Church remembers and asks the intercession of the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order. The ideals of these seven men from thirteenth-century Florence are relevant to us today. They began their order by meeting regularly in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Soon they decided to leave their families and professions for a life of poverty and penance. It is important for us to grasp that the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order did not form a community because they enjoyed each other’s company. Rather, they formed a community because they shared a common devotion to Our Lady and a desire to progress in the spiritual life.
When we look at our parishes, we would do well to consider why it is we gather. Every community forms as a result of a shared purpose or interest. Cities and towns form as a matter of geographical proximity, but other groups—be they religious or secular—form as a result of something outside of themselves which they hold in common, such as an interest in bowling or ballroom dancing. A parish which gathers to simply see and be with each other in community is destined for disintegration and death as is the case of each individual. The future of parishes need not be that their congregations become increasingly smaller and decrease in relevance to their wider communities. If laity and clergy are present in parishes to intentionally gather around the altar in worship of the Lamb, to lift up holy hands in prayer and sing the praises of Our Lord and Our Lady, then their parishes will flourish and grow. Parish communities flourish and grow not because their congregants are great, but because God is great. Our Lord said, “When I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). These words should remind us that it is Christ who builds and sustains parish communities—not the members. Our part is to keep the focus on God and off of ourselves. God gives the grace and we respond.
The Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order sought to sanctify themselves by cultivating their devotion to Our Lady. Next, they sought to sanctify others by spreading devotion to her. Perhaps greater devotion to Our Lady is an essential key to the New Evangelization? With the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order, let us take Blessed Mary as our mother and entrust the health our parish communities to her!