Now serving his second tour at St. Joseph’s Church, the Rev. RonBarker revels in his role of sharing good news. “We have a savior thatgives us freedom and power over evil,” he said from a warm and low-litsitting room in the church rectory. “There is joy in having a personalrelationship with God.”
A former parochial vicar at St. Joe’s from 1981-’92, the reverendhas now led the active 3,000-family member church since October 2005.With eight Masses per week, Barker said some 2,300 people attend. Over200 children attend the St. Joseph School
“The essence of God is love,” he said. “He loves us, he shepherds usand he resides with us. But if you don’t have a relationship withJesus, church can be very boring.”
Despite an attendance rate that would have some other houses ofworship teetering on the edge of envy, Barker laments that many of themembership do not attend on a regular basis. He believes that the mostsignificant reason for coming to church is to “join with a community ofbelievers and celebrate something of value: to hear God speak to us andput ourselves in the presence of God who speaks through the Bible.”
Comparing human bones and flesh to spirituality as it relates to thelaws and a relationship with Jesus, Barker said that if we only had ourskeletons, there wouldn’t be much to us. Similarly with our spirituallives, if there were only rules and obligations without a relationshipthere’s not much to inspire us. He said that a relationship may beestablished by prayer, speaking to God, and scripture, listening toGod.
Despite the good tidings of comfort and joy in the form of gifts andfood, Barker said everything is out of whack during Christmas. “Withall the hustle and bustle many miss the meaning,” he said. “Christmasis too busy with material things. We’re filling cash registers insteadof our hearts with the love God came to bring us.”
Barker said the first Christmas, when Jesus was born in a cold, darkplace, teaches us about poverty of the spirit, humility and simplicity.That the notion of how God became man in a very humble and unpleasantplace should make us thing about the unpleasant places in our lives andthat of others and move us to improve them.
With regard to clergy sex abuse scandal, he said what happened washorrendous. “I’m horrified that it took place. I’m angry that ithappened. It is good that the church is being cleansed.”
However, Barker thinks people do a disservice to call the abuse“pedophilia” when those abused were not little children, and to saythat church leaders were maliciously covering up behavior.
“To look at it from a modern way of thinking and understanding is tomisunderstand the mindset and thinking many church leaders had in the’50s and ’60s,” he said. “They were ignorant of what was going on, butnot maliciously so. There’s no excuse for what happened, but those inpositions of authority were not monsters.”
Though from all the knowledge gained, the church he said is now a model for how to protect children.
As for the value of coming to church on Christmas, Easter and yearround, Barker says people very rarely ask themselves, “What is thepurpose of my existence?” “Why am I here?” “What purpose do I serve?”
“Scripture gives the answer: Be friends with God,” he says.
“Many of us want to get rich, have power, be successful. But what doyou give all your time and energy to? What is your source of peace?Religion alone is not going to do it. But it’s the faith in God,opening up to the presence of love and peace, and living out that faithin a religious community that will. This is a good community.”
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