My Role in Mission and Evangelisation
On this Retreat Sunday, we would like to introduce you to a new document which has come from the Vatican just last month, and which asks us to consider the reality of the Parish. We might be very aware of parish name and locality without being in any way aware of the life of the parish in which we live. But even the reality of parish has changed, and so our sense of being part of a living community – worshipping together, growing together, struggling together, journeying together – may also have changed, if not been completely lost.
We offer some quotations for your consideration in the quiet of this retreat day. The numbers at the head of each section are the paragraph numbers from the Vatican document – you can access the document in its entirety by clicking on this link:
After each paragraph, in which we highlight a few words or phrases for your attention, we offer some short comments to direct your own personal reflection. Obviously, the Church realises that great change is taking place in front of our eyes in respect of the traditional grouping known as “parish” – such change cannot pass us by, and we are invited to claim our part in shaping this path and reality. In doing so, we can hope to discover what kind of Catholic I can be in this world today.
Of course, given that the selection of material is substantial you may feel that it’s enough to pray over a little today – why not allow this reading and reflection to accompany your prayer through the week?
4. Urged on by this concern, the Church “faithful to her own tradition and at the same time conscious of her universal mission, can enter into communion with the various civilizations, to their enrichment and the enrichment of the Church herself”. The fruitful and creative encounter between the Gospel and culture leads to true progress: on the one hand, the Word of God is incarnate in the history of men, and thus renews it; on the other hand, “the Church can and ought to be enriched by the development of human social life”, enhancing thereby, in our present age, the mission entrusted to her by Christ.
Reflection: How do I experience the interaction between Church and world, Church and culture, in my parish, in my own life, in my own belief, practice and witness? How might it change to become more Gospel reflective?
5. The Church proclaims that the Word, “became flesh and lived among us” (Jn 1:14). This Word of God, who loves to dwell in our midst, in his inexhaustible richness, was received the world over by diverse peoples, inspiring in them the most noble of aspirations, such as the desire for God, the dignity of every human life, equality among men and respect for difference within the single human family, dialogue as a means to participation, a longing for peace, welcome as an expression of fraternity and solidarity, together with a responsible care for creation.
It is unthinkable, therefore, that such newness, whose propagation to the ends of the earth remains incomplete, abates or, worse still, disappears. In order for the journey of the Word to continue, the Christian community must make a determined missionary decision “capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelisation of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation”.
Reflection: Thomas Merton wrote that, if our life must be about anything today it must be about prophecy not survival. Prophecy is centred on preaching the Word of God, which is the core of evangelisation. The Church, to be prophetic, must present the truth of the Gospel in its evangelisation to each different age. What is different now for me, and my Church, and how should that affect how the Gospel is preached in my life and worshipping community?
8. The territorial configuration of the Parish, however, must confront a peculiar characteristic of our contemporary world, whereby increased mobility and the digital culture have expanded the confines of existence. On the one hand, people are less associated today with a definite and immutable geographical context, living instead in “a global and pluralist village”; on the other hand, the digital culture has inevitably altered the concept of space, together with people’s language and behaviour, especially in younger generations.
Moreover, it is quite easy to hypothesise about how the continuous development of technology will ultimately change our way of thinking, together with the understanding of self and of social living. The speed of change, successive cultural models, the ease of movement and the speed of communication are transforming the perception of space and time.
Reflection: Has greater mobility, availability of technology, changing means of communication and how we relate to each other virtually changed my experience of and life within community and parish? How has this changed, and how have I adapted?
9. As a living community of believers, the Parish finds itself in a context whereby the territorial affiliation is increasingly less evident, where places of association are multiplied and where interpersonal relationships risk being dissolved into a virtual world without any commitment or responsibility towards one’s neighbour.
Reflection: What communities do I feel I belong to, and which are formative and life-giving for me? Why are they so?
16. Given the above-mentioned changing realities, their generous dedication notwithstanding, the current Parish model no longer adequately corresponds to the many expectations of the faithful, especially when one considers the multiplicity of community types in existence today. It is true that a characteristic of the Parish is its rootedness at the centre of where people live from day to day. However, the Parish territory is no longer a geographical space only, but also the context in which people express their lives in terms of relationships, reciprocal service and ancient traditions. It is in this “existential territory” where the challenges facing the Church in the midst of the community are played out. As a result, any pastoral action that is limited to the territory of the Parish is outdated, which is something the parishioners themselves observe when their Parish appears to be more interested in preserving a nostalgia of former times as opposed to looking to the future with courage. It is worth noting, however, that from a canonical perspective, the territorial principle remains in force, when required by law.
Reflection: How might I be able to contribute to discernment around new experiences of parish relationship and community which, while evolving, still offer a real sense of rootedness?
17. Moreover, mere repetitive action that fails to have an impact upon people’s concrete lives remains a sterile attempt at survival, which is usually welcomed by general indifference. If the Parish does not exude that spiritual dynamic of evangelisation, it runs the risk of becoming self-referential and fossilised, offering experiences that are devoid of evangelical flavour and missionary drive, of interest only to small groups.
Reflection: What might it mean for my parish to be a place of evangelisation and mission, and therefore a place which reaches out?
18. The renewal of evangelisation requires a new approach with diverse pastoral proposals, so that the Word of God and the sacramental life can reach everyone in a way that is coherent with their state in life. Ecclesial membership in our present age is less a question of birthplace, much less where someone grew up, as it is about being part of a community by adoption, where the faithful have a more extensive experience of the Word of God than they do of being a body made up of many members, with everyone working for the common good (1 Co 12:12-27).
Reflection: How might I become a missionary at home who carries the Word of God to others and invites them to a renewed sacramental life?
19. Over and above places and reasons for membership, the Parish community is the human context wherein the evangelising work of the Church is carried out, where Sacraments are celebrated and where charity is exercised, all with missionary zeal, which, apart from being an intrinsic part of pastoral action, is a litmus test of its authenticity. In this present age, marked at times by marginalisation and solitude, the Parish community is called to be a living sign of the proximity of Christ through fraternal bonds, ever attentive to new forms of poverty.
Reflection: Apart from the scandal of material poverty which surrounds us, what other forms of “poverty” am I aware of in my own community? How can parish challenge these and feed in these circumstances?
21. Perusing the Acts of the Apostles, one realises the transformative effect of the Word of God, that interior power that brings about the conversion of hearts. The Word is the food that nourishes the Lord’s disciples and makes them witnesses to the Gospel in the various circumstances of life. The Scriptures contain a prophetic impetus that makes them into a living force. It is necessary to provide instruction on how to listen and meditate on the Word of God through a variety of different approaches to proclamation, adopting clear and comprehensible means of communication that announce the Lord Jesus according to the ever new witness of the kerygma.
Reflection: The kerygma is the fundamental heart of the post-Pentecost Church’s proclamation: that Jesus Christ has been crucified, died, and buried, and raised to life by the Father, and that we are witnesses to this, with the Holy Spirit. How does this kerygmatic proclamation form the basis for my life as a practising and witnessing Catholic?
22. The celebration of the Eucharistic mystery is “the source and summit of the whole Christian life” and accordingly, the essential moment for building up the Parish community. Therein, the Church becomes aware of the meaning of her name (Ecclesia): the coming together of the People of God to praise, implore, intercede and give thanks. In celebrating the Eucharist, the Christian community welcomes the living presence of the Crucified and Risen Lord, receiving the announcement of the entire mystery of salvation.
Reflection: Can I take a moment to acknowledge that those expressions of prayer are present in my life: praise, imploring (petition), interceding, thanksgiving?
23. The Church perceives here the need to rediscover Christian initiation, which generates new life, as it is placed within the mystery of God’s own life. It is a journey that is ongoing, that transcends celebrations or events, because, in essence, it is defined, not as a duty to fulfil a “rite of passage”, but rather as a perpetual sequela Christi (following of Christ). In this context, it would be useful to establish a mystagogical itinerary (how the mystery of faith finds expression in the concrete living of my life) that genuinely affects existence. Catechesis needs to be presented as an ongoing proclamation of the Mystery of Christ, the objective of which is to foster in the heart of the baptised that full stature of Christ (cf. Eph 4:13) that is derived from a personal encounter with the Lord of life.
Reflection: Does my own desire for and appreciation of a personal faith encounter with Jesus Christ stand at the heart of my faith?
24. In the mysterious interplay between the action of God and that of man, the proclamation of the Gospel comes through men and women who give credibility to what they say through the witness of their lives, together with their interpersonal relationships that inspire trust and hope. In these times, marked as they are by indifferentism, individualism and the exclusion of others, the rediscovery of brotherhood is paramount and integral to evangelisation, which is closely linked to human relationships. In this way, the Christian community makes Our Lord’s words their own, as they spur us to “put out into the deep” (Lk 5:4), trusting in the Master as we pay out the nets in the assurance of hauling a “large catch”.
Reflection: Recall the words of Pope St Paul VI and allow them to be descriptive of you: Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses. Witness is a challenge to indifferentism, individualism and exclusion, and invites fraternity, trust, hope and community.
26. The Parish community is called truly to master the “art of accompaniment”. If deep roots are planted, the Parish will become a place where solitude is overcome, which has affected so many lives, as well as being “a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey and a centre of constant missionary outreach”.
Reflection: To accompany another is to become available to them in love, to walk with them when they need faith companionship, to give them a sense of belonging. Is that an aspect of my parish experience?
33. Oftentimes, the Parish community is the first place of personal human encounter that the poor have with the face of the Church. Priests, deacons and consecrated men and women are among the first to have compassion for the “wounded flesh” of their brothers and sisters, to visit the sick, to support the unemployed and their families, thereby opening the door to those in need. With their gaze fixed upon them, the Parish community evangelises and is evangelised by the poor, discovering anew the call to preach the Word in all settings, whilst recalling the “supreme law” of charity, by which we shall all be judged.
Reflection: Matthew 25, in the parable of the Last Judgment, speaks about the supreme law of charity. How do I find it speaking in my life and in my parish’s life?
-Part of our ‘Retreat Sunday’ series-