Will your mission-focussed apostolate flourish in a maintenance-focussed parish?


I think that this question is on the hearts of many ‘intentional’ disciples with passion for mission and evangelisation. I’m thinking of people who are in situations where they have begun an apostolate – perhaps for evangelisation, outreach, or formation of disciples – which has been fruitful. But this fruitful apostolate is merely one pocket of a parish, and the rest of the parish is lukewarm. More than that – you can see that, for lack of leadership and vision, the rest of the parish is content with maintaining the status quo – it’s a ‘business as usual’ mentality. Property gets maintained, flowers get arranged, parents get school-forms signed, teenagers get entertained in the youth group, and children are occupied in the Children’s Liturgy… and few, if any, disciples are made.

Over the years, I have met many frustrated people who find themselves in these situations. They experience profound discouragement, because, while their apostolate is allowed to co-exist with everything else, leadership and vision needed for the whole parish to discover its deepest identity in evangelisation are lacking. I often think about this in the case of RCIA. In the RCIA process, you can create a powerful, disciple-making experience. But think of the process of osmosis: as newly formed disciples pass out of the Catechumenate where the spiritual temperature is high, into the parish where the temperature is lukewarm, and there are few opportunities for them to continue growing in discipleship, chances are they will soon reflect the parish norm.

Savvy disciples need to discern how they deploy their precious time and energy. I’ve known people who have become so discouraged with the situations they find themselves in, that they become disconnected from their parish. It is a heart-breaking experience to pour time and energy into a situation which never seems to change. On the other hand, I hear of inspiring, mission-oriented priests who despair at the scarcity of intentional disciples in the parish with whom they can work. It works both ways.

So, what’s the solution? Here are some thoughts:

  • I don’t believe for one moment that the Holy Spirit wastes one prayer, one sacrifice, any amount of hard work and effort – let us first of all trust in His faithfulness and goodness that fruits will appear – perhaps in individual lives, if not in a community as a whole
  • Sometimes I think we place too much importance on the role of bishops and priests to renew the Church – they seem to loom large in our consciousness. However, the renewal of the Church will surely come from the laity (over 99% of the Church!). Recently, I heard a beautiful story of a ‘conversion’ of a priest who was terrified of evangelisation, but through the witness of his parishioners, he let down all the barriers he’d protected the parish behind. Change can happen, and if your priest seems to be an obstacle to evangelisation (sounds bizarre when you write it, but you know exactly what I mean!) pray, pray, pray… God can melt hearts
  • Where a few ‘intentional disciples’ are gathered together, there is life and energy. I would advocate radical decisions in this respect… move house (literally!). Move parish… move to where there’s a mission-focussed priest who you can work with. Do what is necessary (and achievable) for your family to flourish spiritually and take responsibility for mission by reaching out to the lost…
  • Don’t lose heart, don’t throw the towel in, don’t throw up your hands and walk away! Christ needs you. I feel we need to pray, fast and fight for our parishes, because this is where God wishes to gather his people – to convert them, to teach them, to feed them… Sometimes I feel we’re 2% among a large 98% who have a different notion of why their parish exists. (They still think it exists for them…) But, let’s keep going… It will take time, but God wants this more than we do.


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3 Responses

  1. I think your list is missing something, so I offer this to your thoughts on a solution. Become part of a new movement or ecclesial charism which is a vital source of life in Christ. Every pope since Blessed Paul VI has recommended these gifts of the Holy Spirit in our time and has urged pastors to welcome them in dioceses and parishes. Archbishop Chaput underlined the papal emphasis in his first pastoral letter in December 1997 when he wrote, “I ask pastors of the archdiocese to open their parishes to all which the Holy Spirit desires. New ecclesial movements and charisms are works of the Holy Spirit and signs of Jubilee; it is my hope that pastors will welcome these groups and movements so that our people, families and parishes may blaze with the fire of the new evangelization.” He was faithful to this message in Denver and continues to follow this pastoral approach in Philadelphia. No one becomes an authentic disciple without radical availability to the Holy Spirit. It is the missionary heart of the Church, and the new communities and charisms are its exemplars.

  2. Transformed in Christ says:

    Absolutely, William! Couldn’t agree more. We are indebted to the new movements for revitalising the faith in much of the western Church as parishes go on sleeping…

  1. 21 July 2015

    […] of maintenance is still weighing us down (I’ve written about this phenomenon previously here). It takes an enormous effort to maintain the energy needed for ongoing evangelisation because not […]

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