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.