If it Should Wake
It has been said that the Catholic Church is like a sleeping Lion and if it ever wakes up it would change the world. We all know that the world needs to change. So why not wake it up? How CAN we wake it up? Ponder this question.
Will St. Peter's Become a Mosque?
Sound far fetched?
There are now more practicing Muslims in France than practicing Catholics. And Italy is not far behind in this trend.
How could this be?
Simple. The vast majority of baptized Catholics in Europe (and I dare say, in New Zealand) view their faith as irrelevant to their everyday lives. A relic from the distant past. Quaint but dispensable.
During the Middle Ages when the Vatican’s St. Peter’s was only a modest wooden shrine, the greatest Church in Christendom was in Constantinople, the Cathedral of Haggia Sophia, with a Dome and frescos of titan proportions. In 1453 it became a mosque and the land of the Ephesians and Galatians became Muslim Turkey.
We can do better. We MUST do better.
Evangelisation is supposed to be the top priority of the Church according to Vatican II and every pope since. But Evangelisation is supposed to be primarily to be carried out by the laity according to the same Council and popes.
So what’s gone wrong? Is it the laity or is it the leadership or lack of it?
Let’s take a look at my parish for example. In the Foyer is a framed Mission Statement. It reads:
"We the people of ............ as followers of Christ are challenged to help our Parish become a vibrant, loving, serving, worshipping, evangelising and sacramental community."
Let’s take a closer look at this statement. How was it developed?
We the people of ................
Who are the people of.............? Is it the parishioners collaborating to come up with this Mission Statement or was it the Parish Pastoral Council or maybe someone charged to come up with a good mission statement? Hmmm!
as followers of Christ are challenged to help our Parish become
As followers of Christ are challenged…. Are we? Who is doing the challenging? When? I have been a parishioner for more than ten years and I don’t feel challenged. (Well not on a regular basis)
Are we vibrant? What is a vibrant parish? Does it mean that because we have a number of groups operating in the parish it is vibrant? I don’t think so.
loving, serving, worshipping,
Loving? Serving? Worshiping? I would say we are striving to be a worshiping parish.
evangelising and sacramental community.
Certainly we are a Sacramental parish, but community? I wonder? But what about evangelising? Oh Yes! We ran the Alpha Course once a year (a token effort by a “few” people) for a few years but not anymore. But what was it the Vatican II said?
Evangelization is supposed to be the top priority of the Church according to Vatican II and every pope since. But Evangelisation is supposed to be primarily to be carried out by the laity according to the same Council and popes.
Oh my, this is where we as a church have failed miserably. This is not just my parish I refer to here. But before I go on to more general matters I want to conclude with my observations about our Parish Mission Statement of which we are all so “proud”. It is evident that the majority of parishioners have not “bought into” the vision. There are many examples with which I can demonstrate this but that is for another time. Needless to say:
Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:17)
I have the opportunity to have contact with many parishes throughout the country and overseas. I also visit churches of other denominations. Of recent years I have noticed the increasing number of “Catholics” attending these churches and have had numerous discussions as to why they are there. I will look at this in more detail later.
But what about evangelisation? Have our churches become a bit like a club that it feels good to attend. I think we have become a bit like the swimming club. You know, the one where everyone goes with their friends. They sit around the edge of the swimming pool, with their friends, enjoying the sun and chatter, but never venture into the water. They have forgotten that it is a swimming club and that the purpose of a swimming club is to swim, and to do that you have to get into the water.
I seem to recall that when Jesus gave His church the great commission (Matthew 28:19) He said GO and TELL, not come and sit! Now I must say that there are “pockets” of action within the church but sadly not enough. When we join the church sharing our faith is not optional it was a command to Go and Tell. (Matthew 28:19)
This is something we seem to have forgotten. So what do we do?
Parishioners on the whole have become “passive “members (consumers) who need to have the Great Commission explained to them in such a way that the “buy into” the vision.
Establish prayer teams to pray for specific outcomes.
Parishes need to have an evangelisation plan and actively act upon it.
Not everyone is an evangelist but EVERYONE can contribute in some way.
Parishioners need to be challenged and “excited” about winning souls for Christ.
Another area the church is “missing the boat” is with “inactive Catholics”. A Pastor friend from another denomination told me he was envious of the Catholic Church because of the large numbers of “inactive” Catholics. He said they were a “warm market” to get back because they already have had a background of faith, where as his church they have to “Start from scratch” in attracting new members.
So what are we doing to win these people back? Are we making “Prodigals” of people who should never have become prodigals?
Are we making it “easy” for people to come back?
What sort of church are we bringing them back to?
Are we welcoming, forgiving, and loving, excepting?
Are we able to help them grow and strengthen their faith?
Most importantly how are we “connecting” with these people to invite them back?
What about non-Christians? What are we doing to attract them? On the whole, not very much. One of the most effective tools to reach this group of people is the Alpha Course. To be most effective though it needs to be run as it was designed to be run. Sadly very few Catholic Churches in New Zealand are doing this. Those that are, are using it as their “token” evangelisation effort. The late Fr Miles O’Malley said “As far as I am concerned Alpha is the best evangelistic tool available at present.” But sadly many Priests and indeed our own Bishop are not so enthusiastic. I suspect mainly because it originated from an Anglican Church. From my experience those most vocal against it have never attended an Alpha Course or have never viewed the material. How sad is that?
However there are a number of parishes in other parts of NZ who are using the Alpha Course with great success.
Spiritual Growth for Parishioners
Earlier I mentioned the number of “Catholics” I meet when visiting other denominational churches. Many say they are there because of the teaching, praise and worship, and because they were allowed to be “involved”. If this is indeed the case, then what are we doing? If this is available in other churches why is it not available in ours? I have not been able to find a
reason why we can’t do this. I know that different styles of worship suit different people, but for goodness sake, let’s have some options so that that people with talents that we need in our parishes aren’t forced to go elsewhere.
Have you ever wondered why other churches have all the good musicians? Have large youth groups? Are growing at rapid rates? It’s because they are doing things that we are not. But we could be.
There are many resources available to parishes. More so now, than probably ever before. But are we using them. Constantly I hear people say we are lucky in my parish because we have lots going on and nothing is happening in their parish. Now that is sad, and we could be doing much better also. The only thing stopping us is “people involvement”. There are just not enough people willing to step up and help.
Now I know all the excuses. I heard them all. But how committed to our faith are we? Are we like the “swimming club”? What are our priorities? Do we place our faith walk on top or is NZ’s other religion, Sport, more important? And talking about priorities, I have served on a number of church committees over many years and most of them are regular meetings scheduled at set dates and times. I have seen people who have stepped up to serve on these committees, knowing what they are committing to, constantly fail to attend due to “double bookings”. Dah! One wonders where priorities lie. Not only is it inconvenient and can hold up important decision making, it is also disrespectful to other committee members.
So where to from here? We need to follow the lead of Pope Francis in his call to reach out to others. Now is the time for action. We need a strategy or a plan. We need to set some new goals and act on them. Short and long term strategies that a measurable. The number one goal of a parish should be evangelising. Everything else that happens in the parish should be related to that. If it is not we should not be doing it.
I would recommend reading these books:
“Rebuilt” by Fr Michael White and Tom Corcoran
“Tools for Rebuilding” by Fr Michael White and Tom Corcoran
"Rebuilding your Message" by Fr Michael White and Tom Corcoran
"Rebuilding Youth Ministry" by Christopher Wesley
“Forming Intentional Disciples” by Sherry A. Weddell
There are many other great resources available also. See: www.catholicinfo.nz
So, are we going to do what Jesus formed the Church for, or are we going to continue sitting around the pool chatting?