parishes require flexibility, missionary creativity

An Advent Journey with Pope Francis and Evangelii Gaudium, Part 11

The parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and community. (Evangelii Gaudium, 28)

For many of us, the parish is our most tangible experience of being church. It is a great blessing to be part of a vibrant, prayerful and life-giving parish. Good energy begets good energy. Growth happens, both personally and communally. But, if we are part of “a useless structure out of touch with people or a self-absorbed group made up of a chosen few” (in the words of Francis), then we can expect a well beaten path to the door.

The freedom for a parish to seek its own unique path depends not only the pastor and the community. It also depends on the good will and trust of the local bishop. Freedom always demands that some power is relinquished, and some bishops aren’t ready to do this. A micro-managing bishop is not comfortable with flexibility or “different contours.” Some are threatened when a parish becomes too popular or successful. Allowing “openness and missionary creativity” means letting go of visions of cookie cutter parishes molded to the ideological preferences of the current leadership.

Flexibility. It’s not a word that we are used to hearing in our church. But then again, many of the words of Pope Francis have a refreshing and much welcomed tone.

no to a church of self-preservation

An Advent Journey with Pope Francis and Evangelii Gaudium, Part 10

I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for self- preservation. (Evangelii Gaudium, 27)

Pope Francis nails it! For those who fear that this new pope is about to overturn all the customs and traditions of the Church, carefully re-read the above paragraph. He is not asking us to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. But, he is asking us to consider changing the water as needed. We are called to transform and refresh what exists so we may more effectively answer our greatest call; that of evangelization. The “baby” remains safe…and cleaned up and sweeter smelling too!

The classic example of focusing on self-preservation rather than on suitability for evangelization is the New Roman Missal. The rationale was to remain more faithful to the original, Latin translation. The language is pleasing for those who prefer the more traditional worship styles of the past. But, the modern tongue stumbles in speaking the words. Modern ears strain to hear and understand. Is this a good evangelizing tool?

Church as self-preserving sanctuary, or a risk taking missionary? It’s clear which is the choice of our pope.

fewer mission statements and more mission work

An Advent Journey with Pope Francis and Evangelii Gaudium, Part 9

“Mere administration” can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be “permanently in a state of mission.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 25)

OK…hands up if you’ve ever answered the call to give of your time and talents to parish life. Have you ever sat on a pastoral or diocesan committee? Have you belonged to a church based organization or movement?

Next question. If you answered yes to any of the above, how many hours have you spent in meetings…in discussing strategies…finances…budgets….minutes….recruiting drives….

All good works require some organization and administration. Sadly, we can easily lose site of our goals amid mountains of paperwork. We give more importance to task-filled agendas than simple relationship forming and community building. We spend more energies on marketing and nice sounding mission statements than being actual missionaries.

We cannot underestimate the radical nature of Evangelii Gaudium. Francis is warning us that expending too much effort on ecclesial structures can “hamper efforts at evangelization.” We are being called to advance “along a path of a pastoral and missionary conversion.” This is a major paradigm shift, one that requires a deep reform

What would your particular ministry in the church look like if it was truly driven by a “new life” and an “authentic evangelical spirit”?