Equipping the Parish[i]
The parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of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 the community. While certainly not the only institution which evangelizes, if the parish proves capable of self-renewal and constant adaptivity, it continues to be “the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters”.
Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, #28
The New Evangelization seeks to animate parishes with the Spirit’s fire. It seeks to empower parishes with the promise of Christ, really present when two or three gather in His name. Jesus made it clear that to follow Him is to belong to a community unlike any other. That community gathers in a parish. It is in and through the work of the parish that the Church where communities of believers become Christ’s Body, a people called out, set apart, like no other.
The New Evangelization seeks parishes that are living signs of the witness of the early Christians, “See how they love one another!” [iii] The parish is where all people learn how to follow the Lord Jesus Christ more completely. It is an apprentice ground, offering companions on the journey, teachers, pray-ers, and systematic formation in missionary discipleship. The parish offers opportunities to live out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and to co-create God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven through the works of social justice. The parish binds us to our fellow disciples, across cultures, genders, economic strata, and educational levels, and teaches us how to love beyond our domestic church.
The parish is a place that gives living witness to God’s kingdom coming here and now among Jesus’ disciples. It is also a living example of Jesus’ radical embrace of people whom other groups shun. Parishes are intended to be places of inordinate hospitality to the poor and vulnerable who dwell within a parish’s boundaries. Parishes are to embrace the unwed mother, the abused child or adult, the newly released prisoner, and those held captive by addiction. It is to be home to the undocumented worker, the migrant, the visitor, and the stranger. The waters of baptism join us to this holy community of God’s beloved and mission us to mercy and compassion for them. That is what it means to be called the Church. And so the Parish is the focus of Stage Three.
The parish is also where the Body of Christ unites itself with its Head, Jesus Christ, to celebrate His promise to be with us when we gather in His name. It is where the faithful come to give thanks and praise to God and to encounter Christ, alive in our midst in the Eucharist. The parish is where the faithful prepare for, celebrate and reflect on these sacramental encounters with Christ and so is vital to nourishment and growth in faith. The parish is where believers strike the covenants of baptism and marriage. The parish is where the Body of Christ broken by sin meets Christ’s healing touch. The parish is where new members are initiated into life in Christ. It fosters vocations and unites the sick and suffering to Christ. It is the place where all who come may find the touch of the Risen Christ, here and now. It is this apprenticeship in loving neighbor across all potential boundaries and divisions that equips the disciples to go forth to the world. This is practiced in the parish where baptism has made us kin, where our relationships are bound together in the Trinity, where our very diversity is a testament to the glory of God. This is practiced in a parish whose doors are flung wide open to welcome the stranger, the poor, the immigrant, and the seeker. Parishes are living communities whose anamnesis includes the command from Leviticus, “You shall treat the stranger who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you, have the same love for Him as for yourself; for you too were once strangers in the land of Egypt.” [iv]
The fruit of Stage Three: Parishes that are beacons, lighthouses, healing hearths, and radically and intentionally welcoming homes for the poor, the stranger, and the alienated. The work of Stage Three continues as the call of Stage Four is heard.
Lastly, we cannot forget that evangelization is first and foremost about preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected Him. Many of them are quietly seeking God, led by a yearning to see his face, even in countries of ancient Christian tradition. All of them have a right to receive the Gospel. Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but “by attraction.”
Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, #15
[i] Dovetails with the USCCB’s suggested diocesan/parish roadmap for Stage 2, with a focus on parish life.
[ii] Galations 3: 27b-28: “ For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
[iii] Tertullian. Apology (39.7)
[iv] Leviticus 19:33-34
[v] Matthew 18:20