How to care for parishioners in merged churches
Here is a typical conversation that begins a visit to a diocesan director of catechesis. “Can you tell me where I might find the catechetical offices?” The person at the desk responds: “Oh we don’t have that anymore. Now they’re called Evangelization and Formation.”
Many of us have seen new offices, new secretariats, titles changed and understandings shift in the world of catechesis. It seems, however, that the emphasis on evangelization and its relationship to catechesis will not shift with the changing tides. We are at a critical point in the history of the American Church. Many of the Church documents in the last 50 years have blown away the fog from our silo thinking.
One of these is Redemptoris Missio (“The Mission of the Redeemer”) by Pope St. John Paul II. When speaking about evangelization, John Paul spoke of first evangelization, reevangelization and continuing evangelization. While each of these is worthy of volumes in themselves, our focus in this article is on continuing evangelization — the pastoral care of Christians who are seeking to put their lives more fully under the influence of the Gospel.
This one often confounds people. Diocesan or parish leadership say, “We’re preaching to the choir,” when referring to the faithful. “We are focusing our attention on the people who are not in the pews or continuing adult formation.” Yet this call from John Paul II squarely has been put into focus as our diocese undergoes a change to create vibrant and joy-filled merged parishes.
Recognizing the grief and anger that often accompany this journey, it is necessary to provide sacred spaces, meaningful processes and leaders trained in listening. Meeting people where they are is essential in helping them encounter the Lord on their journey of loss. Yet, if they have met the Lord, the call to continuing conversion is the next movement in growing in holiness.
To grow in spiritual maturity, a person must be willing to name the attitudes, disputations and, perhaps, even the sin that causes him or her not to be able to grow. As our parish leadership continually expressed the need for our separate communities to be one parish, it became clear that there were many obstacles.
In an attempt to meet these challenges as a parish, we were asked each week of Lent to reflect upon attitudes and habits that worked against God’s will for us. In other words, we thought about what had to die to in order to allow Christ to bring new life into our midst. These deaths did not apply just to communal life, but to our personal lives, as well. We were driven into the desert to face our temptations. We prayed for the courage and strength to admit that we were in need of redemption. We opened our hearts to the grace God is always so willing to give.
Communion, we came to realize, will not happen on its own, or by wishing, or even praying for a miracle. The miracle of an authentic, joyful communal life is the result of a people who are willing to put themselves more fully under the influence of the Gospel — not in theological abstracts, but in lived virtue.
To be a true community of disciples, we needed to die to selfishness and rise to generosity. We needed to die to old patterns of thinking and make room for the creativity of the Holy Spirit. We were asked to die to our opinions and rise to God’s truth. We asked for salvation from our misperceptions so that we would rise to understanding. And perhaps the greatest challenge of all, we sought to die to individualism and rise to communal life.
Do you remember at some point in your life when, perhaps, you were in a cloud of self-pity, and some said to you, “Grow up!” Pastoral leadership is about the work of helping people grow up. Without judgment, however, we invite people to put themselves more fully under the influence of the Gospel.
I heard someone leaving liturgy on Sunday say to another person, “This was a hard Lent.” I thought: “Good. It should be. But wait till you see what comes on Sunday!”
DR. JO ANN PARADISE is a national catechetical consultant for Our Sunday Visitor.