Tuesday, October 09, 2018

On a Mission... Together!

I have been an active priest in Montreal for over 35 years now. We have done many things, initiated many programs, served many generations of people of all ages. Even at our worst and weakest, God still manages to do good things and to bless people through - and sometimes despite - our efforts.

I find it very encouraging that our Archbishop and his Pastoral Team are calling on all of us to "put our minds and hearts together" before we "put our hands to the plow together", because we are "On a Mission... Together!". So, here are some personal observations and thoughts about those observations.

I think we have often suffered in the past, and I believe we continue to suffer a sense of failure, often, and I believe it is in part because our goal is to "fill the church" again or for the first time.... We keep trying to throw a large net to "catch as many people as possible" all at once. Depending on our parish situation, this impulse to "rope in as many people as possible" may become very desperate indeed. Jesus was motivated and his heart pressed Him, but He was never desperate.

Of course, it is necessary and good that we address large crowds, as we do on the Lord's Day, and as Jesus Himself did in his Sermon on the Mount and before He fed the multitudes with a few loaves or loaves and fishes, or when He taught in the Temple in Jerusalem. This is normal for us - clergy and evangelists - to address large crowds whenever we have them, but it is part of living our faith; as Jesus and his apostles and disciples went to synagogue and to the Temple in Jerusalem.

However, large crowds are not the primary or most effective way of sharing the good news with people. Yes, Jesus did teach large crowds, but He evangelized in a personal way, one person or family at a time. When the Gospels mention people's lives being changed and them deciding on the spot to follow Jesus from that point on, it was usually after an intimate one on one encounter with Jesus. At WYD's when young people were with Saint Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict or now Pope Francis; Jesus is there touching them, but their lives really change when they have a personal encounter with Jesus such as during Confession or encounters with other youth or with adults.

None of our programs or approaches work very well or for very long, in the end, primarily I believe because we keep trying to catch "large bunches of people", whether it is the families who come for sacraments or whomever, without applying ourselves sufficiently to one on one evangelization. We find one on one listening and caring very troublesome and tiring, when we are not convinced it is a waste of our time and energy. People's and families' lives are messy and whenever we get "too close" we find it difficult, unsettling, and distracting us from our many duties and tasks and projects.

We may often be impatient with people who are irritating or troublesome, but Jesus would have welcomed them, listened to them, asked them what they wanted, and then He would have given thanks to his Father before blessing them, and then God the Father always did something marvelous for them, whether it was forgiving their sins or healing or whatever. God the Father touched people through Jesus' caring and loving as He gave the impression that He had all the time in the world for those who came to Him.

Then, when Jesus "breathed on his apostles and disciples" and poured the Holy Spirit into them, He enabled them to do as He had done and showed them how to do. When we were baptized and then confirmed, Jesus also "breathed on us and poured into us his Holy Spirit". However, we may have trouble believing in the reality of the Father's love, in the reality of the Holy Spirit's power, and in the reality of Jesus' trust in us and his commission to us to do as He has done and showed us.

I believe a serious flaw in our thinking and in our approach is that we keep skipping this most basic, fundamental, and essential step; that is, the step that Jesus Himself took, which is one to one evangelization. Jesus walked the roads and streets looking for opportunities to encounter people. As He encountered people, one person at a time, one family at a time, He proclaimed the good news and left them free to respond right away or not; He even left them free to walk away.

We don't want people to walk away, and when they do, we get frustrated and feel a failure or even feel a false kind of guilt based on whatever it was that we thought our goal was.... It doesn't take much to discourage us and we quit or try something else, going from one approach to another, one program to another, one idea to another, one event or activity to another, but we don't value the people, the persons we meet along the way. They come and they go, but we don't let them move us as Jesus allowed them to move Him with compassion for them; as when he wept over them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, or when He wept over Jerusalem for having rejected Him.

Jesus evangelized one person at a time, and He taught his disciples to evangelize one person at a time. That is what God is doing, and we need to "get with the program." What God calls us to do is not Jesus' commission only to clergy, religious, parish or diocesan staff, or key volunteers, but it is Jesus' commission to each and every single baptized and confirmed person and believer.

Of course we will never proclaim this to people if we do not believe it ourselves. We will find it difficult or impossible to practice Jesus' approach if we do not even try. Imagine, though, what it would be like if we did begin to employ Jesus' approach, without fear of failing, leaving people free to walk away if they are not quite ready yet to follow Jesus. If even one tenth of church goers began to do that, parish congregations would double every year or even more frequently....

Peace to you and your family. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.... 

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