This week’s “Parish Table Talk”:Equip for Ministry in Spanish; Open Wide the Doors; Catholic Schools Week 2018; #ShareJesus: Lenten Series; Given – February 10th; World Youth Day – Panama; World Day of the Sick 2018 Read more
It seems these days that every time we open a magazine or read an online article there is more bad news about Catholics leaving the Church. Last week, the Catholic News Agency reported the results of a CARA study about why young people leave the Church. Of the 214 former Catholics interviewed for the study, the median age at which they said they had decided to leave was 13; overall, seventy-four percent had decided to leave between the ages of 10 and 20.
The natural follow-up question to: “Why do people leave the Church?” is: “What can we do about it?”
Thankfully, we do have resources that show how parishes today have overcome what seems like an overwhelming challenge.
Two key resources come to mind: The Amazing Parish and Parish Catalyst. Both of them have studied parishes across the country and identified the hallmarks of vibrant, thriving, evangelizing parishes. It’s no surprise that they both found some of the same hallmarks.
In addition to a “Sunday experience” focused on “hymns, homilies, and hospitality” (or “music, message, and ministries”), The Amazing Parish identifies three essential building blocks for a parish to become “amazing”:
- A Reliance on Prayer and the Sacraments
- A Commitment to a Healthy Organization
- A Passion for Evangelization and Discipleship
Likewise, Parish Catalyst has amassed a treasure trove of information on best practices of “great Catholic parishes,” descriptions of which can be found in the book Great Catholic Parishes: How Four Essential Practices Make Them Thrive, by Parish Catalyst founder, Bill Simon, Jr. From these interviews they identified four essential practices of “great Catholic parishes.” These are:
- Great Parishes Share Leadership
- Great Parishes Foster Spiritual Maturity and a Plan for Discipleship
- Great Parishes Excel on Sundays
- Great Parishes Evangelize
Notice any similarities?
Of course, these things don’t just happen without deep prayer and thought, hard work, and tough decisions. They also don’t happen overnight.
Pope Francis wrote in The Joy of the Gospel that “if a parish proves capable of self-renewal and adaptivity, it continues to be the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters.” Here we find at least one answer to the question of what to do about the latest religious trends: if we want the Church to continue to be relevant in our communities, it must be open to change and be able to respond to the demands of the times.
There are excellent programs that focus on personal conversion to Christ as the first step to a parish full of missionary disciples. (For example, ACTS, Alpha, Christ Renews His Parish, ChristLife, and Dynamic Catholic.) But only if we keep focused on all the elements that contribute to long-term, sustained parish vibrancy will these programs be truly transformative. Looking at the daunting statistics on religion today, and reading the stories of parishes where missionary discipleship is thriving, we realize that it’s essential to be intentional and strategic about engaging in this call if we are to be successful. This is a foundational premise of Archbishop Lori’s Be Missionary Disciples planning initiative.
If you need a little inspiration or information to dig deeper into best practices for missionary discipleship, I encourage you to register for the upcoming Mid-Atlantic Congress, being held in Baltimore February 15-17. There will be many outstanding speakers and lots of fabulous resources available to help you. Additionally, the Rebuilt Conference is happening April 16-17 in Timonium. Those who can travel further afield can take advantage of the Amazing Parish conference in Dallas, TX April 25-27 or the Divine Renovation conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia June 11-12.
When Pope Francis made his trip to the United States in 2015, the theme of his visit was “Love is Our Mission.” As missionary disciples of Jesus Christ, our mission is love: the love of God and the love of neighbor. The 45th annual March for Life, coming up on January 19, 2018 in Washington, DC, has taken up the theme: “Love Saves Lives.” Here’s why the organizers of the March chose this theme:
“Choosing life is not always easy, but it is the loving, empowering, and self-sacrificial option. Love is universally attractive because it is directed towards others. Love is what we all strive for because deep-down we are all drawn to give of ourselves in this way. Love saves lives in countless ways.” (March for Life website)
The greatest challenge in choosing life is our choice to love because love demands something of us. There are many ways in which love can manifest itself in choosing life. The choice for life is always a choice to love. We are called to will the good of another that makes the bringing forth of life possible, even in the most difficult and trying circumstances.
Many of your parishes engage in activities throughout the year that manifest this will to love, such as partnering with local pregnancy centers, helping women and families through crisis pregnancy, volunteering in local maternity homes, praying outside of abortion clinics, supporting women and men who have experienced the pain of abortion, educating the parish community about life issues, and advocating for life-affirming laws. Many of your parishes will also engage in activities leading up to the March for Life and also participate in this public act of willing the good of the other. Here’s a list of activities that parishes can do before the March. During next week, there will be several events that will be a public witness of love as the March for Life approaches.
Our Life is Beautiful Mass and Reception, hosted by Archbishop William Lori on Sunday, January 14th at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is an opportunity as an Archdiocese to give a public and unified witness of our love for life and to honor those in our communities that are exemplars of this love. This year, we will honor Linda Brenegan, the former Director of the Office of Respect Life with the Culture of Life Medal and Fr. Agustino Torres, CFR, the founder of Corazón Puro and our special guest speaker with the Life is Beautiful Award. We will also honor the many unborn lives lost to abortion since Roe v. Wade with a rose procession at the beginning of the Mass. Together we will gather for a lunch reception and receive words of encouragement from Fr. Agustino as we continue our mission of love in the service of life.
The Catholic Center will participate in the first Love Saves Lives week, based on the theme of this year’s March. We will engage of acts of prayer, confession, adoration, and giving. The week will start off with Life is Beautiful, then go into a Holy Hour for Life and Healing that Tuesday. On Wednesday, there will be a prayer vigil outside of the Planned Parenthood on Howard St., and on Thursday a coffee break benefiting a local pregnancy center where we will collect gifts for babies.
All of these activities will culminate in the national March for Life, the pinnacle event of the pro-life movement and an act of love for the common good. Some may see the March simply as a protest and others as a time to get together with other likeminded people, and still others simply as a political movement. But it is truly an act of love to will that our country have laws that affirm the good and value of every human life, whether born or unborn. And this is what the March for Life is about. And we hope to join many of you as we march for love and March for Life.