Corresponds to Questions 14-17 and 20 of the survey.
When we experience something wonderful, something life-changing, when we have met someone who has changed our whole world, it is natural that we want to share it. And so it is with our Catholic faith.
Our Department is welcoming four children into the world this year. The first arrived last week. (Congrats Johanna and welcome Andrew Francis Coughlin!) Another of our colleagues will be a mom for the first time and, like all first-time moms, she is checking off that “great list of firsts:”
- First time she “knew” she was pregnant.
- First time the morning sickness confirmed it.
- First time she noticed the baby bump.
- First glimpse of the sonogram.
- First kick in the belly.
Moms and dads tell the stories of their children’s birth. It is for many a mystical experience. Often they tell the story of a day that is just like any other day until the baby decides to make his or her way into the world. They talk about labor, they talk about delivery, and then they talk about the first time they saw their baby. I have heard parents who welcomed an infant into their family in a similar progression: the first time they fill out an application, the first time the adoption agency calls, the first time they meet their child, the day it all becomes official. Welcoming an infant or a child into the family is, positively, an incredible, mystical experience.
Like those parents, we also want to talk about our own mystical experience with Jesus Christ. We want to share how God has answered our prayer; we want to invite people to Mass; we want to reach out when we see someone who is hopeless and offer them the very hope that Jesus brought to our lives; we want to reach people who are making life and death decisions and encourage them to see the guidance of the Holy Spirit to choose life. We want so much for people to be in love with God and with the Church…We want, we want, we want! But, as Archbishop Lori asks:
“How can we reach out more dynamically
to those who have left and
those who are searching?”
– Archbishop Lori, A Light Brightly Visible
Here are five points to reflect on how we can reach out more dynamically:
- Lead by doing.
We’ve all been there. We are at a meeting and someone says, “Who is willing to lead prayer?” And everyone looks down, hoping no one will call his or her name. And then someone says (often reluctantly), “I’ll do it,” as if God should be honored that we are doing something we do not like to do by offering our praise to Him. Wow!
Prayer is the language of our hearts! Stepping out in faith and a having as our heart’s desire a willingness to express the language of our hearts does at least two things: it honors God; and it helps other disciples to hear and learn the language of prayer, of love for God.
In addition to prayer, as ministers of the Gospel we want to:
- Take opportunities for our own formation, and share those experiences when we return to the parish
- Live the Gospel message and review the day by asking of each encounter, “Was I Christ to that person?” and “Did I see Christ in that person?”
- Find the opportunities to share Jesus Christ with one another
- Take the time to break open God’s Word with one another
- The faith we share isn’t a smoothie.
Pope Francis told young people: “Please, do not put your faith in Jesus Christ in a blender. You can have orange smoothies, apple smoothies, banana smoothies, but please, do not gulp down a ‘faith-shake.’ Faith is a whole; you can’t mix it up in a blender.” (Rio de Janeiro, 2013)
How true this is! We are not a church of “one and done” experiences. A parish that wants parishioners to share faith has to be prepared to always invite people to “the more.”
- An unchurched man who participated in the Appalachian Service Project because you knew he had carpentry skills could be invited to Mass with your family.
- A young person who has just attended a great confirmation retreat could be invited to another gathering.
- Someone impacted by a ChristLife gathering could be invited to deepen discipleship through small group.
- Couples who prepared for marriage with the parish could be invited to join with other couples who are growing in their understanding of being a Catholic family.
- Parishes should constantly encourage and help support small faith sharing groups.
Dynamic parishes find ways of forming people who are willing to talk about their faith, and find ways of inviting people who would share faith if they had the proper formation.
- Ask God to multiply the occasions.
Look for ways to have disciples (parishioners) share their faith with others. Ask God to open your eyes to ways that we could invite people to share, and then ask God to multiply the occasions where witnesses would strengthen a parish. Asking a different witness to share faith briefly each night of a parish novena, or having a mom share her faith story in the bulletin for Mother’s Day, or asking a foster parent to witness on the Feast of St. Joseph are all ways that we can make it clear to others that it is not just Father, or just the staff members who have faith. And then, look for occasions as a pastoral staff or council or committee member to share faith and break open God’s Word at your meetings.
- Host a gathering on how to share faith, or invite someone from the Department of Evangelization to work with you in doing this.
“Heart speaks to heart.” Assisting parishioners to share their faith stories, enabling them to see how this is an important part of their discipleship, holding their hands as they step out in faith … these are all important to our mission. We would be happy to help.
- Live it!
There are few compliments greater than, “I want what you have.” Or, “He is just a good example of Christian faith … I wish I could be like him.”
Everyone quotes Francis (no, not the Pope, the other one) as saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.” We have to live the faith, but we also need to proclaim Jesus Christ as the Lord of our lives. People are starving spiritually because they do not know how to call upon the name of the Lord. St. Paul asks, “How can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent?”
- And our sixth point of five points is…
Help people be formed in their faith. Always invite people to the more, as we said in point 2. And the more is this: as the first letter of St. Peter tells us, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear …”
Provide time for adults to grow in their understanding of faith. Some people (check your survey results) don’t feel comfortable sharing faith because they do not feel they know enough. Help them to learn more! Equip the saints for the work of ministry!
Be ready! And help others in your parish be ready as well. Look at survey questions 14-17 and 20, and see how you are doing. Ask:
- Does this resonate with my experience of our parishioners?
- If we see a large number of people willing to invite, willing to engage and speak about the faith, have we asked them to help us to reach out to others in the community?