In 2007, Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires gave an interview to Sefania Falasca for the journal, 30 Days. There, he said something that would prove a hallmark of his future papacy as Pope Francis, something that poses a profound challenge to us today: “precisely if one is faithful, one changes.”
What did he mean?
We all know how radically, and how quickly, our world has been changing around us. It’s now become painfully clear that if a parish is to be faithful to Christ’s “Great Commission” in Matthew 28:19 to “go and make disciples,” it needs to change. It needs to engage in the “missionary conversion” of not only its pastoral practice, but even its own culture (The Joy of the Gospel, 27).
The “culture” of a parish just means the sum total of what it truly values as revealed by its actions, especially by how it chooses to spend its time and money. To be an evangelizing parish simply means that the value of making disciples shapes its culture more than any other value. From this, every decision flows: “Will this help us make disciples?”
This is what the Pope calls the “missionary option”:
“I dream of a ‘missionary option’, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.” The Joy of the Gospel, 27
This brings us to the top four priorities for a parish whose pastoral practice, life, and culture are shaped by this missionary impulse:
- Pre-Evangelization: This is where we intentionally seek to build trust, good will, and friendship. It’s where we try to foster curiosity, openness, and spiritual seeking. It’s where inviting, welcoming and hospitality become the number one priority. It’s where we try to create a genuine spiritual home that welcomes everyone, because for most of us these days, “belonging” comes first; “believing” and “behavior” (hopefully) follow.
- Evangelization: This is where we preach the kerygma: the Gospel of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. It’s where we witness and share our faith story, and where we offer opportunities for personal encounters with Christ. Its goal is conversion: “the acceptance of a personal relationship with Christ, a sincere adherence to him, and a willingness to conform one’s life to him” (National Directory for Catechesis, 47).
- Discipleship: This is where we offer ongoing faith formation, catechesis, and the sacramental life. Where we offer ways for going deeper in prayer, maturing in faith, growing in knowledge and holiness, and experiencing renewal. It’s where we experience that “every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are ‘disciples’ and ‘missionaries’, but rather that we are always ‘missionary disciples’.” (The Joy of the Gospel, 120)
- Mission: There is where we focus on service, on being outward bound, taking responsibility for our own local “mission territory”. It’s where we actively engage, invite, and evangelize others, especially those furthest away. It’s where we commit ourselves to social justice and to the poor, and seek to incarnate the mercy of the Father. It’s where together we “boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast.” (The Joy of the Gospel, 24.)
Question for Discussion: What do you think have been the top three values that have shaped the culture of your parish?