The Choice Before Us: Safety or Health?

This post corresponds to the Mission Priority “Send”

Not too long ago, I was speaking with some folks who worked at a parish. They were eager to discuss this whole evangelization thing. Suddenly, in response to what I thought was an innocent question, one of them exclaimed: “Wait a second! What if we do go out and start doing all these things? What if all kinds of people really do start coming? That would ruin everything we love about our parish! We’re like a small, caring, close-knit family, and we’d never want to do anything to change that! We just wouldn’t be the same parish anymore!”

I’m sure we can all sympathize with this reaction. It has deep roots. It is like the love of an over-protective parent who finds it impossible to let go as their child grows. It is like any love that prefers to possess and preserve what it loves. It feels like the most natural, human thing in the world. But Pope Francis reminds us that “we become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being” (The Joy of the Gospel, 8). As Jesus so often said in the gospels: “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Luke 17:33).

This is the law of our life in Christ. It is the gospel secret to being truly healthy. It is what lies behind these powerful words of Pope Francis, who literally has always spent as much time as he can out on the streets with the people: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security” (The Joy of the Gospel, 49). In order to embrace the mission priority of “Send”, whose goal is to go out into the community to serve and share the Gospel and invite everyone to “come and see,” we need to make his passionate preference our own: we need to accept the risks, messiness, and struggles that come with real mission out there in our neighborhoods and communities. As Archbishop Lori has emphasized so often, our parishes need to become truly “outward bound” (A Light Brightly Visible, 20).

The more we become outward bound, the more we do two things:

  1.  We intentionally go out into our own “mission territory” to discover the needs, sufferings, and problems, both material and spiritual, of our sisters and brothers. And then with the creativity of love, we personally seek to love and serve those we find: the lonely, the bereaved, the homebound, the addicted, the unemployed, the despairing, the mentally ill, the imprisoned, the unwanted.
  2. We never separate charity from mission, because our mission is charity. We always ask: “is our service and charity bearing lasting fruit and making disciples of Jesus Christ? If so, how? If some, how could it bear more fruit?” We actively seek opportunities to befriend those we serve, to share the Gospel with them, to invite them to “come and see,” because as the Pope says, “so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life” (The Joy of the Gospel, 49).

What is more important to you: preserving the parish you love as it is today, or embracing a mission to your surrounding community that might change your parish beyond all recognition?

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