A series of reflections for the parish on Pope Francis’ The Joy of the Gospel
Part 10 — The Parish Home
“While certainly not the only institution which evangelizes, if the parish proves capable of self-renewal and constant adaptivity, it continues to be “the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters”.* This presumes that it really is in contact with the homes and the lives of its people, and does not become a useless structure out of touch with people or a self-absorbed group made up of a chosen few.
*John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici (30 Sept 1988)
We continue digging into paragraph 28 of The Joy of the Gospel, where Pope Francis speaks about parishes in particular. In the first sentence above the Holy Father once again touches on two points. 1) A key part of the mission of any parish is to evangelize: by various means to share the good news of Jesus and his Church, especially with people who have not heard it or have not heard it in a way that has made a difference in their lives. 2) In order to do this in each succeeding generation, a parish needs to be “capable of self-renewal and constant adaptivity.” The truth of the Gospel message is the same: the way we present it to people in new situations needs to be ready to adapt.
Then Francis quotes JPII again, since he’s using as a foundation for all he’s saying what the Church has taught and what previous popes have said, especially since Vatican II. The parish should be “the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters.” And then comes another of Pope Francis’ very direct critiques of what can (and does) happen in some parishes. He warns that the parish should “not become a useless structure out of touch with people or a self-absorbed group made up of a chosen few.”
How can “the parish” be more in real contact with the homes and lives of its people? One brief thought on that. “The parish” does not mean just the pastor or just the priests or just the staff members or even just the people who have tended to volunteer the most. If we think of the people who are called to the mission of the parish as just that group, we run the risk of becoming a “group made up of a chosen few.” The parish is every person, every disciple, in the parish. The Church is composed of its people. The parish is us, is you. So now think about how the parish can be “the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters”! The more each of us as members of St. Raphael grow in maturity as disciples of Jesus, living out Jesus’ call daily in our lives, in our homes, our neighborhood, our workplaces and schools, the more our parish really lives the mission Jesus is calling us to… and that the popes are reminding us of. Let’s keep praying, asking the Holy Spirit to lead us in the next steps toward doing that even better.
With you on the Advent journey to encounter Jesus and his call more and more,
Fr. Phil Hurley, S.J.