Check your calendar, we are about a month away from the canonization of Pope John Paul the Second. His dream of the New Evangelization had a scope that was vast and while it was filled with hope, his vision was colossal. Honesty, I cannot image God working in any other way. However, from the current landscape of the average Catholic Parish, the New Evangelization will fail. Why and what can be done in your parish to make sure the seeds of the New Evangelization fall on rich soil? Let’s explore.
The average Catholic does not attend Mass every Sunday. I am not sure what defines ‘Catholic’, but many self identify as Catholics, others argue that it is by virtue of Baptism using the Trinitarian formula (and there are many non-denominational Christians who would not like this definition as it initiates them into the definition of Catholic, thoughts for another blog), and some who define it by the way we love, live and give.
Matthew Kelly has performed some research and has determine that about 7% of Catholics are what he calls ‘engaged Catholics’. These are the people you find in Mass Sunday after Sunday with their pocket books tithing and then up again during the week helping out with Faith Formation or another ministry. These people are the stewards of the New Evangelization. From the Christmas/Easter only crowd to the ‘engaged Catholics’, there are millions of Catholics in between. There are also billions of humans that fall outside that realm. All potential fruits in this springtime of the New Evangelization.
So cast your net how you may when it comes to the New Evangelization. Maybe you are bringing in un-churched, maybe you are re-engaging the average Catholic to become engaged, either way I think that the New Evangelization will not take root unless some intentional infrastructure is put into place.
I love Jesus, what next?
Let’s assume that every registered parish family invited just one new person to Church each year. From my understanding of the scope of the New Evangelization, this would be a mild but effective application. The average parish size in 2010 was 1,167 households, so that is over one thousand new faces in a given weekend.
Now dive deeper. In the next year, by the power of the Holy Spirit and in line with the soon to be Saint JPII’s vision, what if each one of these people had a conversion to the faith and desired to become ‘engaged Catholics’? What would happen? The average parish does not have the infrastructure to welcome this many people. Yes we would try, but when registration for faith formation came up, would we have enough meeting space or catechists to welcome these new thousand? Would the ushers, or lectors, or (insert any ministry name here) be willing to rotate out to a once a quarter ministry schedule to allow new faces to serve? Or would the current generation of pew sitters be willing to give up ‘their pew’ when new faces find themselves sitting there. Is there adequate parish staff to deal with the paperwork involved in registering this many new parishioners or the managing logistics surrounding RCIA? Do these staff members see themselves as doing a job or do they see themselves as ministers of hospitality armed with the willingness to engage in the ministry of listening and go the extra mile to make a new face feel welcomed beyond the logistics of the necessary paperwork. If you ask the average ministry leader if they could use more invested volunteers, the answer is YES, but it can be overwhelming when your volunteer base doubles in a short period of time. Does your parish have the infrastructure to welcome the fruits of the New Evangelization?
I love Jesus, why the weird looks?
Each parish has its own culture, at times this is an excited feature that is celebrated, at times it is a reality that clashes with the mission of Christ. Maybe your parish has a rush to the parking lot because there is a traffic issue once Mass is over. The narthex is filled with obstacles (which happen to be people) who may slow you from hitting the gas pedal quick enough to avoid 3 cycles at the dreaded stop light 2 blocks away. Maybe reverence is valued, great, and the new guy that showed up looking like he came straight from a college football game gets dirty looks, but not one ‘welcome’.
We recently got our daughter a fish tank and some fish for her birthday. One has already gone belly up, and the shine of the tank has grown dull with algae. We cleaned it up, changed out some of the water and picked up a new fish. It was work and a bit messy, but necessary. Every church could polish their curb appeal, inside and out. If people are not shaking hands with new faces and old and welcoming them when they arrive and thanking them when they leave, it’s time. The ministry of hospitality is the light that opens the flowers in this springtime of the New Evangelization.
The square peg and the round hole.
Many people assume that their parish serves well because all who come around are served. It may be time for a needs assessment, or to put out into the deep and see what other varieties of fish God wants in you nets. How are deaf people served at your parish? I can promise you that there are some deaf people in your parish boundaries. What about people with language barriers? How about the divorced? Widowed? Those who struggle with same sex attraction? or Addiction? The Uneducated, the poor, the broken, lost or lonely? What about those who disagree with church teaching? Is your parish a place where these people can come, not to be fixed, but to be loved? If it is not, then they will not come. They will go elsewhere and our mission will weaken.
I do not know all the answers, but I do know that shining light on our challenges is a vital first step. Where ever you are at, journey with me. Meet and greet one new person this Sunday. Scoot on in when a person comes in after the first reading. Be an engaged Catholic who engages others and usher in this spring time. The New Evangelization is here, ‘the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few’ (Mt 9:37). Move forward with confidence in this time of plentiful harvest.