A Joy-filled vision for your parish

A Joy-filled vision for your parish

03 July 2014

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Written by our Guest Blogger, Edmund Adamus, who is Director of Marriage and Family Life at the Archdiocese of Westminster and a fellow parishioner with Liam Dowds at The Parish of the Nativity of the Lord, Redhill. Whilst originally written for the parish both Edmund and Liam attend, Edmund’s article raises important points that apply equally to our wider community of parishes and Church Schools and we are grateful to Edmund for allowing us to reproduce it here.

In the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis reminds us that when it comes to our credibility as Christians within our towns and cities and how we are perceived by the unchurched and those with no faith, much depends upon the ‘openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community.’ The Holy Father calls the local parish to be the Church ‘living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters.’

As regular worshippers we all appreciate the support and Christian compassion experienced  within parish life but as the pope says, parishes have to prove themselves, ‘capable of self-renewal and constant adaptivity.’  

Such a depth of awareness presumes that the parish as the pope describes it, ‘really is in contact with the homes and the lives of its people.’ Yet in order to 'up our game' our parishes, which includes our schools, will always need to seek a fresh focus of thinking and energy on the absolute centrality of family life and its vitality in order to prevent what Pope Francis describes as the parish being ‘a useless structure out of touch with people.’  We all want and expect the parish to be a welcoming, loving and Christ-centred place of forgiveness.  And our model for this Spirit must always be the quality of the relationships within our own four walls. Therefore, if as parish community we are to set out on a new and exciting journey of evangelisation to the wider community, we must first of all recognize that the parish in and of itself is ‘certainly not the only institution which evangelizes.’ The new evangelization begins with me and you and our unique personal relationship with the Lord.

Already in the first paragraphs of Evangelii Gaudium, the Holy Father lays out for us a very simple yet radical ‘spiritual programme’: he invites us all to “a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ” (EG, n3). This is the key to the joy which the Good News has to offer to each and every one of us: “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus” (EG, n1). This is what transforms our hearts and lives and helps us become true disciples. It is the joy of knowing that we are loved by Christ with a love which surpasses all understanding (Ephesians 4:19) and which alone can and does satisfy:

“Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which nev­er disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew” (EG, n3).

Pope Francis’s invitation to a personal encounter with the Lord is certainly not a novel one. It echoes in fact Christ’s own invitation to go to Him in order to find rest (Matthew 11:28), to deny ourselves, pick up our crosses and follow Him (Matthew 16:24), knowing that our sorrow will turn into joy (John 16:20). It is an invitation which St. John Paul II, too, launched so passionately right at the beginning of his pontificate when he encouraged the world not to be afraid of Christ, since Christ alone knows what is in every man. Who can forget his words of his first homily as the Successor of St. Peter?

“Our time invites us, pushes us, obligates us to look to the Lord, and to plunge into a humble and devout meditation on the mystery of the supreme power of Christ himself. […] Do not be afraid! Open, open wide the doors to Christ! […] allow—I beg you, I implore with humility and confidence—allow Christ to speak. Christ alone has words of life, yes, of eternal life.”

As we read in EG n7, Pope Francis never tires of “repeating those words of Benedict XVI which take us to the very heart of the Gospel: ‘Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.’ Pope Francis sees the Christian life as being based on knowing and experiencing personally God’s love, mercy and salvation offered to all through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The only path that brings us to a joy that is ever new is the path of personal holiness, the path of true interior conversion of heart, the path of total commitment to the truth of the Gospel, the path of surrender, of willingly entering into and generously cultivating the personal relationship with Christ initially bestowed upon us in Baptism. Only the one who has allowed Christ to touch deeply and transform one’s life wishes to ‘boast’ like St. Paul in nothing else except the Cross of Our Lord. Only the one who has experienced God’s mercy and who constantly and humbly asks for and depends on God’s grace can desire sincerely to reach out to others and to proclaim the goodness of the Lord with an ever fervent faith and love.

Family – primary agent of evangelisation

Ideally as Christians we first learn the reality of this unconditional love of God in the home and by extension the parish community. So it will be crucial to our future life as a parish to  “favour reciprocal knowledge so that the parish community increasingly becomes a family of families, able to share with each other, not only the joys but the inevitable difficulties of initiating family life." (Pope Benedict 2011) The poet Thomas Moore said; 'the ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest.'  So let us take deeply to heart then the words of the great ‘pope of the family,’ St. John Paul II, who declared in his great Apostolic Exhortation of 1981 (Familiaris Consortio n85) that, ‘no one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who “labour and are heavy laden."’

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