"I am going to begin with a bold statement: Most of us who are ordained as priests and deacons do not have a clue as to what evangelization is and how to go about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with others. Institutional Catholicism has done a wonderful job of writing and publishing documents, but a poor job in evangelizing and catechizing the average person in the pew.
The years after Vatican II have turned out to be a period in Church history when a reaction to issues has proven to be more important than truth. We have come a long way, but the American Church is being challenged to change the mindset that made it successful in previous times and to reorient its language, mission, and approach in the twenty-first century.
I know that most priests, who happen to be the leaders of a vast majority of parishes across the United States, may not even realize that their mode of ministry is one of maintenance rather than mission. Our language, our training, and our approach have been inadequate. Seminaries never trained their prospective priests with techniques or methodology that dealt with mission and/or vision.
Indeed, the typical parish in the Northeast continues to use a model in which ministry is seen as the priest "saying Mass" and the laity engaged in such "jobs" as pastoral ministers, youth ministers, and religious education coordinators or directors. Ministry is seen to be the area given over to those who distribute communion, who are lectors or who greet at the door of the church.
The average parish in America deals with a passive spectator community—one that, for the most part, has not understood that the scriptures used at liturgy are the Word of God and one that still is uncertain as to whether the bread and wine consecrated by the priest really is the Body and Blood of Christ or whether the Eucharist is the source and summit of Catholic life.
We baptize babies of parents who make empty professions of faith and who see the sacraments as something that is owed to them. We teach CCD to children who have not been evangelized. We use techniques that ignore, for the most part, the media and the multifaceted approach to education in which most of our children are engaged from morning till night. We confirm young people who go through the motions of the sacrament without consenting to the power of the Holy Spirit. Does some of this work? Certainly it does. We still have many parishes across the country that are full on Sundays and where the gospel is truly lived out. However, there are just as many parishes that are empty.
In recent years, priests have been "brainwashed" into thinking that we are an overworked and aging group and that we have nothing left to do but to maintain the status quo and wait for some miracle to happen. The entire focus of the conversation at most presbytery meetings is on maintenance: How do we care for ourselves? What about retirement and benefits? How much more work can we take on? Some have even resorted into thinking that, if we wait long enough, we may be able to move the clock backward and experience the good old days. Canon 528 regarding the pastoral duty to care for all the souls that dwell within one's parish boundary has never been mentioned in most seminaries.
If bishops acted as quickly on implementing documents on evangelization as they did during the sexual-abuse crisis, I believe that we would be in a very different place today. Over 21 million inactive Catholics should evoke a response in all of us to the call to evangelize. If we continue to be self-absorbed as a Church, we will never be able to get out of the way and let God work with the power of the Holy Spirit. Fr. Robert Rivers, CSP (more information about this priest: http://www.paulist.org/vocation/profiles/rivers.php)
Fr. Rivers has done us a great favor in addressing so clearly the necessity of living out the great commandment to "Go and make disciples." As the pastor of a large inner-city parish with great needs, Fr. Rivers has challenged me personally to strive wholeheartedly and with greater zeal to build up the kingdom of God by refocusing all aspects of the parish through the prism of evangelization. I have taken his message to heart and believe that what he is presenting to us is revolutionary. An evangelizing revolution is needed in the Church?
I would like to reiterate the central thesis of Fr. Rivers' presentation. In describing the maintenance-oriented parish, he defines it as an inward-looking parish, focused on the everyday needs of making the parish machinery work. There is a sense of going through the motions just to get things done. Overburdened by this, the maintenance-oriented parish succumbs to "focusing solely on its current members, who absorb most of its time, energy, and resources." Evangelization thus becomes an item on a list of things to do when the pastor has the time.
The mission-oriented parish, on the other hand, is one that looks outward and sees the souls that are in need of care, love, and forgiveness. It involves the active life of the Holy Spirit by incorporating the necessary atmosphere of openness by welcoming and inviting people to come and see, by having a deliberate sense of pastoral purpose and goals, by making decisions that are inspired, and by using the spiritual and personal gifts of its members. In this way not only is the gospel being made alive, but through the spiritual and corporal works of mercy the kingdom of God is being built. People from all walks of life experience the incarnation and become true disciples. In fact, there is a sense of the prophetic in the mission-oriented parish.".. (to be continued)