Text - Sara Barrena and Jaime Nubiola
Last Sunday I went to Mass at my neighborhood parish. We were the usual crowd. A sea of gray heads, in dark trench coats and overcoats. I was probably the youngest, minus one brave mother who came in a little late with a baby in her arms and a toddler clutching her leg. People looked at them as if they were specimens of a dying breed. When the time came I gave peace to the elderly couple in front of me and the lady behind me, who uses a cane. We almost always occupied the same benches, but we never spoke. On the way out, people dispersed; some stopped at the bakery to buy dessert and went home with their duty done. It was just another Sunday.
The Church "is" mission
How right he is, I said to myself when I read the book that priest James Mallon has written, entitled A Divine Renewal. From a Maintenance Parish to a Missionary Parish (BAC, 2016). Mallon, pastor in Nova Scotia, Canada, has developed different programs and activities to promote faith and spiritual growth, such as Alpha courses, a help to face the big questions accompanied. Mallon argues that parishes need to remember who they are and what their mission is. That mission, he says, is not to take care of those who are already there to keep them happy and satisfied, but to make disciples. For parishes not to die, evangelization is needed, not self-preservation. It is not a matter of giving drink to those who are not thirsty, but rather of remembering that we Christians are by definition sent to spread the good news. The Church is designed to go, to walk. It is time to leave comfort behind, to get out of the usual. It is time to remember that - as Mallon affirms - the Church is mission.
And this mission, contrary to what one might think, does not correspond only to the parish priests or to the priests. It is up to all of us. They are not the only ones responsible for the fact that there are no new people in the parish and that those who are there do not seem to have the heart of celebration for having found God. Mallon's book succeeds in getting something inside us and shakes our souls. A task only for parish priests? Not a chance. The Church belongs to everyone and for everyone, and every person who claims to be Catholic should be engraved deep inside with the great light that this book presents. We cannot be satisfied with just surviving, with doing maintenance gymnastics. It is not enough that we pray sometimes, that we go to Mass. That may seem a lot in these times, but it is not enough when we remember the mission that Christ entrusted to all of us. Go into all the world and preach the Gospel. He did not say go to the parish priests. We have no excuse.
How can it be that our faith is sometimes so gray, so unwelcoming, so boring? How can it be that so many Catholic people are still content with the faith and arguments of when they were children? How can it be that we grow in so many aspects of life, in our knowledge, in our profession, in our affections, and yet we do not grow in the most important things? It is a serious cultural problem. Whoever does not grow, whoever does not have that plasticity is in many ways dead. And more than in any other area, this is true in the spiritual life: it is not enough to keep up. One must always be willing to go further, to give one's all for everything. To do otherwise is to die slowly.
James Mallon gives many concrete examples of things that can be done, from welcoming teams in parishes to family catechesis to a variety of non-sacramental events for the far away. Some examples have to do with North American culture and in the lands where I write are foreign to us, but they are only examples that spur us to creatively find our own ways to advance the mission. We cannot be passive spectators. We must learn that we have been given good news, understand it with our hearts and rejoice until we can do nothing else but share it. And good news is not transmitted with a long face. This is perhaps the easiest way to get going: change the face. "An evangelizer cannot permanently have a funeral face".writes Pope Francis (Evangelii Gaudium, 10). If Jesus is in your heart, please let him know it to your face, Mallon also writes. We cannot leave the heart at the door of the church. "The experience of God"he adds (p. 219).make us more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind and generous.".
We have something to offer
It is not enough to believe or trust, you also have to act. You have to be proactive and not just reactive. And that is not merely passing on information. Get moving. Don't live your faith "in bank mode". Each of us will know how to bear witness, whom we can help, with whom we can be hospitable, whom we can console, embrace and welcome unconditionally; each of us will know whom we can touch, how to show the face and the smile of God, his beauty. Each one will know how to transmit the interior joy of the good news and make it possible for other people to experience God.
In his book Mallon argues that in parishes everyone can find formation and companionship. It is a call to parish priests, but also to individual Catholics. We have something to offer. If only the world knew what has been made known to us! If you are devoured by zeal to tell, even if you realize that you are weak and foolish, Mallon concludes, then you are ready and God can use you to reach the ends of the earth.