“What would you change about the Church?”
I got asked that question a few days ago. My immediate reaction was something like this:
Of course, what I mean by that is that I wouldn’t change any of the doctrine or big T traditions of the Church. The Church is Jesus’, it isn’t mine to change. Jesus gave us the Church so that we can be converted, not so that we can convert it.
But besides the essentials that aren’t changeable, there is at least one thing that I’d change about many Catholic churches in the west: I’d make the churches more mission oriented and evangelistic. At my home parish, I don’t know if I ever see anyone bringing anyone new to church. It’s more of a family thing, where you only go to mass if your family has always went. In many ways, it strikes me as more of an exclusive club than a family of God. The Church is not supposed to be exclusive at all, but rather reach out to even the poorest and and the most helpless. Of course the Catholic Church is going to lose some members to Protestant churches in the west if this continues to happen. The truth is just not enough for people, they are looking for a relationship with God as well! They need to experience God! And despite having all of this on Protestant churches (MASS, apostolic succession, adoration, confession, charismatic groups, charities, bible studies, praise and worship, prayer groups), cradle Catholics often don’t even know the significance or don’t take advantage of it.
I recently went through my parish directory, and since we’ve been in the same parish all my life, I knew a lot of the names. Unfortunately, I didn’t know the names from parish activities. I knew the names from school, sports, and other community activities. That’s a major problem: the Church should be bringing people together, not isolating them! Many of those people do not go to Sunday mass any more, and I bet that a significant amount of them would return if only there was someone who would personally invite them back.
I don’t want to dis my home parish, they’re fully in union with the Pope and at masses I get to receive our Lord in the Eucharist and hear His Word in the Scriptures. I received all of my sacraments there and I love it. There are a ton of really fantastic people there. But I want to challenge my parish and all other parishes in the west (Europe and the Americas) to do more to embrace the Gospel. We must fully embrace Jesus and the Gospel message in our lives, and then from there we need to share it with as many people as we can! I’d love to see many small groups in my parish where the Sunday only parishioners can be individually shown the Gospel by others who know it better (starting with the priests!) so that they can do the same for others. I’d love to see this not only for adults but for the youth, so that they don’t scamper as far away from the church as possible after they are confirmed. I’d love for the parishioners to get to know each other outside of just saying “peace be with you” at mass. Make sure that the children see the priests and any other religious more often than just Sunday mornings, so they can see that they are real people too.
We obviously need a renewal in the everyday churches across the west. I know that it can be done: the student parish at the University of Illinois that I attended was solid: there were so many different ministries and retreats where students would interact with other students, staff, religious sisters, and priests in order to embrace the faith not just for Sundays but for a lifetime. Sure, there are improvements necessary everywhere, but this is a wonderful example of how it can be done. I can’t wait to try and share my experience at my new campus as a FOCUS missionary next year, and reach out to those who otherwise would be isolated from Jesus and never understand the Gospel.
Pope Francis has talked about this many times already in his pontificate, and one of his most famous quotes so far was:
“When the Church does not come out of itself to evangelize, it becomes self-referential and then gets sick.” – Pope Francis
He said this to show that simply going with the flow isn’t enough for us as Christians. As Christians we must constantly strive to put Jesus in the center of our lives. He emphasized that point in a tweet:
“We cannot be part-time Christians! We should seek to live our faith at every moment of every day.” – Pope Francis
A great follow-up on this post for anyone interested is the following book: Pope John Paul II and the New Evangelization by Ralph Martin and Peter Williamson – Amazon