September 30, 2003
How to Renew Your Parish
Nothing Is Impossible with God (Lk 1:37)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. The Community of Communities
What is a Parish?
2."Give Me That Old-Time Religion"
Evangelizing through Sacraments and Sacramentals
3. "Power From on High" (Lk 24:49, Acts 1:8)
Gifts of the Spirit
4. Spiritual Anorexia
Ministry of the Word
5. "There's No Place Like Home"
Commitment and Community
6. "Great, Intense, and Growing Prayer
Eucharistic Adoration and Intercession
7. The War Of Parish Renewal
8. Growing Pains
Equipping the Saints
9. Renewal Or "Newal"?
This book is dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the mother of the Church. Through her intercession and ministry, may we accept Jesus as our Lord.
My sweet Lord, look with mercy upon Your people and especially upon the mystical body of Your Church. Greater glory is given to Your name for pardoning a multitude of your creatures than if I alone were pardoned for my great sins against Your majesty. It would be no consolation for me to enjoy Your life if Your holy people stood in death. For I see that sin darkens the life of Your bride, the Church my sin and the sins of others. It is a special grace I ask for, this pardon for the creatures you have made in Your image and likeness.
St. Catherine of Siena
"Christ loved the Church." Ephesians 5:25
Jesus gave His life for His bride, the Church (Eph 5:25-26), which is His body (Col 1:18). The Church is "God's household, the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of truth" (1 Tim 3:15). It is the fullness of Him (Jesus) Who fills the universe in all its parts" (Eph 1:23). To the Church Jesus makes His most precious promises of power and victory. The Church holds the keys to the kingdom and can attack the gates of hell which cannot prevail against it (Mt 16:18-19). Imagine a church of Spirit-filled people overflowing with God's love; a body deeply touching and transforming lives, marriages, and families; a people proclaiming good news to the poor and freedom to the oppressed.
Because of human weakness and sin, the Church has made horrendous mistakes throughout history. The devil has done an amazing job of disfiguring the Church and making it look as unattractive as possible. It takes a miracle of faith to believe that the Church is the body of Christ when we see it broken into thousands of pieces. Consequently, many people have given up hope for anything other than individual renewal. Contrary to the Scriptures, some even pretend there is a churchless Christianity. But Jesus is looking for people who love the Church as His body and bride despite her divisions, pettiness, and lukewarmness. Jesus is cleansing and beautifying the Church. He promised He will come back for a bride "holy and immaculate, without stain or wrinkle or anything of that sort" (Eph 5:27). This book is for those who love the bride. It contains practical ways for Spirit-filled Christians to beautify the Church by renewing its parishes. We believe the fruit of this book will be confidence, increased initiative, and, ultimately, victory in parish renewal. Alleluia!
What Is a Parish?
"Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late." Habakkuk 2:2-3
Pope John Paul II teaches: "It is necessary that in light of the faith all rediscover the true meaning of the parish" (The Lay Members of Christ's Faithful People, 26) A parish is not just what we decide it should be or what we may have experienced. Through the Scriptures and the official teaching of the Church, God gives us His vision for the parish. Although variations can exist within this vision, a parish has objective, essential qualities.
A Communities' Center
"These communities decentralize and organize the parish community, to which they always remain united." Mission of the Redeemer, 51
"The parish is not principally a structure, a territory, or a building, but rather, 'the family of God, a fellowship afire with a unifying spirit,' 'a familial and welcoming home,' the 'community of the faithful.'" (The Lay Members of Christ's Faithful People, 26) The parish is a family, fellowship, home, and community. However more precisely, the parish is primarily a family of families, a community of communities (e.g., see Pope John Paul II's homily at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Rome, November 8, 1992). The parish is not intended to be a community only of individuals or even of nuclear families, but a community of communities. The basic building blocks of a parish are small communities. Just as individuals need community, communities need communities. Small communities need to be united with each other in the parish.
Although this is the way the parish was historically intended to be, this is not how parishes are in most first world countries. Consequently, there is a critical need to build small communities (see Chapter 5) and then to restructure the parish.
A Eucharistic Center
"Plainly and simply, the parish is founded on a theological reality because it is a Eucharistic community. This means that the parish is a community properly suited for celebrating the Eucharist." The Lay Members of Christ's Faithful People, 26
The parish ideally is a Eucharistic community of small Eucharistic communities not just a unity of people but a unity of communities centered around the worship of God in the Eucharist; not just people who go to Mass, but communities of brothers and sisters brought into deep Christian relationships because they go to Mass and are in communion. Masses by themselves do not make a parish, but Masses that express and build Christian community make a parish. The Scriptures and official Church teachings testify to this. "They went to the temple area together every day, while in their homes they broke bread" (the Eucharist) (Acts 2:46). Vatican II teaches: "No Christian community, however, can be built up unless it has its basis and center in the celebration of the most Holy Eucharist. Here, therefore, all education in the spirit of community must originate" (On Priests, 6). The parish Eucharist is the communion of the small communities within the parish with each other and with the diocese and with the universal Church.
A Discipleship Center
"For a whole year they met with the church and instructed great numbers. It was in Antioch that the disciples were called Christians for the first time." Acts 11:26
The parish is a center for making disciples of Jesus through teaching God's word (Mt 28:19-20). The small communities and families within the parish are the first centers for discipling, but they need the parish, which has more gifts for discipling since it draws from several communities. This complementarity in discipling within the small communities and the larger Church is illustrated in the early Church: "Day after day, both in the temple and at home, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news of Jesus the Messiah" (Acts 5:42).
An Evangelization Center
"The Church exists in order to evangelize." On Evangelization, 14
The parish should be composed of small communities who are evangelized and evangelizing. It is not a hide-out for Christians, but a launching pad to expand the evangelistic witness of these small communities "even to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). The pastor of the parish should annually visit and bless the homes of all his parishioners, as called for by canon law (see the Church's Book of Blessings, 63). This blessing is not only the pastor evangelizing but equipping and empowering the families and communities of the parish to evangelize.
Restoring The Vision
As we look at the Church, we see many parishes lack identity and vision. Some do not see themselves as a community of communities, but as social groups, service agencies, educational institutions, or recreational facilities. Many are "Sundays only" and not communities of Eucharistic communities. In some parishes, the words "brother" and "sister" seem out of place. In many parishes, the word of God is taught in a ten-minute sermon once a week. This is only about ten hours per year. How could these parishes be centers for discipleship through teaching the word? In many parishes faith is considered a private matter which is not to be shared with someone else. Some have lost their early love and are neither hot nor cold but lukewarm (Rv 2:4, 3:16).
Nevertheless, we trust God for parish renewal. He has given us a plan for the Church and the local parish through the Scriptures and through official Church teaching. At first, we may have no idea how to restore the parish according to God's vision. But God does not give us the truth without giving us the power to make it a reality. "Nothing is impossible with God" (Lk 1:37).
Evangelizing Through Sacraments and Sacramentals
"Jesus performed this first of His signs at Cana in Galilee. Thus did He reveal His glory, and His disciples believed in Him." John 2:11
The first and major task in parish renewal is to convert many of the parishioners, to evangelize them. Most parishioners are lukewarm and not totally committed to Jesus (see Rv 3:16). However, it's difficult to evangelize most parishioners through special programs because only a small minority will come to these programs. Therefore, most evangelization must take place through the Sunday Mass, the celebration of the sacraments, and the traditional religious practices of the parish.
Sacraments and sacramentals are means of evangelization for they are signs to lead us to faith in Jesus. Some people involved in parish renewal feel they must reject these traditional forms of prayer. However, the Lord is not calling us to reject anything that is authentically part of the Scriptures and the work of the Spirit. We need not drop anything except our unfaithfulness and sin. We should not reject sacraments and sacramentals or minimize their importance but enter into them in greater depth. In these ways, we can let Jesus renew our parishes.
"Are you not aware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?" Romans 6:3
When we live this sacrament, the Church will be renewed. We have many opportunities to come alive to the reality of our baptism. For example, Lent's traditional intent is to prepare us to renew our baptismal promises at the greatest of all moments in the Christian liturgy, the Easter Sunday Mass. In these baptismal promises, we reject the devil, all his works, and all his empty promises. We decide to make a break with the world and live a new life-style. We totally commit our lives to the Lord Jesus.
The catechumenate (Order of Christian Initiation for Adults) is an ideal way for a whole parish to renew its baptismal promises. Through the rite of election and the scrutinies, the catechumenate involves all those assembled for Sunday Mass in the preparation for baptism.
Each parish should encourage celebrating baptismal anniversaries. Parishioners should know the date of their baptisms and celebrate their new birth. The candle and garment given at baptism can be used as visual aids to help us celebrate our baptismal anniversaries.
"For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God bestowed when my hands were laid on you. The Spirit God has given us is no cowardly Spirit." 2 Timothy 1:6-7
Each of us received the Holy Spirit at Confirmation; however, we all have stifled the Spirit (1 Thes 5:19; Eph 4:30). Therefore, we must open the members of our parish to receive a renewal of their Confirmation. Until most parishioners have the Spirit stirred up, there cannot be renewal.
Pentecost (the end of the Easter season) and the Baptism of Jesus (the end of the Christmas season) are ideal times to stir up the Spirit in our parishes. There must be some preparation for this through teaching and praying. In the l890's, Pope Leo XIII called for every parish in the world to have a Holy Spirit novena (nine days of prayer from Ascension Thursday to Pentecost), just as at the first Pentecost. The Holy Spirit novena is an ideal way to prepare for Pentecost and to bring about the renewal of our Confirmation. Furthermore, when parishioners receive the sacrament of Confirmation, the whole parish has the opportunity to renew their Confirmation.
Confession (the Sacrament of Reconciliation)
"Any forgiving I have done has been for your sakes and, before Christ, to prevent Satan whose guile we know too well from outwitting us." 2 Corinthians 2:10-11
Until we are freed from our sins, reconciled with God and His people, and healed of guilt, we will not be able to renew our parish. Christ's blood has been shed to wash away our sins, but we must apply His blood to our sins by confessing them. Therefore, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is extremely important.
Pope John Paul has taught: "The potential for an authentic and vibrant renewal of the whole Catholic Church through the more faithful use of the Sacrament of Penance is unmeasurable" (San Antonio, Texas, September 13, 1987). He also remarked in the same homily: "The state of the Sacrament of Penance in each parish and in each local Church is a good indicator of the authentic maturity of the faith of the priests and the people." However, in most parishes, this sacrament is neglected. Many are confessing their sins to God, but not to a priest. While confessing our sins to God is necessary, we must also be reconciled both with God and the community by confessing our sins to the priest who represents the community. Confession without reference to the community promotes an unbiblical attitude of individuality and ignores the effect of our sins on the community. (For further information, see our pamphlet The Secret of Confession.) To renew the Sacrament of Reconciliation in our parishes, we should go to Confession at least once a month, invite others to join us, and intercede at the time Confessions are scheduled. If two, three, or more people make a commitment to intercede in the church at Confession time, they can transform the situation. We can also consider having "Confession parties," where we invite people to go to Confession, pray together as each one goes to Confession, and then have a celebration (see Lk 15:7, 10, 32). Confession parties express the true spirit of forgiveness and change people's warped attitudes toward this joyful sacrament.
"Be as eager for milk as newborn babies pure milk of the Spirit to make you grow unto salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good." 1 Peter 2:2-3
Most Christians are starving to death spiritually because they are not frequently receiving God's word and the Eucharist. Under these conditions, we cannot expect to renew our parishes. We need spiritual nourishment through the reception of Jesus in His word and the Eucharist. At Sunday Mass, we must give our parishioners such a taste of "the good word of God" (Heb 6:5) that they will break the barrier of Sunday-only attendance. This means more Bible-based preaching, longer homilies, more joyful worship, a better family atmosphere, and deeper communion with the Lord and one another.
The liturgical celebrations of Holy Thursday and Corpus Christi are ideal for leading "Sunday-only" Catholics to commit themselves to daily nourishment through the Eucharist. The annual "Forty Hours" devotion or some other form of solemn annual exposition and the parish celebration of First Communion are other opportunities to transform parishioners' commitment to the Eucharistic Lord. It's a serious loss that "Forty Hours" is so neglected in many parishes. In contrast, a few churches are hearing God's calling toward perpetual adoration.
Anointing of the Sick
"Is there anyone sick among you? He should ask for the presbyters of the church. They in turn are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the Name (of the Lord). This prayer uttered in faith will reclaim the one who is ill, and the Lord will restore him to health." James 5:14-15
The celebration of this sacrament will result not only in happy deaths but also in dramatic physical healings. This will both confirm the message of the gospel (Mk 16:17) and provide an opportunity for proclaiming God's word in such a way as to lead parishioners to total commitment to Jesus (see Acts 3:12-13). We should expect great healings through the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and, through prayer, Confession, and personal ministry, carefully prepare those who are to receive the sacrament.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart
"You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart." Matthew 22:37
Enthronement of the Sacred Heart is an ideal way to accept Jesus as Lord, give Him everything, and love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
The Prayer of St. Michael and the Scapular
"At that time there shall arise Michael, the great prince, guardian of your people." Daniel 12:1
The Prayer of St. Michael is a simple, practical way to claim victory in spiritual warfare. The St. Michael prayer is based on the books of Jude, Daniel, and Revelation, and on a prophetic vision of Pope Leo XIII. In addition, the scapular is a prayer against Satan. It originated at Mt. Carmel where Elijah had a great victory over the false prophets of the evil one (1 Kgs 18). As we rout Satan, we will see many parishioners open up to the Gospel.
Holy Water and Holy Oil
"They expelled many demons, anointed the sick with oil, and worked many cures." Mark 6:13
Holy water and holy oil can be blessed at the time of the Mass and put in handy small vials. It should be made available on the condition that parishioners use it to pray, not only for themselves, but also for others. As parishioners receive healing, they are drawn to the Healer, Jesus.
Mealtime and Family Prayers
"Everything God created is good; nothing is to be rejected when it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by God's word and by prayer." 1 Timothy 4:4-5
We are accustomed to prayer before and after meals; however, 1 Timothy speaks of both prayer and God's word. It encourages us to have Bible reading at mealtime and take more than a few seconds for meal prayers. Instead of only a rote prayer, we might pray in our own words and read the Bible, at least a minute or two. These few moments will in time mean great changes in our lives and parishes. Imagine a parish where large numbers of parishioners take just one minute a day (or one minute a meal) to look into God's word. This small action may be more effective than some of our most ambitious renewal programs.
Step Out in Faith
Encourage the celebration of sacraments and the use of sacramentals. You don't have to be the head of the liturgy committee to try some of these suggestions. Start by implementing just one or two things. Give that loaf and fish to the Master. He will bless and multiply them.
The Gifts of the Spirit
"Come Holy Ghost, Creator blest, and in our hearts take up Thy rest...and may the Son on us bestow the gifts that from the Spirit flow."
When we were confirmed, the Church prayed for us to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit especially those mentioned in Isaiah 11. A number of gifts are also referred to in 1 Cor 12, Rom 12, Eph 4 and throughout the Scriptures. (See our book, Seek the Gifts of the Spirit.) These gifts of the Holy Spirit are not optional extras, but necessities to do the work of God. Jesus told the apostles to wait in Jerusalem until they received power from on high, the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4). The Church began only when the Spirit's gifts were poured out and received by the apostles. How are the gifts of the Spirit affecting your parish? Possibly the Spirit is stifled (1 Thes 5:19), saddened (Eph 4:30), or even lost (Gal 3:3). If a parish is to be what God wants it to be, we must not stifle the Spirit. We must not be ignorant of spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:1), but set our hearts on them (1 Cor 14:1), especially those which will have the greatest effect on renewing our parishes.
"If any of you is without wisdom, let him ask it from the God Who gives generously and ungrudgingly to all, and it will be given him." James 1:5
Wisdom is the first spiritual gift mentioned, both in Isaiah 2 and 1 Corinthians 12. It is given to everyone who asks for it without doubting. Wisdom is applying divine revelation to practical decisions, often in critical situations. For example, Peter and the Pentecost-community wisely dealt with the problem of Judas' replacement (Acts 1:15ff). When the mission to the Gentiles was questioned, Peter and James used the gift of wisdom to further the acceptance of Gentiles into the Christian community (Acts 15:13ff). And Paul wisely decided never to eat meat again because it was an occasion of sin to some Christians (1 Cor 8:13,10:28).
Many aspects of parish life require supernatural wisdom. For example, are we effectively discipling our young people through Catholic education? What is the solution to the mass exodus of young people from the Christian community (at least from the mainstream churches)? What should we do about the breakdown of Christian marriage and family life? A supernatural gift of wisdom empowers us to apply divine revelation to taking advantage of opportunities for renewal and to dealing with threats against the fabric of Christian life.
"If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this sycamore, 'Be uprooted and transplanted into the sea,' and it would obey you." Luke 17:6
All who accept Jesus have faith; however, Paul tells us that there is a special gift of faith (1 Cor 12:9). Through it, we can move mountains and uproot the most entrenched positions of the evil one. By faith, we can destroy strongholds, demolish sophistries, bring down every proud pretension, and make every thought captive to the Lord (2 Cor 10:4). Faith will shield us against the attacks of the evil one (Eph 6:16) and will conquer the world (1 Jn 5:5). Parish life is lived in the midst of many obstacles, mountains, and entrenched positions which are not of the Lord. We are in a war and the parish is one of the battlefronts. Without the gift of faith, we are doomed to frustration. So many who have had a vision for parish renewal eventually just quit because it seems impossible. We need mountain-moving, uprooting, shielding, and conquering faith. "Who, then, is conqueror of the world? The one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God" (1 Jn 5:5).
"Then He summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority to expel unclean spirits and to cure sickness and disease of every kind." Matthew 10:1
When Jesus sent the apostles out on mission, He promised to confirm the word by signs, especially healing (Mk 16:18). We see throughout the Scriptures and human experience that often the first breakthrough in a person's life has been through God's healing. This is also true of parishes. For example, the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick can open the door for renewal. Sometimes parishes will rally around a situation where there is an especially tragic illness or injury. The parish is often healed along with the sick or injured person. Also, through a Mass of healing or a healing service, God will work wonders in a parish. (See our booklet, Healing: The Imitation of Christ.)
"Set your hearts on spiritual gifts above all, the gift of prophecy." 1 Corinthians 14:1
God is already working to renew our parishes. The key to parish renewal is not coming up with a great idea but hearing God's idea. Parish renewal is simply jumping on God's bandwagon. But what is God doing? He'll tell us through prophecy. God always tells His prophets what He is doing (Am 3:7). The early Church was founded on prophecy (Eph 2:20). The first missionary work was the result of prophecy (Acts 13:2-3). Many reading this right now have the gift of prophecy but have never expressed it. Above all the gifts, we need your gift of prophecy for parish renewal. We must not despise prophecy (1 Thes 5:20) but prophesy to the dry bones of the Church (Ez 37:4). (See our pamphlet, Seek Prophecy.)
Discernment of Spirits
"False messiahs and false prophets will appear performing signs and wonders to mislead, if it were possible, even the chosen." Mark 13:22
We are not fighting human forces, but principalities, powers, the princes of darkness, and the evil spirits of the regions above (Eph 6:12). The devil is a fallen angel who tries to outwit us, even appearing as an angel of light (Rv 12:7; 2 Cor 11:14). Furthermore, the devil, "the father of lies" (Jn 8:44), will seduce large numbers of Christians in the last days (2 Thes 2:3). When battling a host of fallen angels, how can we know what is of the Lord and what is of the evil one? In the average parish, secular humanism is often enshrined as the new gospel. Man, not God, is made top priority, and life is lived as if only this world counted. Believers are more indoctrinated by TV than nourished by God's word. Many Catholic communities carelessly promote drinking, gambling, and fund-raising in such a way as to worsen alcoholism, addictive behavior, and greed. Christian communities of all denominations are often racially prejudiced and compromised with the world. We must discern the spirits behind the things that form and sometimes warp our lives. Until we know well the devil's guile (2 Cor 2:11), we are doomed to be deceived, snatched, scattered, and destroyed. Those who have the gift of discernment of spirits can make a life-saving contribution to parish life.
"He who speaks in a tongue builds up himself." 1 Corinthians 14:4
In the Scriptures, two types of tongues seem to be mentioned. One is a public gift of tongues. This requires an interpretation so as to convey a message to the community. The other is a personal gift of tongues to help us pray in praise and thanksgiving (1 Cor 14:16). Some say that everyone can receive this personal gift of tongues. This gift is of extreme importance in a church because praise and thanksgiving are spiritual weapons that open gates and break down barriers (see Is 60:18; 2 Chr 20:21; Acts 16:25). This is exactly what we need in parish renewal. (See our pamphlet Speaking in Tongues.)
Fear of the Lord
"And His delight shall be the fear of the Lord." Isaiah 11:3
Fear of the Lord is not a fear of God hurting us but an awe of His presence. When we were confirmed, we were prayed for especially to receive the fear of the Lord. This gift was important in the development of the early Church and is of special importance to renewing parish life. "A reverent fear [of the Lord] overtook them all" (Acts 2:43). The early Church made progress in the fear of the Lord (Acts 9:31). Great fear came upon the whole Church at the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira and also at the signs and wonders worked through Peter's shadow (Acts 5:13,15). In many places, Scripture says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (see Sir 1). As this particular gift is poured out upon the parish, the spiritual atmosphere is dramatically altered, the pollution of secular humanism is blown away, and the fresh air of the Spirit fills Christ's body, His Church.
"Presbyters who do well as leaders deserve to be paid double, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching." 1 Timothy 5:17
The Lord gives some members of Christ's body the spiritual gift of leadership (Rom 12:8). This is different from the natural gift of leadership. The spiritual gift of leadership is the key to the vitality of the parish and its ministries. When the Lord raises up leaders, everything else workers, finances, planning, energy, etc. comes to them. But without spiritual leadership, even the best staffed, planned, and financed ministry will fail. Because of the importance of leadership, the devil discourages people from accepting the gift of leadership. "So act that they may fulfill their task with joy, not with sorrow, for that would be harmful to you. Pray for us" (Heb 13:17-18). Obey your leaders; seek God's will about being a leader and about raising up new leaders.
Redemptive Suffering and Courage
"I wish to know Christ and the power flowing from His resurrection; likewise to know how to share in His sufferings by being formed into the pattern of His death." Philippians 3:10
The most important gifts for parish renewal are redemptive suffering and the courage to expose ourselves to persecution. To renew our parishes, we must suffer rejection and persecution. Jesus did not save us primarily through His teachings, healings, and deliverances, but through His sufferings and death. Suffering and laying down our lives for Jesus and His Church are the principal and most powerful ways of renewing the Church. Jesus said: "I solemnly assure you, unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit" (Jn 12:24).
For a parish church to grow from 200 parishioners to 400 parishioners it will often follow a pattern like this:
250 / \ /
200 190 / \ / 330
\ / \ / 240
Especially as a parish begins to try to grow, it will lose parishioners before gaining parishioners. Like a vine, it must be pruned if it is to bear fruit (see Jn 15). Many people in the parish must die to self for the parish to be fruitful.
When a parish isn't growing, there's something wrong, for anything attached to Jesus, the Vine, will certainly grow. To grow, we must repent of what is wrong and change our lives and the lives of our parish. This means repenting of compromises with the world, correcting false yet poplar teachings, submitting ourselves to the authority of the universal Church, the Bible and the Pope, changing from the things, groups and programs that we're comfortable with to our God-given calls which can be very uncomfortable, etc. Those who call for the parish's repentance, correction, submission, and change will very likely be rejected and persecuted. They know this but must have the courage to do it anyway. Pope John Paul II teaches: "It is suffering, more than anything else, which clears the way for the grace which transforms human souls. Suffering, more than anything else, makes present the history of humanity the powers of Redemption" (On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering, 27).
"Onward Christian Soldiers"
God will use our spiritual gifts to renew the Church. But we must be careful not to stifle the Spirit by being overly concerned about being sensitive to those not accustomed to the spiritual gifts. We don't have to help the Spirit be sensitive. He has already considered other people's concerns. All we need do is obey (see Acts 5:32).
We should pray for the Spirit to be stirred up (2 Tim 1:6), His gifts poured out, and our Confirmations renewed. If we thirst for the Spirit (see Jn 7:37) and repent of sin (Acts 5:31-32) we will receive a new Pentecost in our parish. "If you, with all your sins, know how to give your children good things, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him" (Lk 11:13). Our parishes will be renewed not be might, not by power, but by the Spirit. (Zech 4:6).
Ministry of the Word
"Not on bread alone is man to live but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." Matthew 4:4
The word of God is crucial to God's plan of salvation and, therefore, to parish renewal. According to St. Jerome, "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ". Jesus told us: "If you love Me, feed My sheep" (see Jn 21:17). We feed the people of God through the word of God. The early Church emphasized God's word, for "day after day both in the temple and at home, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news of Jesus the Messiah" (Acts 5:42). The words of Pope John Paul II to priests can apply to us all: "Only if he 'abides' in the word will the priest become a perfect disciple of the Lord. Only then will he know the truth and be truly free, over-coming every conditioning which is contrary or foreign to the Gospel (cf. Jn 8:31:32) (I Will Give You Pastors, 26).
Spiritual Anorexia, Starvation, and Retardation
"They loathed all manner of food, so that they were near the gates of death. They cried to the Lord in their distress; from their straits He rescued them. He sent forth His word to heal them." Psalms 107:18-20
Many Christians are spiritually anorexic. They choose to spiritually starve, even in the midst of many opportunities to be nourished by God's word. They perish for lack of knowledge (Hos 4:6) and are spiritually retarded for lack of spiritual nourishment (Heb 5:12). The devil has many of us in "intensive care," on a starvation diet. If we go to church every Sunday and the sermon is based on the Bible, we still probably have only ten hours of Bible teaching per year. We can stay breathing on that diet, but we certainly can't do any work. Without greatly increasing the nourishment of God's people; spiritual anorexia, starvation and retardation will continue, and parish renewal will be indefinitely delayed.
Life-Style or Death-Style?
"Lust indulged starves the soul." Proverbs 13:19
To greatly increase the spiritual nourishment of our parishioners, we must not only increase their exposure to the Bible but deal with the cause of their spiritual starvation and anorexia. Many have lost their appetite for the things of God because they have stuffed themselves with the junk-food of worldly pleasures. "Beloved, you are strangers and in exile; hence I urge you not to indulge your carnal desires. By their nature they wage war on the soul" (1 Pt 2:11). "This superdevelopment, which consists in an excessive availability of every kind of material goods for the benefit of certain social groups, easily makes people slaves of 'possession' and of immediate gratification". (On Social Concern, 28, Pope John Paul II) "My point is that you should live in accord with the Spirit and you will not yield to the cravings of the flesh. The flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh; the two are directly opposed" (Gal 5:16-17). We must strongly oppose the worldly, pleasure-seeking life-style, so prevalent today even among Christians. We do this by following "the Spirit's lead" (Gal 5:25) and making "no provision for the desires of the flesh" (Rom 13:14). Pope John Paul II teaches: "'Fight hunger by changing your lifestyle' is the motto which has appeared in Church circles and which shows the people of the rich nations how to become brothers and sisters of the poor. We need to turn to a more austere way of life" (Mission of the Redeemer, 60). "I therefore exhort the disciples of Christ and all Christian communities from families to dioceses, from parishes to religious institutes to carry out a sincere review of their lives regarding their solidarity with the poor" (Mission of the Redeemer, 60).
"The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I do not need you,' any more than the head can say to the feet, 'I do not need you.'" 1 Corinthians 12:21
Ministering of God's word is the responsibility of the whole people of God, with each part of Christ's body functioning in its own way. Some are called to concentrate on the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4), but everyone is involved. There are differences in manner and degree, but every part of Christ's body should be active in the ministry of the word. Different ways of ministering the word are:
- Witnesses: Every Christian is to be a witness (Acts l:8) a living, speaking, walking sign of Jesus' life and love. By witnessing to the utmost, we will move ourselves into additional ways of ministering God's word.
- Preachers (Evangelists): They announce the good news to the unbeliever and the uncommitted Christian (Mt 10:7; Eph 4:11).
- Teachers: Pastor-teachers teach the Bible to empower the evangelized to evangelize and to equip the saints to build up the body of Christ (Eph 4:11).
- Apostles: They have the responsibility of teaching the teachers and assuring the Christian communities of orthodox teaching (Eph 4:11).
- Prophets: They give God's "now-word," what God is saying at the moment in a particular situation (Eph 4:11).
- Encouragers: Through this ministry of the word, great numbers are added to the Christian community and its commitment is strengthened (Acts 11:24).
Knowing our primary ways of ministering God's word will help us use our gifts well and focus on areas where we can be best used of God. God will send people to us who need our particular gifts. Occasionally, He will send people who need to be served with gifts other than those we have. In that case, we should call in someone else. For example, Barnabas didn't try to teach the church in Antioch but called in Paul to teach (Acts 11:25).
We Shall Overcome
Jesus said: "I gave them Your word, and the world has hated them for it" (Jn 17:14). Both the devil and the world hate God's word and those ministering the word. Although we might think of ourselves as harmless, we should expect persecution (2 Tim 3:12). It can be as simple as others laughing at or slandering us. It can mean losing friends, losing a job, or being embarrassed at the parish council.
When ministering God's word in our parishes, we must not give in to discouragement. For example, Paul was on death row, and some were preaching the Gospel to further antagonize his enemies (Phil 1:17). What a perverted reason for preaching the Gospel! Yet even in this worst of circumstances Paul continued to lead others to Christ (Phil 1: l2-14). He's a model for word-ministry in tough situations, like the parish.
God promises that He will not permit His word to be without effect (see 1 Sm 3:19). So take advantage of every opportunity personal conversation, cards, letters, phone conversations (see Col 4:5). Consider distributing little portions of the Bible. Distribute the Bible, or New Testament, or one gospel. Gather two or three people in your home to read and share God's word. Encourage praying the Liturgy of the Hours, especially morning and evening prayer. This is a proven way to enter into praying the Bible. Learn to talk in the words of the Bible. People won't know you're talking the Bible, but it always achieves the end for which it was sent (Is 55:11). "All that matters is that in any and every way, whether from specious motives or genuine ones, Christ is being proclaimed! That is what brings me joy" (Phil 1:18).
Your sharing of God's word may seem insignificant in the context of the large parish, but do what you can (see Mk 14:8). Let God take it from there. He can multiply your loaves and fish. Don't do nothing because you can't do everything. Put in your widow's mite (Lk 21:4). "He who sows sparingly, will reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will reap bountifully" (2 Cor 9:6).
Commitment and Community
"The community of believers were of one heart and one mind. None of them ever claimed anything as his own; rather, everything was held in common. With power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great respect was paid to them all; nor was there anyone needy among them, for all who owned property or houses sold them and donated the proceeds." Acts 4:32-34
If you have worked in a parish for more than a couple days, you begin to repeatedly mouth the word, "commitment". For example, usually about 15% of the parishioners pay 80% of the parish's bills because most the parishioners are not committed to the parish. Raising money in other ways is refusing to face the problem of non-commitment. Continuing to lament the lack of commitment also does nothing to create commitment.
Commitment is partly based on certainty, which is partly based on clarity. Pope Paul VI taught: "Yet another sign of love will be the effort to transmit to Christians not doubts and uncertainties born of an erudition poorly assimilated but certainties that are solid because they are anchored in the Word of God. The faithful need these certainties for their Christian life; they have a right to them, as children of God who abandon themselves into His arms (On Evangelization, 79). Pope John Paul II teaches that "certainty of truth"...is the only firm basis for a total giving of oneself to Jesus and to the Church...If we are not certain about the truth, how can we put our whole life on the line? (I Will Give You Pastors, 52). Commitment is based on certainties about the basic truths of divine revelation. Certainty is partly based on clear, orthodox teaching. Without this, we cannot expect commitment to a parish which will be deep enough to stand the test of time.
However, commitment is not only based on certainty, for many Catholic Christians are certain about the faith but not committed to their parishes. Commitment is also based on community. If, by God's grace, we are committed to one other person, we will be led to be committed to other people. For example, the commitment of a married couple to each other will naturally lead to a commitment to their children. The commitment to a pastor will lead to a commitment to at least a few other parishioners. This is the beginning of Christian community. These small Christian communities are the breeding ground of greater commitment. Rarely are people committed to the large group if they are not committed to a small community. The small community takes commitments between one or two people, expands them, and transforms them into commitment to the parish. The parish, in turn, is to take this commitment and transform it into commitment to the diocese and the universal Church. The seed of commitment grows in the "hot bed" of small Christian community. That's why these communities are the building blocks of the parish.
"But they were searching for a better, a heavenly home." Hebrews 11:16
Many of you have "gone through the mill" in parish renewal. You've been through program after program and been repeatedly excited and disillusioned. Many of these programs were good but only introductory and transitional. You're looking for a structure of renewal which goes beyond the introduction and is permanent. You're not looking for a good idea but God's idea for something Biblically based, accepted by the Church, and historically proven. You are looking for home-based communities (HBCs)
The home was the first building to be used as a church. Originally, the parish church was not a grouping of individuals but of HBCs. Pope John Paul II calls these communities "a solid starting point for a new society based on a 'civilization of love'" (Mission of the Redeemer, 51). "'Ecclesial basic communities' (also known by other names)...are proving to be good centers for Christian formation and missionary outreach. These are groups of Christians who, at the level of the family or in a similarly restricted setting, come together for prayer, Scripture reading, catechesis, and discussion of human and ecclesial problems with a view to a common commitment" (Mission of the Redeemer, 51).
A HBC is different from other homes in that each committed member of the community is under Jesus' lordship and filled with the Spirit, although others can visit and participate in aspects of the HBC. A HBC is also different in that it is an extended family. It can include married couples and their families, single people, single parents and their children, godparents, relatives, neighbors, and co-workers.
The History of Home-Based Communities
"Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Remember me also to the congregation that meets in their house." Romans 16:4-5
For the first three hundred years of the Church's history, HBCs were the main places Christians gathered. After Pentecost, the early Church broke bread (Eucharist) and shared meals daily in homes (Acts 2:46). Priscilla (Prisca) and Aquila were the core of the most significant HBC in the Bible. They were lifesavers to Paul (Acts 18:3), and teachers to Apollos (Acts 18:24-26). Some other HBCs mentioned in the Bible are Gaius' (Rom 16:23), Lydia's (Acts 16:15, 40), Titus Justus' (Acts 18:7), Nymphas' (Col 4:15) and Philemon's (Phlm 2). The HBC was seen as a training ground for leadership in the Christian community (1 Tim 3:5).
Throughout history, HBCs continued to be the principal centers of Christian life. Today there are hundreds of thousands of HBCs in South America, Africa, Russia, China, the Philippines, and South Korea. The HBC remains the principal center of Christian life even in the 20th century world. "These communities are a sign of vitality within the Church, an instrument of formation and evangelization" (Mission of the Redeemer, 51).
The Home-Based Community and the Parish
HBCs "decentralize and organize the parish community, to which they always remain united." Mission of the Redeemer, 51
The parish church and the HBC need each other. The HBC draws its strength from the parish church. The parish supplies the preaching of the word, the celebration of the sacraments, the fellowship of the larger community, and direction from its pastoral leaders. However, the HBC also serves the parish church by doing things the parish can't do, and doing other things better than the parish is able to do. For example:
- Pope John Paul II said that "these communities become a means of evangelization and of the initial proclamation of the Gospel, and a source of new ministries" (Mission of the Redeemer, 51).
- Growth in Christian character and the practical application of God's word can be much more developed in the daily communal life of the HBC than in the parish.
- Also, in the context of the HBC, the poor are better served, and there is more opportunity to break the cycle of poverty by getting to the root of problems. HBCs "become a leaven of Christian life, of care for the poor and neglected, and of commitment to the transformation of society" (Mission of the Redeemer, 51).
Starting a Home-Based Community
"For even they who were scornful on that day of small beginnings shall rejoice." Zechariah 4:10
To begin a HBC
- Pray for the guidance of the Spirit, but don't pray indefinitely. Make it less than a month.
- Gather people who might be called to participate in a HBC.
- Pray together with these brothers and sisters regularly for a few weeks.
- Share this teaching, especially the Biblical references and the Church documents from our booklet, "Christian Home-Based Communities."
- Call for a commitment of three months. Write down specific responsibilities.
- Sign a commitment statement. Begin with Mass or a prayer service. Pray over each person to be faithful to their commitment. (For twelve seminars in preparation for forming HBCs, order our book, Building Community Life in the Spirit. There are manuals for the leaders of the seminars and guidebooks for the participants.)
The Home-Based Community and Society
The HBC is directly contrary to the trends of our society. The home is usually insignificant today. We are an extremely mobile society, constantly changing residences and jobs. We jump from apartment to apartment. We even eat on the run with fast-foods and drive-through windows. Home is a layover, a sleeping room. But Biblically home is where the action is (see Prv 31:10ff). It is the center of community, business, education, social services, and more. It's the center of life.
Our technology has made it possible to begin an experiment. Our independent life-style is unprecedented in world history, totally experimental. We have no idea how it will turn out. Early indications are frightening. According to our new life-style, homemakers have meaningless lives, and children may be seen as a great inconvenience to their parents and a hindrance to living the "good life". There is nothing sacred in life, including sex, love, marriage, family, and fellowship. Talents and skills highly respected traditionally are considered unimportant. We are taking an extreme risk with the most basic elements of life. We may be creating a Frankenstein world.
In such an alien environment, the concept of a HBC may sound idealistic, but it is not. HBCs have been formed as a matter of normal course throughout Church history. They are flourishing right now throughout the world. There's no reason why God cannot form HBCs in our country. As they are formed, parishes will be renewed, for HBCs can be "a true expression of communion and a means for the construction of a more profound communion. They are thus cause for great hope for the life of the Church" (Mission of the Redeemer, 51).
Eucharistic Adoration and Intercession
"Upon your walls, O Jerusalem, I have stationed watchmen; never, by day or by night, shall they be silent. O you who are to remind the Lord, take no rest and give no rest to Him, until He re-establishes Jerusalem and makes of it the pride of the earth." Isaiah 62:6-7
A significantly heightened level of adoration and intercession almost always precedes true renewal in the Spirit. For example, before the first Christian Pentecost, 120 disciples prayed for nine days (see Acts 1:14). The man lame from birth was healed at the 3 o'clock hour of prayer (Acts 3:1ff). This was followed by a second Pentecost in which thousands gave their lives to Jesus (see Acts 4:4). The early Church was so intent on prayer that on one occasion "the place where they were gathered shook as they prayed. They were filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 4:31). The apostles concentrated on prayer (Acts 6:4). Stephen prayed before being martyred (Acts 7:59-60). Saul prayed before converting (Acts 9:12). Cornelius "constantly prayed" before becoming the first Gentile Christian (Acts 10:2). The early Church prayed Peter out of jail (Acts 12:12). A greater commitment to prayer, especially the prayer of adoration and intercession, usually preceded the reception of the Holy Spirit.
"This is My Body"
"All of us, gazing on the Lord's glory with unveiled faces, are being transformed from glory to glory into His very image by the Lord Who is the Spirit." 2 Corinthians 3:18
Throughout the world, many of the parishes that are most renewed encourage frequent, daily, or perpetual adoration. The Holy Father calls a deepening of Eucharistic adoration and devotion a touchstone of authentic renewal. "The encouragement and the deepening of Eucharistic worship are proofs of that authentic renewal which the Council set itself as an aim and of which they are the central point... The Church and the world have a great need of Eucharistic worship" (On the Mystery and Worship of the Eucharist, 3). "The celebration of the Eucharist is the center of the entire Christian life, both for the Church universal and for the local congregations of the Church. 'The other sacraments, all the ministries of the Church, and the works of the apostolate are united with the Eucharist and are directed toward it. For the Holy Eucharist contains the entire spiritual treasure of the Church, that is, Christ Himself, our Passover and living bread'" (Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharistic Outside Mass, 1). The parish is a Eucharistic community, and the celebration of Mass and Eucharistic adoration will be both the source and fruit of parish renewal. With love for the Eucharistic Jesus growing ever deeper, the parish will focus on Jesus as Lord. Right priorities will be restored. As God feeds His people with the finest wheat, parishioners will grow in love, strength and maturity. New people will be drawn into the parish community as Jesus draws all people to Himself (Jn 12:32). (See our booklet, This is My Body.)
Eucharistic Adoration and Vatican II
"With great desire, I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer." Luke 22:15, our translation.
Some mistakenly thought that Eucharistic adoration was de-emphasized by Vatican II. Consequently, we see the demise of exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, Forty Hours, and visits to the Blessed Sacrament. However, Vatican II officially gave a greater emphasis to the Eucharist, although this has often not been applied locally.
After the Council Pope Paul VI said, "We therefore earnestly hope that rich fruits of Eucharistic devotion will grow from the restored sacred liturgy..." (On the Holy Eucharist, 6). The Council stated that the Eucharist is "the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the fountain from which all her power flows" (Vatican II, Liturgy, 10). Pastors are exhorted to make Eucharistic adoration readily available to the faithful that they may "easily, fruitfully, and constantly honor the Lord, present in the Sacrament" (Holy Communion and Worship, 9). "Both private and public devotion toward the Eucharist, therefore, including devotion outside Mass are strongly encouraged..." (Holy Communion and Worship, 79).
Intercession and the Parish
The primary purpose of Eucharistic adoration is to extend our worship we give to Jesus at Communion time. Our worship can naturally flow into intercession as we focus on Jesus eternal High Priest and Intercessor (Heb 7:25) at the right hand of the Father. When there is serious prolonged intercession for a parish, the works of the evil one are bound and God's grace loosed (see Mt 16:19). New things begin to happen. Dry bones begin to rattle (Ez 37:4). Parishioners come under conviction (Jn 16:8). The Holy Spirit brings renewal. (See our pamphlet Ten Commandments of Intercession.)
Pope John Paul II taught in his first encyclical: "We feel not only the need but even the categorical imperative for great, intense and growing prayer by all the Church. Only prayer can prevent all these great succeeding tasks and difficulties from becoming a source of crisis and make them instead the occasion and, as it were, the foundation for ever more mature achievements on the People of God's march toward the Promised Land in this stage of history approaching the end of the second millennium" (The Redeemer of Man, 22).
"The weapons of our warfare are not merely human. They possess God's power for the destruction of strongholds. We demolish sophistries and every proud pretension that raises itself against the knowledge of God; we likewise bring every thought into captivity to make it obedient to Christ." 2 Corinthians 10:4-5
The devil has strongholds, sophistries, and entrenched positions in the average parish. We can pray, work, and plan forever, but these works of the evil one must be dealt with, or they will continually impede the work of the Spirit. Therefore, spiritual warfare is most important for parish renewal.
However, many in our society and in the Church are more formed by secular humanism than by the Bible and the teaching of the Church. Therefore they no longer believe the devil is real, although the Bible and the Church are very clear about this. Furthermore, the average Christian today knows little about spiritual warfare because many priests and ministers won't mention the evil one from the pulpit. We would be rejected in the average parish council meeting if we made a statement about spiritual warfare. We need to clear up this confusion. We can't win a war if we don't believe we have an enemy. And if we can't win the war against the devil, we can't renew our parish. We must know the devil's guile only too well and thereby prevent him from outwitting us (2 Cor 2:11).
Victory Over Evil Spirits
"Our battle is not against human forces but against the principalities and powers, the rulers of this world of darkness, the evil spirits in regions above." Ephesians 6:12
Satan and his demons have revolted against God, lost their place in heaven, and now are trying to seduce us into joining a rebellion that has already been defeated (Rv 12:7-9). Our battle is against these demons and not against people.
Although these fallen angels are far superior to us, we have power, authority, and victory over them because of our relationship with Jesus (Mt 10:1). We can attack the gates of hell, which cannot prevail against us (Mt 16:18). We can drive out, disarm, and despoil Satan (Mk 16:17; Lk 11:22). By Jesus' power in us (1 Jn 4:4), we can bring down Satan's strongholds, sophistries, and proud pretensions (2 Cor 10:4). We can quickly crush him (Rom 16:20), make a public show of him (Col 2:15), and put him beneath Jesus' and our feet (Heb 10:13).
We overpower Satan by wielding various spiritual weapons by the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 10:4).
- We command Satan to leave.
- Using the truth of God's word unmasks Satan's lies.
- Praising the Lord disturbs Satan and he runs away.
- Proclaiming the name of Jesus reminds Satan of the One Who conquered him.
- "Pleading the blood of Jesus" brings back bad memories for Satan, covers us with protection, and washes away our sins.
- & 7. Praying and fasting are the only ways to drive out some demons (Mt 17:21).
Many of our problems will never be solved unless we recognize the 1) existence and 2) conspiracy of Satan. We will not have a free and victorious life unless we know 3) we're in a war, 4) who the enemy is, 5) our authority over that enemy, and 6) our spiritual weapons. All these realities must be seen in the context of the ultimate reality of 7) Jesus Christ's total, irreversible victory over the kingdom of darkness through His death and resurrection. (For more information, see our pamphlet, Do You Renounce Satan?)
Spiritual Warfare and the Church
The Catholic Church has always stated unequivocally the reality of Satan and spiritual warfare. Pope Paul VI stated the traditional teaching: "Evil is not merely a lack of something but an effective agent, a living spiritual being, perverted and perverting, a terrible reality...This question of the devil and the influence he can exert on individual persons, as well as on communities, whole societies, and events, is a very important chapter of Catholic doctrine" (L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, Nov. 23, 1972, p. 3).
Because of the influence of Satan on parishes, we need Michael, Satan's ancient, heavenly adversary (Rv 12:7; Dn l2:1; Jude 9), once again to lead the charge against the gates of hell. We also need Mary to lead us, the members of the Church, in quickly crushing the devil under our feet (see Rom 16:20). By obedience to the Lord, we will bring down the strongholds of the evil one in our parish churches. When this is done, the door will be opened to full-scale parish renewal.
Equipping the Saints
"It is He Who gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ." Ephesians 4:11-12 (our translation)
Pope Paul VI and many bishops throughout the world have pointed out that many Catholics are not evangelized by the standards of the Church and the Bible. To be evangelized is not to be perfect but to have definitely decided to love the Lord with all our hearts and souls. Many Catholic Christians have not made this decision. In many parishes, most of the parishioners have not decided to accept the good news of Jesus on His terms. For example, in the parish of 1,000 people, 80%, that is, 800 people, may need to be evangelized. These 800 people will primarily be evangelized by the 20%, 200 people, who have been evangelized. These 200 people need to be equipped to evangelize and minister in Jesus' name. Of these 200 people who are at various stages of discipleship, possibly 50 are apostles, prophets, evangelists, or pastor-teachers the four ministries by which Christians are equipped to evangelize and serve (see Eph 4:11). The parish church must make it a priority to raise up, equip, and empower the 50 people who will equip the other 150, who will lead the way in evangelizing the 800. Parish renewal depends on working with the 5% who will equip the 15% to evangelize the 80%.
Paul said: "The trouble was that I could not talk to you as spiritual men but only as men of flesh, as infants in Christ" (1 Cor 3:1). As long as the overwhelming majority of parishioners are "infants in Christ," parish renewal is delayed indefinitely and the whole parish church becomes a large "cry room". Instead of being a center for worship and evangelization, the parish becomes a place where adult infants amuse themselves and fight with each other. Church leaders become baby sitters rather than apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors. God the Father, like all parents, wants His children to grow up. He has raised up equipping ministries to promote our growth.
Maturing into Ministry
"Let us profess the truth in love and grow to the full maturity of Christ the Head. Through Him the whole body grows, and with the proper functioning of the members joined firmly together by each supporting ligament, builds itself up in love." Ephesians 4:15-16
Equipping is a process in which we are taught to use our spiritual gifts and are prepared for ministry. For example, we may have difficulty witnessing for Christ at work. To change this, we begin by talking with a pastor-teacher (see below). That person listens and shares with us from God's word and his personal experience about witnessing at work. Then we go to work and give it a try. We come back to the pastor-teacher and share our successes and failures. We receive prayer, encouragement, and direction. We are growing and becoming "fully mature and lacking in nothing" (Jas 1:4).
Jesus working through His Church equips us, the Holy Spirit will accelerate the equipping process, and certain members of His body have special responsibilities. Priests are called "to coordinate all the gifts and charisms which the Spirit inspires in the community, to discern them and put them to good use for the upbuilding of the church in constant union with the bishops" (I Will Give You Pastors, 26, Pope John Paul II). Many religious and some lay people are called to equip the saints for ministry. There are four equipping ministries. These complement each other. (For more teaching on this subject see our book, Seek the Gifts of the Spirit)
- The apostle sees the big picture, the vision for the worldwide body of Christ. He establishes communities and ministries while providing direction from and connection to the larger church.
- The prophet reveals what God is saying. God uses the prophet's words to state and create specific courses of action in the Church and local parish.
- The evangelist leads people to Christ in such a way as to motivate and equip others also to evangelize.
- The pastor-teacher teaches, guides, and supports those growing in using their spiritual gifts in ministry.
Beginning the Process
"All Scripture is inspired of God and is useful for teaching for reproof, correction, and training in holiness so that the man of God may be fully competent and equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:16-17
First of all, to begin to mature we must be fully evangelized. This means we are in Christ, in His Church, and in the Spirit. To be in Christ and yet not in His Church is like being in the head without being in the body (Eph 1:22-23). To be in the Spirit and not in the Church makes no sense because the Spirit is given through the Church and for the Church (1 Cor 12:7; 14:4). To be in Christ and not in the Spirit is only having part of God's will. How could we meet Jesus, the Baptizer in the Spirit, and not receive the Spirit? (Mk 1:8) If we're not in Christ, we don't want to be equipped. If we're not in the Church, we don't have co-workers and a place to work when equipped. If not in the Spirit, we don't have the power to be equipped.
When we are fully evangelized, then we must let ourselves be equipped. We decide to deny ourselves and take up the daily cross (Lk 9:23). We decide to do not what we want but to obey God's word, which is the primary means of equipping us.
Equipping the Parish
To apply this teaching to your parish:
- Find out if you are a builder or an equipper. As you pray and look at the circumstances of your life, the Spirit will guide you (Jn 16:13).
- Share this teaching and encourage others to do the same.
- Seek out someone who will help equip you. If you believe you are in one of the equipping ministries, begin working with others to assist their growth. Even if your community is not developed in the equipping ministries, do what you can (see Mk 14:8).
- Pray for many Christians to grow in the use of their spiritual gifts and to minister in the full power of the Spirit.
"Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations. Baptize them in the name 'of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.'" Matthew 28:19
A cause and effect of parish renewal is evangelization. If the parish is alive, and attached to Christ the Vine (Jn l5:5), it will bear fruit and thereby become more alive and bear more fruit. A renewed church is evangelized and evangelizing.
A Parish In Love Must Evangelize
"The Church exists to evangelize." Pope Paul VI, On Evangelization, 14
Pope John Paul II teaches: "The number of those who do not know Christ and do not belong to the Church is constantly on the increase. Indeed, since the end of the Council it has almost doubled. When we consider this immense portion of humanity which is loved by the Father and for whom He sent His Son, the urgency of the Church's mission is obvious" (Mission of the Redeemer, 3). "What moves me even more strongly to proclaim the urgency of missionary evangelization is the fact that it is the primary service which the Church can render to every individual and to all humanity in the modern world" (Mission of the Redeemer, 2). "I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church's energies to a new evangelization and to the mission 'ad gentes'. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples" (Mission of the Redeemer, 3).
When we have deeply experienced Jesus, we evangelize, compelled by the Holy Spirit as at Pentecost (Acts 2:4). Because we believe, we speak out (2 Cor 4:13). If our hearts are overflowing with the love of Jesus, we will speak out of the abundance of our hearts (Lk 6:45). "Surely we cannot help speaking of what we have heard and seen" (Acts 4:20). Those in love share about the one who loves them.
Teaching on evangelization is of little consequence until we are grasped by Christ. Paul said: "I am racing to grasp the prize if possible, since I have been grasped by Christ [Jesus]" (Phil 3:12). If we experience and are grasped by the crucified and risen Jesus, we will run out proclaiming "He died for me; He's alive!" We will make any sacrifice to express this message.
We will say with Paul: "I have made myself all things to all men in order to save at least some of them. In fact, I do all that I do for the sake of the gospel in the hope of having a share in its blessings" (1 Cor 9:22-23). The greatest evangelists of all times have been greatly evangelized. They experienced Jesus in a dramatic way, and never got over it. Their experience demanded a total commitment to sharing the good news of what Jesus had personally done for them.
Clearly, evangelization in the parish context has special difficulties. We talk about "renewal" but many people in the Church need "newal". They have never been "new" to be "renewed". Many have never become Christians in the practical and full sense. Because this is hard to admit, we often use the euphemism "renewal" when we evangelize those who do not know Christ. We also use the term "fallen away" or "backsliders". Most of these people may have fallen away from their baptismal graces and from church attendance, but not from Jesus Whom they never knew in the first place. It is important to know if we are working with someone in need of "renewal" or "newal".
To those in need of "renewal," we should ask the question: What happened? How did you lose your peace and joy? We must help the people recognize the cause of their change, the point of departure, and then call them to repentance. To those in need of "newal," we should ask: What did not happen in your life? Why are you feeling empty? What are you missing? We should invite them to come to Jesus just as they are, repent of sin, and accept Jesus as Lord of their lives.
Some missionaries say it's much easier to lead a pagan to Christ than evangelize those who are in church but not in Jesus as Lord. But Jesus eventually transformed the religious Nicodemus, and He continues this work to the present day through the celebration of the Sacraments (see chapter 2), intercessory prayer (see chapter 6), and especially through redemptive suffering. Expect to win the world for Christ, beginning with those in your parish who have not yet made the total commitment to Jesus. "As the third millennium of the redemption draws near, God is preparing a great springtime for Christianity, and we can already see its first signs" (Mission of the Redeemer, 86). The evangelization of the parish is impossible for us, but nothing is impossible with God (Lk 1:37). (For more information, see our pamphlet, Evangelism And Worship).
Brothers and Sisters,
Thanks for your love for Jesus and His body, the Church. Thanks for caring enough to read and live this book. Do not fear or be discouraged.
When we love Jesus and His Church enough to lay down our lives for them (see Jn 12:24; Ps 102:14-15), the Lord will work the miracle of parish renewal. He will certainly get all the credit for this because it will not have been done by our power or might, but by the Holy Spirit (Zech 4:6). He will do it (see 1 Thes 5:24). Our part is to let it be done (Lk 1:38) by obeying the Spirit.
Excerpts from Scripture are taken from The new American Bible, copyright 1970 by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C., and are used by permission of the copyright holder. All rights reserved.
Nihil obstat: Rev. Edward J. Gratsch, May 4, 1993
Imprimatur: Rev. R. Daniel Conlon, June 1, 1993 Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Ohio