Am I Asking the Right Questions?

Until now, I’ve been populating this blog with articles I’ve written for Catholic Today and news about forthcoming events.

However, I want this to be an interactive blog where I can discuss the work I’m doing and chew the fat with as many people out there in the field as I can, from both the altar and the pew.

For those of you who don’t know, in my role (as Evangelisation Fieldworker) I have been allocated 6 parishes, initially, to work with and which it’s hoped will become ‘flagship parishes’, where evangelisation is placed front and centre of parish life. That doesn’t mean necessarily replacing or changing things that those parishes do – I don’t have the power to do that! – but with the parish priest and people, to encourage a change of culture where everything is done (as the Holy Father puts it) ‘in a missionary key’, orientated toward evangelisation. Can all of our parishes become places where people see themselves as missionary disciples in a church that exists to evangelise?

Of course, one of the difficulties of a role such as mine is one of interpretation and communicating a vision – do we know what evangelisation is, and what does a missionary parish (rather than a parish that does mission) look like?

I’d like to ask for your reflections and feedback on some questions I think are important to my role – and if you can think of better ones or ones I’ve missed then please feel free to leave them as comments below. Join the conversation!:

  • What is evangelisation?
  • What does a Catholic disciple look like?
  • What does a missionary parish look like?
  • What is required for a parish to create a culture of mission?

Of course, there are a number of resources out there to help us to address many of these issues, but they will only provide the answers if we are asking the questions in the first place.

Do catch up on the other pieces I’ve written at this blog and follow us on Twitter: twitter.com/EvangBrumUK

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7 thoughts on “Am I Asking the Right Questions?

  1. Yes – I agree. I am asking the same questions, and am hoping to get into deeper discussion with other like-minded folk, especially to read and discuss “Divine Renovation”.

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    • Thank you Barbara. Following the Alpha training day, Fr Julian Green (Goldenhill) has started three reading groups using the Divine Renovation book. If you are struggling to find people to discuss the book with I have no doubt that he will welcome you into one of them and will value your input. Drop me an email if you are interested! Blessings to you and all you do at Newcastle.

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  2. Thank you, Paul, for this thought provoking article.

    I think you’re absolutely right to be asking these questions. Whether or not they are the right questions is not the most important thing – crucially, it is about engaging the mind and searching for the Way, the Truth and the Life, who is Christ himself. If they were the wrong questions we could ask, why are they the wrong questions? And what are the right questions? In other words, knock, and the door will be opened. Seek, and you will find. The seeking matters more than the asking, and the asking more than the answering, though each prepares the stage for the next, through which it enters into its fuller realisation.

    With these qualifications, and adding that I am no more a seeker than yourself, I offer my answers to your questions below. May the Lord enlighten our minds to discern the truth.

    – What is evangelisation?
    Evangelisation is the communication of a great mystery – the mystery of God made man, the Word become flesh on earth. Humanly speaking, we will never be able to plumb the depths of this mystery, which means that the communication of the message will never be complete, ever awaiting further and fuller expression, comprehension and realisation. Evangelisation is an on-going task for each generation, to bring the message of God’s love to the level of the times, speaking, preaching, exhorting in season and out of season about the richness of the gift of God.

    Evangelisation is more than mere words. It is the witness of a life. Suffering is therefore part of the life of an evangelist, because of all the great evils that befall the world in these times, nothing is more pernicious than the myth that God is aloof from our situation, all-powerful, being capable to act, yet refraining to interfere in our lives. Truly, God permits great evil in the world, but only so that we can rise above our oppressors, countering evil with good, hatred with love, despair with hope. Evangelisation entails giving witness to Christ in our hearts, and being known by our fruits.

    – What does a Catholic disciple look like?
    To all outward appearances, a Catholic disciple looks no different to any other person of their age. One does not need to be a Catholic to be a good person. One does not need to be a disciple to get to heaven. But being a Catholic and being a disciple entails that we should desire these things. We cannot love the God we cannot see if we do not love our neighbour who we can see. It is by our love that others will know we are followers of Christ.

    As people, we are known to our family and friends and others around us. But as Catholic disciples, we are heading towards a fuller realisation of our identity as children of God. Catholicity means we are members of a universal family – nobody is excluded from the gift of God’s love. Discipleship means we are followers of Christ, putting him first in all things. It is this aspect of relationship of a person to God and to others which makes them a Catholic disciple.

    – What does a missionary parish look like?
    In the same vein, a missionary parish may not look any different to another Catholic parish of its time. The people are local Catholics. The groups and organisations that meet there may be missionary in name, but actual missionary activity is more than a group structure. Even if there are some individuals very active in missionary work, that does not make the whole parish missionary.

    A missionary parish is not only a community, but also a communion of souls. It is not an inwardly directed communion, towards static, familiar relationships, but an outwardly directed, dynamic movement of souls, seeking to draw closer to God by bringing others in. It is this direction, purpose, or orientation, which makes a parish missionary, witnessing to the world to God’s eternal Truth, unseen to the eyes, yet known by the light of faith.

    – What is required for a parish to create a culture of mission?
    How to put faith in action? The first three questions prepare the way. Evangelisation is the communication of a mystery. Catholic discipleship is an expanding relationship in the love of God. A missionary parish is orientated towards the realisation of the new Jerusalem. But how do we know we are on the right path? How do we grow in holiness? How do we communicate a mystery we only imperfectly understand?

    The answers, I suggest, to these questions, are all found in the Holy Mother of God. Mary is the most perfect disciple of Christ, and the first evangeliser. She is completely focussed on her Son, so by focussing on Mary, we can be sure we are on the path to God. She is resplendent in holiness, free from all stain of sin, the full stature of beauty in virtue. Taking her as our image and example, we can be sure to grow in holiness. And finally, she received the fullness of God’s gift of the Spirit, the Divine Wisdom, incarnate in her womb. She was given the mystery we seek to understand. To learn it, to communicate it, we must turn to Mary.

    Devotion to Mary is not a sentimental attribute. This is the woman who crushed the serpent’s head! To follow Mary we must be strong, just as she was strong to stand at the foot of the Cross, enduring the spectacle of her Son’s torture and death. To follow Mary, we must make use of all the resources at our disposal – gifts of organisation, teaching, healing, encouraging, praying, forgiving. Putting these gifts at Mary’s disposal is the way of giving the greatest glory to God, because we disown our own merits, and trust in Him who takes away the sins of the world. Jesus will come again at the end of time, but He will not come in the absence of His mother Mary, just as He did before, making Himself a helpless babe in her arms.

    Mary, lead us to the Father. Mary, teach us the gifts of God. Mary, move our hearts to love and serve your Son, to lay down our lives for Him, carrying our cross. Pray that our lives may abound in faith, hope and charity, that the world may know that Jesus is Lord, and acknowledging Him, enter into eternal life. Amen.

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  3. Thank you David. Please forgive my delay in responding to this post – it was not that I didn’t want to, quite the contrary!

    It is certainly a very full and detailed answer and I very much concur with what you have written – in fact I would go as far as to say that this is exactly thing that people in our parishes need to hear and to take on board!

    In my role, the challenge is to encourage and support a situation where this stuff is spoken about regularly, preached on, practiced and made an explicit part of parish life and of the various apostolates and activities that exist there. And each person has to grasp that this applies to them in their life of faith and discipleship.

    You are right: in one sense it is this ever unfolding mystery. But in another sense it must also be the simplest most straightforward thing for anyone to grasp (having met Christ) who is serious about following him. How can we communicate the things you’ve written about in simple terms? (at least initially, to the people who need to hear it?) How can we make it easier for people to ‘catch the vision’, because this failure to communicate the vision appears to be where the church finds herself today.

    I see two initial responses that a parish can make in order to put mission front and centre: the first would be prayer. A parish, as a whole, should be praying (obvious I know!), explicitly for mission and the spreading of the Gospel. The second thing would be that there should be a stated intention to form missionary disciples through the various evangelistic/catechetical programmes, again done explicitly. Because I myself was a slow learner, I suppose that I see this later one as important since I benefited from observing Christians ‘in action’! I saw what Christians did, how they prayed, how they served, how they loved and what they said. A parish should be a kind of seed bed.

    Three phrases have been directing my thinking on this recently:
    – “It takes a parish to raise a disciple”
    – “Disciples are not born, they are made”
    – “Missionary parishes are made up of missionary disciples”

    I love your reflection on the place of our Lady! She is the best role model for following her Son – and maybe many (myself included) underestimate the place of the saints as examples of what it is to be a disciple – which is why the church commends them to us in the first place!

    Looking back, this was not really a reply to your comment, but reflections on on where your comment led me! And finally, nothing is possible without the God who first loved us – it’s all about love – and the fact that He is calling people all the time to respond to Him. My prayer is that we recognise that call and follow him wherever He goes.

    I’d be so grateful to hear your thoughts. In Christ.

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  4. Dear Paul,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Don’t worry about the delay, I’m sure you were busy praying and evangelising! You’re right, it’s all about love – what matters is that we are each loved by God, and that we have complete freedom to serve Him, in love.

    You placed your finger on an important point I missed, which is that as well as being an awe-inspiring mystery, the message of the gospel must be completely simple. In this context, my remarks on suffering seem a little out of place. Theologically, I am convinced that pure suffering can lead us closer to Christ, but that doesn’t help us explain it to other people who have sufferings of their own. Only mercy and charity can reveal the face of Christ to them, words are not enough.

    But we must not forget that if the gospel message is basically simple, the world is not, and people are the most complex of all God’s creatures. The basic message of salvation has been distorted by a culture that denies the existence of the Satan, puts the blame on religion for all evil in the world, and then rationalises its sins. If there is a reason for our sins, we cannot be held accountable. If religion is to blame, then we would be better off without it. And if Satan doesn’t exist, who needs a Saviour?

    You describe yourself as a slow learner, and I commend you for it. My own experience is that slow learners can be the most intelligent of people, because they take their time on something until they have thoroughly understood it. But that is what we need to do with the gospel. A simple message, yes, but we need to go back to it time and time again. Observing Christians ‘in action’ is great, because the faith is caught, not taught. But a disciple cannot be greater than her master, so we must complement our learning from other Christians by going to the source of all knowledge, Jesus, the Word of Life.

    And that brings us back to Mary. God is a mystery, but Mary makes it simple. To her, loving God was a matter of holding a baby in her hands so that others could adore Him. It was a matter of believing in her Son at Cana, telling the others to do whatever He told them. It was a matter of accompanying Him to the very end, standing at the foot of the Cross. It was a matter of encouraging the disciples, praying with them when the Holy Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost. The entire life of a Christian is, I think, summed up in Mary.

    I like your phrase, “Disciples are not born, they are made.” But how do we make disciples? You say it takes a parish to raise disciples. I say it takes Mary. She can mould us into the image of Christ, just as Christ was fashioned in her womb. But these two viewpoints are not contradictory, they are two sides of the same coin. A parish is a community, centred around a building, the parish Church. But Mary is a person, a perfect image of discipleship, and by following her we can build the Kingdom of God in our hearts. We need them both. Peter has the keys, but Mary will lead us to her Son.

    What I think we need is a creative synthesis that brings together our Lady, evangelization and parish life. Then we need a strategy to communicate, promote and implement it. It’s all about the Mystical Body of Christ. We are that Body, but if we are to be a living cell and not a dead one, drawing life from the Blood of Christ, then we must live out our lives with faith, hope and charity. We all have a part to play, but each of us needs to discover, with the help of God, what that is.

    I know this is obvious, but I thought it worth pointing out anyway, that my words are like grass that is not going to last. What is key is that a person who enters the Kingdom of God is like a householder that brings from his store both old things and new. We need a new creation in parish life. But we need the old structures too. You are doing a great job as our diocesan Evangelisation Fieldworker, and I pray that you will be successful at inflaming missionary disciples in our parishes to bring about the transformation in our Church that society so urgently needs.

    “Glory be to Jesus in Mary!
    Glory be to Mary in Jesus!
    Glory be to God alone!”
    – St Louis-Marie de Montfort

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  5. Good questions… and they’ve provoked further thoughts in me. How about these?…

    How would I go about intentionally proclaiming the Gospel?
    What would I be doing if I were a disciple who makes disciples?
    In a congregation of people at every stage of spiritual development from…

    non-Catholics
    to occasional attenders who believe in God after a Catholic upbringing
    to regular Catholic attenders who believe in the Trinity and other key doctrines
    to committed Catholics who want to be involved in parish life
    to missionary Catholics

    …how would I imagine our parish becoming more missionary?

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    • Thank you Loarne!

      In a couple of the parishes I’m working in we are looking at some of those groups and how we might best support them and form them as disciples.

      It’s challenging, but if there is any sort of hierarchy in that list you’ve given, the foundation should be those missionary Catholics who see everyone (including themselves) as people who always need to be brought closer to our Lord and saviour.

      We must pray that God shares His vision for disciple-making with both priests and people in our parishes.

      Thanks for your comment!

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