I was at mass with my family recently and, as parents often do, I had to take one of our children to the back of the church for a time.
I stood and looked as people prayed, sang, stood or kneeled at the various points of the mass. I suddenly got a sense of two things: Firstly, that if I was a newcomer to church, I would have no immediate idea of what was going on, other than that people were focussed on something important going on at the front; And secondly, that from the outside, we look as though we know and understand what we are doing.
Apart from realising the responsibility of bearing the name ‘Christian’, and being seen to follow Him, I also became aware of the gulf that can exist between believers and those on ‘the outside’ looking in. They don’t see the struggles of the Christian life and only see someone who is apparently at ease in their faith – someone who is on ‘the inside’. Of course, the truth is that parishes encompass the spectrum of faith experiences – from the burning flame to the smouldering wick – and we know this from our own lives too.
In many of the parishes I’m working in, there is an acknowledgement that parishioners need a space to share the joys and struggles of their faith, without which we cannot grow spiritually. Discipleship, or ongoing faith development, should provide the space for parishioners to raise difficulties and struggles before they become crises, as well as providing a clear way forward for those newly received into the church or seeking to deepen their faith.
Making disciples is the whole point of evangelisation, but they are sometimes misunderstood. Two definitions that have helped me are:
- Evangelisation: refers to making disciples of Christ (Matt 28:18-20) as a result of an encounter with the risen Jesus. It can also refer to the various methods a Church might employ to help it to do this eg initial proclamation, kerygmatic courses etc
- Disciple: someone who listens to God’s word and obeys it (see CCC 546) – learning from Christ and following Him. A missionary disciple being someone who, like St Andrew, calls others to meet Christ and become His disciples too.
Both of these convey something that is ongoing and growing. Parishes are beginning to see that the spiritual health of all parishioners is not something that can be left to chance – there needs to be an intentionality to spiritual growth, because if we are growing in our own faith we will be more able to help others. And ‘growing in our faith’ simply means a daily encounter with Christ; Evangelisation and disciple-making are dependent on it.
Some parishes are using online courses for their discipleship, while others have opted for written ones. In each case, they have seen the need for this to be done with others – Christianity is not a ‘do it yourself’ faith!
I hope to be able to share more of what is going on in parishes. If you would like to join us in thinking about, and praying for, evangelisation across our Archdiocese then please contact Paul at email@example.com or Natalie at firstname.lastname@example.org