All Things New is about vibrancy. But what does a “vibrant parish look like?” I’ll let Pope Francis answer this question.
In his encyclical “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis says that the Church is in need of a renewal that cannot be deferred. The driving impulse behind this renewal is what he calls a “missionary option.” A missionary mindset, not fighting for self-preservation, is what leads to vibrancy. He writes that:
“The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself. ” (Evangelii Gaudium 27)
The first part of all renewal begins with ongoing conversion and drawing closer to Jesus. Apart from Him, we can do nothing. Renewal, or “to be made new,” is a divine work, not a human one. Our portion of renewal is to surrender all that we have and know and to be docile to the work of the Holy Spirit in our midst. In the Gospels, renewal begins by responding to the Lord’s invitation to “Come and see” or “Come follow me.” This closeness to Jesus and personal experience of His love in our own lives becomes the foundation and source of our own mission. Pope Francis writes that:
“The Church’s closeness to Jesus is part of a common journey; ‘communion and mission are profoundly interconnected.’ In fidelity to the example of the Master, it is vitally important for the Church today to go forth and preach the Gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance or fear. The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded” (Evangelii Gaudium 23).
“An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, He has loved us first (1 John 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast … An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others” (Evangelii Gaudium 24).
Parishes become a launching point for this renewal. The Holy Father continues:
“The parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community. While certainly not the only institution which evangelizes, if the parish proves capable of self-renewal and constant adaptivity, it continues to be 'the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters.'” This presumes that it really is in contact with the homes and the lives of its people, and does not become a useless structure out of touch with people or a self-absorbed group made up of a chosen few” (Evangelii Gaudium 28).
He further explains that the Church is not the buildings, but the people, the living stones in a certain area. The renewal is personal as much as it is structural.
“The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration. In all its activities, the parish encourages and trains its members to be evangelizers. It is a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a center of constant missionary outreach. We must admit, though, that the call to review and renew our parishes has not yet sufficed to bring them nearer to people, to make them environments of living communion and participation, and to make them completely mission-oriented” (Evangelii Gaudium 28).
So the question is this: Are our parishes centers of missionary activity or are they more of a social club? Do the activities focus on self-preservation, or on going out into the community? This is the renewal we are asked to pray for.