Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"The parish: a new mission field"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the Oct. 25, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

This idea of the parish as a new mission field was the theme of a talk given by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin in Melbourne, Australia, a few weeks ago.

The meaning of parish has been much in our conversation these past few months in the Spokane Diocese. We have restructured all of our parishes according to civil law, while keeping in mind that a parish is part of the diocesan church and part of the church universal. We are profoundly connected to one another as part of the Church and the Body of Christ.

We live in a rapidly changing world. Strong influences include increased knowledge, mobility, and rapidly expanding communication. Each parish has its own unique personality as a community of faith. Yet, in spite of all of the opportunities for mobility and communication, Archbishop Martin makes the comment that many people live in a “social desert.” Perhaps that’s a spin-off of the individualism that we notice in our culture these days. The archbishop points out that 60 years ago, people came to Church in larger numbers than they do now. The quality of liturgy then didn’t seem to make much difference. Some of us remember the “old days” before the Second Vatican Council when sometimes parishioners might brag that their priest could celebrate Mass in less than 15 minutes. Let the Mass be quick! Thanks be to God, attitudes have changed. We know that doesn’t fly today.

Times have changed dramatically since then. The quality and beauty of our liturgies are a must. Even more importantly, parishes are communities which bring God into our world. Sacraments, especially Eucharist, help us to encounter Jesus in a special way, again and again. As the archbishop indicated, a parish community must be a community of those who believe that Jesus Christ came to reveal God’s love to us. The Church is always comprised of saints and sinners. Jesus’ mission of salvation continues amongst us as we work for renewal and conversion of heart.

Archbishop Martin talks about today’s competing forms of spirituality. We often think of spirituality as addressing our holiness of life, but he indicates that there is also a spirituality of materialism. That’s one competitor. People sometimes can enjoy the good life of material endeavors, success, wealth, and feel no need for Church. Yet, God is the one to whom we are responsible. Temporary complacency and “feeling good” about where we are can be a short term result of a “material spirituality.” Yet, ultimately, “the chickens will come home to roost.” Examination of our spirituality of life, whether as individuals or as faith communities, is a must. The archbishop observes that “A tired Church community will fall in to a lengthy slumber…. A safe, careful Church will fossilize in its security….The message of the Gospel is not yesterday’s message.”

We should remind ourselves that in one way or another, all of us are on mission. A married couple is on mission. So are parents. Neither of those lives is easy; nor is the life of a vowed Religious, or of a priest. But that is our mission.

Parishes are on mission as well. All of this work of being on mission means that each day we approach the frontier of our lives and ask ourselves what God really wants of us. Our response should be one of courage and enthusiasm as we accept the mission we have from Jesus. We are all disciples of the Lord, and the truth is that we are responsible and accountable to him.

As we think about the mission of parish, these are some factors we should think about as we strive to be faithful to our mission as faith communities:

• The parish is a center where Eucharist is celebrated. The Second Vatican Council reminds us that the Eucharist is the “summit and source” of our spirituality. As Catholics we do have a mission of supporting and participating in a celebrating parish community. Eucharist without a doubt is one of the most visible signs of living our discipleship of following Jesus.
• The quality and beauty of parish liturgies must be a high priority for all of us. Sloppiness expresses its own value, and it is not positive. Careful planning, preparing, participation, ambience are some of the items to which we need to pay attention.
• A parish community is a prayerful community. Connecting with God in prayer should not be relegated to Sunday morning Mass, but should happen many times throughout the week. Some people express this prayerfulness well through daily Mass attendance. Some do it through praying the rosary daily. Some do it through daily meditation, or an expression of profound gratitude to God for many blessings, like the sudden surprise of a beautiful sunset.
• A parish community is a loving community, generous and sensitive to all of its members, as well as newcomers or visitors. The love of Jesus and neighbor is a powerful witness in our world today that addresses forthrightly bitterness, alienation, and loneliness. Just as Jesus’ love for us cost him his life, we must always remember that love costs us as well.
• A parish community is a community of conversion of heart, where the sacrament of reconciliation constantly calls us to be mindful of how we have failed and sinned. St. Paul reminds us of the need to “put on the new person.” We are open to learning and growing in our faith. Continual faith formation is and should be high priority.
• A parish is always a community and not an island. We are called to be connected to one another in relationship as brothers and sisters in Jesus.

This is our mission and frontier. May we continue on our way together!

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