I've just started a book that looks very interesting. "The New Evangelization: Overcoming the Obstacles," is edited by Fr. Steven Boguslawski, OP, and Ralph Martin, and published by Paulist Press. I've had the pleasure of meeting both of these gentlemen: Fr. Stephen is president of the Pontifical Faculty at the Dominican House of Studies, where I will be speaking tomorrow night. He's also the executive director of the John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, DC. He made a presentation at our Provincial Council in Oakland last year, telling us about the work of the JPII Center and the Dominican Friars' involvement in it.
Ralph Martin is president of Renewal Ministries, as well as a faculty member and director of Graduate Theology Programs in the New Evangelization at Sacred Heart Seminary, Detroit, where Sherry has spoken and where she and Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP, the other co-founder of the Catherine of Siena Institute, will be teaching a graduate course on the theology of the laity at the end of May and beginning of June. He has come out to Colorado Springs to talk to Sherry and me about the work he's involved in, as well as to find out about us.
As I mentioned, I just started reading the book, which is a series of brief articles, some of which have responses from "practitioners," i.e., people involved in full-time ministry in Catholic parishes. I began in the middle, with an article by Fr. Robert Rivers, CSP, a Paulist who has published a book, "From Maintenance to Mission." His article, with the same title, speaks of three strategies for transforming parishes into centers of the New Evangelization: promoting discipleship, becoming more welcoming and inviting, and fostering a more collaborative style of ministry.
I'd like to share a few short quotes from Fr. Rivers. "
A disciple is someone who, first of all, is in relationship with the person of Christ. A personal relationship with Christ is the good soil upon growth in knowledge of the content of the faith can take place... We are following Christ through the various stages of our life experience. This way of thinking of ourselves as baptized Christians can help us overcome a major obstacle to Catholic evangelization: inactive Catholics and people with no church family have the perception that Catholics have a religion but not a spirituality. They see that Catholics have priests, laws, structures, institutions, sacraments, and rituals, but where is the spirituality? Where is the personal relationship?" (p. 92)
My only quibble with Fr. Rivers on this point is that he refers to discipleship as a metaphor, rather than what it is, a lived reality, a call - a requirement for being called a Christian.
When Fr. Rivers speaks about our parishes being more welcoming, he doesn't just mean that we have ushers and welcoming committees or hospitality greeters. "Welcoming is about becoming, first all (sic), more inclusive, more accepting of people, no matter their color, race, ethnic origin, language, social status, or sexual orientation." In other words, we need to live up to our name and truly be universal. It is too easy for our parishes to be segregated according to race, economic status, language, and, in some cases, even sexual orientation. In my travels around the country I have had the opportunity to walk into a variety of parishes. I have heard parishioners confide in me that they're worried about "their parish" being overrun by "them." Fr. Rivers points out that so often our parishes organize themselves along these inclusion/exclusion categories, and then work to meet the needs of the "membership."
The goal of becoming more welcoming/inclusive is dependent upon us becoming disciples. The relationship and union with Jesus overcomes all of the other barriers we so often set up. This is why Paul could claim that in Christ, there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female.
Finally, the last strategy Fr. Rivers mentions is a collaborative style of ministry. Again, this goal is dependent upon developing a culture of discipleship. "When a parish knows itself as a community of disciples and all its members have gifts to share, then those members are willing to take responsibility for the identity, character, and direction of parish life. And this includes evangelization." p. 95 In fact, I would suggest that it not only includes evangelization, it would be centered on evangelization. Fr. Rivers would agree, I believe, because he calls evangelization the "one thing" that matters most to the Lord, because everything else depends upon it. In fact, I would emphasize evangelization in this strategy, because otherwise, our tendency is to focus on ourselves - and worry about collaboration in regard to liturgy, parish education and social programs, and the like. Evangelization is not just one menu option among many; it's the appetizer (as we proclaim the basic message of the Gospel), the main course (as we catechize those who have "repented and believed in the Gospel," and it's the hunger that brings us to the Eucharistic table.