Against Parochial Distractions

Catholics worry about the future of the Church and ponder what might be the best course of action for the Church to take.

Conferences are held on plans for the future of the Church. New organizations are formed of people who are worried about the future of the Church. Publications ponder out loud whether or not the time has come for Vatican III.

Meanwhile, Pope John Paul II's excellent plan for the future of the Church sits, waiting for Catholics to notice it and implement it — and these conferences might be part of the problem.

The Pope said recently that lay Catholics might be so caught up in the “distraction” of internal parish affairs that they've forgotten to promote the Gospel.

Register readers have heard us mention the Pope's plan for the future before.

It's brilliant in that it is eminently “doable” — you don't need a theology degree or hours of spare time — and far-reaching. The Pope has called for Catholics to promote four things, both to shore up the ranks in the Church already and to give people who are seeking Christ a place to go. He is promoting Sunday Mass, confession, prayer and service to the poor.

He first spelled out the program in his 2001 apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (At the Beginning of the New Millennium). He has followed up on the program with event after event: an encyclical on the Eucharist with key mentions of confession, an apostolic letter on confession, the Year of the Rosary and the beatification of Mother Teresa on the anniversary of his pontificate.

We confront a world of people who live as though God doesn't exist, he said in recent words to Australian bishops. This requires that we become new kinds of Catholics: Catholics who evangelize, not Catholics who are caught up in the world or in parochial distractions.

He began by observing that “the pernicious ideology of secularism has found fertile ground in Australia.”

“At the root of this disturbing development is the attempt to promote a vision of humanity without God,” he told the bishops. “It exaggerates individualism, sunders the essential link between freedom and truth, and corrodes the relationships of trust that characterize genuine social living.”

He cited “the undermining of family life; a drift away from the Church” and “a limited vision of life that fails to awaken in people the sublime call to direct their steps toward a truth that transcends them.”

“In the face of such challenges, when the winds are against us, the Lord himself calls out: ‘Courage! It is I! Have no fear.’ Remaining firm in trust, you, too, can dispel apprehension and fear,” the Holy Father said.

“The Church's witness to the hope that she holds is especially powerful when she gathers together for worship. Sunday Mass, because of its special solemnity, the obligatory presence of the faithful and its celebration on the day when Christ conquered death, expresses with great emphasis the Eucharist's inherent ecclesial dimension,” he said. In the Eucharist, “the mystery of the Church is made present in a most tangible way.”

It's the job of lay Catholics, along with bishops and priests, to stress the importance of Sunday Mass, he said. We should be evangelizers reaching out, not organizers focused within.

“Sent by the Lord himself into the vineyard — the home, the workplace, schools, civic organizations — disciples of Christ find no room for ‘standing idle in the marketplace’ nor can they be so deeply immersed in the internal organization of parish life that they are distracted from the command to evangelize others actively,” the Holy Father said. “Renewed by the strength of the risen Lord and his Spirit, Christ's followers must return to their vineyard burning with a desire to speak of Christ and to show him to the world.”