On Time of the Church, Daniel Ang shares excerpts from his opening address at a clergy conference for pastoral renewal in the Lismore diocese (NSW). While I admit that the area of pastoral planning is not my forté, Daniel’s words provided food-for-thought in light of this ministry that is Keeping Company. As such, it is from this perspective that I seek reiterate who we are, what we are about, and the general direction in which we may head.
Daniel is primarily in the office of pastoral planning for the Parramatta diocese. His field of expertise is, as I see it, in the clockwork, so to speak, of the life of the parish (generally speaking) that closely impacts on liturgy. Without his contribution (along with the many others in similar positions and areas of ministry), the life of the Church as a whole would be far from dynamic, creative and enriching. (So thank you!)
In his view:
Here in Australia, in the midst of a Royal Commission, we know that this process of self-reflection, self-understanding and scrutiny is essential to our faithfulness into the future. Words need to be spoken and truths be told.
This need of self-reflection and scrutiny extends also to our parishes which, as local communities, are called to bring the Gospel into contact with the unvarnished reality of a particular people in a particular place.
… It is in the parish where the meaning of faith is mediated to contemporary culture, and it is the parish that remains the most important locus in which the mystery and contradictions of human life meet the healing company of God. For many, the parish simply is Church and they know no other.
While the subject of the Church’s disclosure in regards to the Royal Commission, is not typical of the material presented here on this blog, with its style being more reflective, it nevertheless brings up a point of great relevance, which has to do with debunking myths and speaking the truth.
In calling a spade, a spade, the Commission has fuelled the urgency for the Church as a whole, to be self-reflective, radically honest, and humble in our admission of brokenness.
That the church community is also by and large, the first point of reference for many people when it comes to communal faith-sharing and identifying, is true. The church is a ‘safe spot’ to talk about God, to discuss one’s faith and to express one’s catholicity. This mentality is true in the presence of youth groups and other ministries, encouraging a greater consensus among large masses of people that it’s OK to be at church. Yet if the parish is so accepting and welcoming, where are the people? Daniel presents this as “a significant disconnect between what is understood to be ‘going on’ in our parishes and people’s larger lives, struggles and aspirations.”
Hence, we have the invitation to be a Church of self-reflection, self-understanding and scrutiny in the promotion of truth, justice and compassion. In order to bridge any disconnect between one party and another, deep self-reflection needs to happen, coupled with radical honesty.
Many are jaded in their response to the Church, with the faith and religion as a whole. An all-too-common expression looks at the relevance of God in our ordinary, daily lives. On a parish level, dwindling numbers along with the conversations I’ve had also suggest a similar disconnect. Many who have been born and brought up Catholic for instance, leave the church-going and praying to the previous generation, finding little gain out of it. Some don’t get this or that out of the liturgy, and seek a cooler, more contemporary expression of faith. Some feel that the Church is out of touch and so far removed from their needs and wants. Some just switch off from boredom altogether because the Mass is no longer a highlight in their week, let alone necessary. While there are hopeful examples where this is not the case, it is nevertheless resonant in the point Daniel makes about a consumerist culture within the parish. That its members seem to be more like consumers than disciples. Citing American priest, Michael White, Daniel mentions:
It had become common for the parish to be treated as if it were ‘there for me’. It had become a mere provider of services, filled with programs and services to cater to ever increasing demands, but it was not a community of mature, convinced or missionary discipleship.
But for whatever explanation ultimately come the intrinsic questions we have discussed before, at least in the About page:
Who are we?
How do we express this identity; what are we about?
How are we to promote the values with which we identify?
Interestingly, Daniel mentions that the work of Sherry Weddell, “…has been to acknowledge quite candidly how our parish cultures can work against discipleship by their almost complete silence on the subject.” Against discipleship? Against? How might this aid the call for pastoral renewal in our church communities? The point is found in the detail:
To the extent that we don’t talk explicitly with one another about discipleship, we make it very, very difficult for most Catholics to think about discipleship. (Weddell, Forming Intentional Disciples, 56).
Again, the mission of the Church and the response of discipleship comes back to one’s own self-understanding and self-awareness of who we are as Catholics, as Christians, as people of faith, and even as human beings.
That is why, our dream as well as our challenge in this endeavour at Keeping Company, is not primarily about the amount of noise we make or the press we receive (though I’m sure it may help!), but in working closely with each other, as members of God’s community, to define and refine our understanding of who we are as a people, and community of faithful. There are those among us who might not have a strong sense of ‘church’ or ‘family’ or ‘community’, but God is never absent from these. In our various ways, we hope to continue to be a source of encouragement on this journey, a place of respite for the weary and point of inspiration to aid each one along in their own personal journey toward God. When I say that we’re here to ‘keep company’, that is precisely what we hope to do; to be a means of support and nourishment for one another, to be life-giving and enriching, and to be people for others. What I have learned so far from my time with the FCJ Sisters is a profound respect for each person, in receiving them as individuals loved by God, and in meeting them where they are. And in true Ignatian style, the foundation of such mission work lies in a strong, faithful and devoted relationship with the person of Christ, through prayer and daily life.
So in conclusion, I invite you to reflect on who you are in the sight of God, and perhaps, if practicable, how you are being called as a disciple. Because in all honesty, the coolest thing you can be is as God made you and wants you to be – you!
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Written by Geralyn
for Keeping Company