Faithful Aspirations – How can we make room for everybody in the church?

Faithful Aspirations
Frank DeSiano – America Magazine
How can we make room for everybody in the church?

I was stunned. I had asked a prominent leader in evangelization, a priest, if he thought his parents were evangelized. He shook his head “No” and explained that he did not think his parents were disciples in the sense in which the church calls Catholics to be disciples today. I wondered: If they were not disciples, if generations of Catholics over centuries were not disciples, then have we developed too high a definition of discipleship?

In his first apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel” (No. 3), Pope Francis sounds a very open note, one that should get our full attention:

I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.”

Something like this more inclusive approach might be a key ingredient to include in our thinking about and practice of evangelization.

A few years ago, it was popular to cite some words of Pope Benedict to the effect that the church had to become smaller, to shrink in order for committed Catholics to show themselves and support each other. This seemed to lead to an attitude in which some priests were somewhat willing to see Catholics slip away because they were not “true” Catholics in the first place.

I have often observed how that “smallness” happens in parishes. A group of parishioners gets “more involved” through one or another process—perhaps a prayer group or some parish program. This group then starts looking at the rest of the parishioners as somehow “doing less” than they should. As this smaller group starts to talk, they imply that the rest of the parishioners—who come to Mass and maybe even serve in one or another ministry—are not really committed or are not really evangelized or are not really disciples. Once this dynamic sets in, you can bet the process of evangelization ministry, or renewing the parish, will come to a standstill.

Looking at Assumptions

Sherry A. Weddell, in her influential book Forming Intentional Disciples (2012), says that “in calling Catholics to a deliberate discipleship and intentional faith, our goal is not to create a community of spiritual elites. Rather it is to create a spiritual culture that recognizes, openly talks about, and honors both the inward and outward dimensions of the sacraments and the liturgy.” This is related to her argument that many Catholics receive sacraments externally without the inner transformation and conversion that they imply. “The majority of Catholics in the United States are sacramentalized but not evangelized,” she writes.

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