The way to set England and New Zealand ablaze is to make of our parishes oases of mercy, which radiate Christ.
How and why Catholic parishes could go about developing further in this direction, in the context of the new evangelisation, was explored in a talk by English Bishop Nicholas Hudson at Hamilton on November 5. He had spoken at Rotorua the previous day and was also one of the keynote speakers at Christchurch diocese’s Ablaze Parish Renewal Conference on November 10-11.
A former rector of the Venerable English College in Rome, Bishop Hudson made frequent references in his talk to Evangelii Gaudium (the Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis’s 2013 apostolic exhortation.
He noted how Francis is solidly in line with the type of evangelisation envisaged by other post-Vatican II popes, but in Evangelii Gaudium, Francis is emphasising the need for parishes to be strategic about their approach.
In modern times, all Catholics — practising and non-practising — are all in need of evangelisation, as are those who have not heard of Christ.
So evangelisation is directed towards “those who have been initiated into a relationship with Christ and adhere; those who have been initiated and don’t adhere; and to those who haven’t met Christ”.
“In order for parishes to be truly missionary, [the Pope] believes they need to rethink their approach, rethink the goals, structures, styles and methods they employ to be more missionary.”
Bishop Hudson gave an example from his own archdiocese of Westminster, where he is an auxiliary bishop.
“Where I come from, parishes have found it helpful to review their evangelising activities under four headings — prayer, caritas (charity), faith formation and marriage and family life.
“To these four categories . . . I would suggest adding a fifth — namely new evangelistic outreach. This I add because there will always be a danger that parishes evangelise inwardly without looking outside of themselves sufficiently.”
Bishop Hudson pointed to Pope Francis’s call for a process of discernment, purification and reform by local churches. But being strategic does not mean parishes starting from scratch . . . in most parishes there is already a great deal going on that is evangelising, the bishop continued.
“Part of what we should be about in this resolute process of discernment is to celebrate what we already do, but then to ask what more the Lord may be calling us to do in the light of Evangelii Gaudium”.
And another thing essential to this process is the formation of an evangelisation team in each parish. “This whole process of discernment presumes you have a group to lead it,” Bishop Hudson said.
“And for this you need an evangelisation team. The discernment about evangelisation in the parish can begin either before or after you have formed an evangelisation team. But to have a team is essential.”
“Prayer is essential before choosing the group and also once the group has been chosen. They need all to be people for whom prayer is at the heart of their lives.
“The priest should most certainly be a member of the group, but doesn’t necessarily need to lead it.
“The team should represent the diversity of the parish, the diversity of ages, occupations, ethnicity, and everything in between.
“Belonging to the team should be their main parish role, not just an additional one. It doesn’t mean that the team members will be the evangelisers, the purpose of the team is to help the parish to be mission focused. Sometimes the team is described as the mission conscience of the parish. [The team will] discern new evangelising initiatives for the next three years or so and [will] come up for strategies to resource them. For this they will need formation and clear terms of reference.”
Bishop Hudson suggested it is useful at this point to define what is meant by evangelisation.
“I would like to suggest that evangelisation is at heart about the communication of a relationship, a relationship with Christ in word and deed and in such a way that makes people ask, who is this Jesus whom you love and worship?”
He quoted American Bishop Robert Barron; “An evangeliser is someone who is not just a worshipper, though, but is in love with Jesus Christ and what they are about is nothing less than Christifying the world, as the Second Vatican Council called us to do.”
Bishop Hudson noted that Pope Francis’ stress on mercy is “such a gift to us”. This is “because mercy acts like a lens through which to make our evangelising endeavours Christifying, Christocentric”.
“If we proclaim mercy, we proclaim Christ”.
He moved on to discuss the indispensable link between the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and evangelisation.
Down to earth and feasible examples on how to implement the new evangelisation using the corporal works of mercy, which are cited on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops website, were put forward by Bishop Hudson.
“Under visit the sick, for example, it has several suggestions; give blood, spend time volunteering at a nursing home (get creative and make use of your talents); Take time on a Saturday to stop and visit with an elderly neighbour. Offer to assist caregivers or chronically sick family members on a one time or periodic basis. Give caregivers time off from their caregiving responsibilities so they can rest, complete personal chores or enjoy a relaxing break. Next time you make a meal that can easily be frozen, make a double batch and give it to a family in your parish that has a sick loved one.”
Doubtless families in your parishes and doubtless even some of you are doing such things, the bishop said.
“But a systematic review of how we might organise ourselves as a parish to help many more people take up such ideas, could lead to a much louder proclamation of mercy.”
Bishop Hudson then turned to the topic of proclamation, stressing that “telling people who the Lord is for us is vital too if we wish to be parishes who radiate Christ”.
“What we are being asked to realise is that we would be selling the works of mercy short if we focus only on deed — we also need to focus on word, including our telling people who we believe the Lord to be. Francis have been clear about this,” he said.
The bishop gave examples of how the spiritual works of mercy might be used in such a context: Helping others escape doubt, helping overcome ignorance, being close to the lonely and afflicted, forgiving those who have offended us, rejecting all forms of anger and hate, showing the kind of patience God shows, commending our brothers and sisters to the Lord.
At the heart of this is a core proclamation: it is simply telling people “Jesus loves you, his self-emptying death on the cross saves you from selfishness and sin, now he walks with you every day”.
Pope Francis makes “it even simpler sometimes — saying that all we need to proclaim is that Jesus loves you and walks with you every day”.
This core proclamation is really communicating a relationship one has with Christ, in word and deed, in such a way that people ask, who is this Jesus whom you love and worship?
This has implications for all levels of catechesis, Bishop Hudson said. He referred to writing by Fr James Mallon that “we should be making the story of who Jesus is and of how others have testified to that a part of all the conversations with those we are catechising, whatever their age and stage of faith”.
Bishop Hudson concluded by saying that “evangelisation begins, in prayer, on our knees”. “If more and more people in our community are doing the same, giving themselves daily both to the Lord in prayer and giving themselves daily to their neighbour through acts of generosity, self-sacrifice, charity and loving kindness, then little by little our parishes will become something like what St John XXIII and now Pope Francis were hoping they might be; oases of mercy which radiate Christ, beacons of light which put fire into our hearts and the hearts of those who behold them — in short, we will find our parishes become missionary in ways we never dared to imagine”.