What would it feel like to be part of a parish that is filled with missionary disciples? Where almost every parishioner has a fire inside them to share their love of Jesus? Where people are hungry to be nourished by word and sacrament? Where people are sacrificial in their financial giving and where they serve the community, not to ‘help Father’ but to joyfully express their co-responsibility for the life and mission of the parish? Sound too good to be true? It is important to dare to dream. The first step to a renewed parish is to have a strong vision of what an actively engaged congregation of missionary disciples might look like. In order to do that, we first need to have a clear idea of what a missionary disciple is—and is not.
A missionary disciple has been described as someone who has had a transformational encounter with Jesus and has then chosen to surrender and follow. A missionary disciple has encountered Jesus through a personal experience of the love and presence of God. As a result of this encounter, they have chosen to say ‘yes’—to surrender to God's love and God’s will for their life. They allow their entire life to be transformed by this relationship.
Missionary discipleship is not unconscious or accidental, and it is not something we inherit or culturally acquire. It is more than following religious rules, attending Sunday Mass or ‘being good’. It is not a transactional relationship with a judgemental God. Missionary discipleship requires a deliberate decision to follow Jesus Christ as a disciple in the midst of his Church.
From the description above, we can see how an increase in the number of missionary disciples might have significant implications for the life and vibrancy of a parish. Attendance, stewardship, apostolic creativity, evangelisation, vocations and catechesis are all enriched. Transformed lives transform parishes, which in turn transform the world around them.
In our parishes, we frequently hold a number of misconceptions about missionary discipleship that can seriously hinder our ability to grow life-giving and sustainable parishes.
What are you prepared to sacrifice in order to grow a parish filled with missionary disciples such as the one you imagined at the start of this article?
In a 2015 address to the Italian Church, Pope Francis said, ‘We are not living an era of change but a change of era.’ The future of the Church is in our hands. ‘I desire a happy Church with [the] face of a mother, who understands, accompanies, caresses,’ says Pope Francis. ‘Dream of this Church, believe in it, innovate it with freedom.’
As the parishes of the future emerge from this current COVID-19 crisis, may we see communities of passionate missionary disciples stand up as the difference-makers of the next generation.
We are available to discuss strategies with you and/or your team and to facilitate sessions (remotely) on many topics and issues. Just ask! Contact Lorraine on 0402 217 123 or at email@example.com.
Fiona Basile28 November 2023
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli17 November 2023