Our Journey Together from Parish to Mission
Our Journey from Parish to Mission has begun and listening sessions in parishes are already underway!
What it is...
This autumn we have a unique opportunity to contribute to the mission of the Church. Pope Francis has invited Catholics throughout the world to listen prayerfully to what the Holy Spirit is saying to us. Then we are to share our insights with Bishop Marcus, who will submit a summary document to the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales before Christmas.
We are being asked specifically to explore ten themes. You will see that they cover a lot of issues, so don’t think you have to have answers for every single one, but there is a unifying theme: how can the Church better exercise her role of offering hope to ALL the people of this generation?
Pope Francis is using this worldwide listening exercise to prepare for a Synod of Bishops which will take place in Rome in 2023. More immediately, Bishop Marcus will use the material which the process will generate in our own diocese to devise a pastoral plan according to an initiative called From Parish to Mission which he launched just before the Synod was announced. So we will be simultaneously helping the Universal Church and the Local Church!
...and what it's not...
What we are engaging in is not so much a sharing of opinions. It is deeper than that. We are being called to experience personal renewal. If we open our minds and consider these themes prayerfully, the Holy Spirit will enlighten us.
The act of listening is a demanding one. It requires us to empty our minds of pre-conceived notions which may not be of God. It requires faith: do we truly believe that God wishes to speak to us in the depth of our being? It requires resilience: the Holy Spirit will reveal things to us in his time and as he wishes. It requires obedience: our entering into this exercise will demonstrate our humility and our desire to be true disciples of Jesus.
Who it's for...
The initiative will lead not only to our personal renewal but also to the renewal of our Diocese, which is composed of different parishes, religious communities, schools, groups and institutions. For we will be listening not just to the Holy Spirit speaking to us from within but also to the same Holy Spirit speaking to us through our brothers and sisters. Respectful, attentive listening to their insights will strengthen the bonds of charity which unite us.
As we engage in this process we will become more ‘synodal’ as a Church, that is to say (according to the Greek origins of this word) a Church whose members are “journeying together along the same way.” We are walking on the path with Christ who reveals to us the truth about our lives and who gives us life, life in abundance. As we journey along, we experience a radical equality: the highest dignity of each Christian lies in the fact that he or she is Baptised. Every Christian shares in Christ’s prophetic office. Each of us has something worthwhile to say.
The heart of what we are about in this listening exercise is expressed in the three words which the Pope has chosen for the theme of the Synod.
What Three Words?
Communion, Participation, Mission
The first word, ‘communion’ helps us to understand who we are as members of the Church. Through our Baptism we have entered into an eternal relationship of love with God our Father. We are his sons and daughters, we are members of the Body of Christ, his Son, and we are Temples of his Holy Spirit. We are in God and God is in us.
As sons and daughters of the one Father, we are also in communion with one another. We are all part of one family, the Church. And our family is a sign which brings unity to the whole of humanity.
The second word ‘participation’ reminds us that we are not just members of the Church: we are called to be agents of change within the Church. When Bishop Marcus goes on visitation to parishes he often reminds parishioners that they are not there to help the priest; rather he is there to help them fulfil their roles as disciples of Jesus. Bishop Marcus wishes to foster a sense of co-responsibility (a word used by successive Popes) so that each member of the faithful may discern how they can best contribute to the building up of God’s kingdom using the charisms granted to them by the Holy Spirit.
The third word ‘mission’ describes what the Church is for. She exists to spread to others the good news that Jesus Christ died to take away our sins and rose again so that all people might have eternal life. The Church is always outward-facing. We might say that in our own time we are rediscovering this dimension of the life of the Church. The listening exercise in our own Diocese will be an expression of what is known as ‘the new evangelisation’. This involves re-proposing the gospel to a society which has been profoundly influenced by Christianity but whose members have fallen into religious indifference and scepticism and experience deep sadness as a result.