Mission-oriented – planning the beginning with our end in mind

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As concrete preparations begin for the next phase of Partners in the Gospel, the question of mission takes center stage in discernment and discussion. What I am coming to realize that what appears to be a singular question is in fact multifaceted. To my count, there are actually three questions of mission:

  • What is the mission of a parish?
  • What is the mission of a parish priest?
  • What is the mission of parishioners?
A black and white illustration of two anchors sitting upright, with a chain leading off of one into a coil on the ground
Anchors: good for preventing movement! What are ours?

Anyone who is active in the life of a parish has experienced the implicit answer to these questions: that the mission is to keep what we have. The parish needs to hold fast to its position and practices, as it has always done. Father needs to stretch a little further so that parishioners doesn’t suffer any changes. Parishioners need to give and volunteer more so that the parish stays afloat. Rinse & repeat, ad nauseam. With maintaining the status quo as the highest priority, entire communities get caught in an ever-tightening cycle centered on what is known, familiar, or preferred.

The cost of this inward-looking focus is high: difficulty finding new volunteers, diminishing finances, shaky or even in-crisis ministries, and – most importantly – decreasing numbers of practicing Catholics (laity and clergy) in our archdiocese…. to say nothing of evangelization! We can see for ourselves the truth of Archbishop Etienne’s statement in his July 2023 pastoral letter, “The status quo is no longer an option. The realities of our situation call for a new response — indeed, for a re-envisioning of parish life.”

We know – at least in our minds, if not our hearts – that preaching and reaching heaven is our goal. Saint Paul’s words to the Corinthians remind us that “the world in its present form is passing away1“! But while we are here on earth, our lives are ordered – each according to their proper vocation – towards eternal life with Christ. And this is where the rubber really hits the road. Because if our end is heaven, then we have a starting place to consider what our mission should be here on earth. We’re not looking back at what was or even at what is; we’re looking forward to that which has yet to come!

Christ sits atop a cloud next to Mary, with the sun behind Him. Saints and angels are reclining all around Him, seated on clouds themselves

In my next post – later this week – I am going to talk about changes coming to my new parish family (Parish Family 49) and the decisions needing made before July 1. These decisions are bound to touch on aspects of parish life that are near and dear to everyone. Let us prepare for good discernment by keeping our eyes focused on heaven and our hearts open to the movement of the Holy Spirit as we re-commit ourselves to the mission Jesus lays before us.

  1. 1 Corinthians 7:31 ↩︎

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