I was born into a family of Catholics, but also blessed with connections to several other Christian denominations. The elements of faith were handed on to me at an early age. But this faith was not fully developed at that point, nor is it fully developed now. In fact, I am sure it will never be fully developed. Faith is a journey of a lifetime. We are, all of us evangelized over and over again.
As disciples of Jesus, we are called to evangelize, to share the Gospel. But while we evangelize others, we are, ourselves constantly being evangelized. Being evangelized involves learning. Some of this is formal. It is what we hear in homilies, what we are given in religious formation as children and youths. If we are fortunate our parish will offer learning opportunities to us as adults – in adult faith formation opportunities – bible study, prayer circles, reading and discussion groups and in variety of ways.
Perhaps even more important than formal learning is the evangelization we experience through life with others. The people of our lives – parents, family, our parish, friends, neighbours, co-workers they evangelize us, even if they never realize it. They and the experiences with which we are blessed (and sometimes cursed), they share the good news of God’s love and presence.
This informal evangelization is significant. In fact it is what makes us into the persons and disciples that we are. Being evangelized is more about being formed as disciples by the examples of the people of our lives. And, it is this formation that we can pass on as we evangelize others.
This is what we see happening in the Gospels. Jesus taught by example. What he said was important. What he did and how he lived, however, was what told the real story. Disciples are formed by what we live. God continually reaches out and touches us in the experiences and persons of our lives.
The revitalized, living parish community that we long for is one that is evangelizing, sharing the Good News beyond itself. It is also a faith community that recognizes that we are always in need of being evangelized ourselves. Parish communities like this are open to all, caring and compassionate to all and ready to serve not just themselves but all those they encounter.
Pope Francis, reflecting on the role of the parish had this to say: “The parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community.” (The Joy of the Gospel 28)
The revitalized and renewed parish community is not about maintenance, but about mission. It is not content to protect the status quo, but seeks to reach out and take the faith and mission journey in new directions according to need. The revitalized parish recognizes that we are always in need of renewal, adapting to new and changing realities all around us. Then, we are true missionary disciples of Jesus.
Something to think about: As we join together in a new parish, with new members, how open are we to learn from each other and live as missionary disciples in our own time?