Let’s Put New Pastoral Plan To Work!
The priest said: “It is not enough!” That was the take-away line of a homily at Mass a few weeks ago.
The theme was the last instruction that Jesus gave to his apostles: “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19).
This is uncomfortable. It forces us out of our comfort zones. Most of us are probably far happier to keep plodding along without thinking too much.
We go to Mass on a Sunday and feel comforted by the familiar rhythms of the celebration. We may feel inspired by the hymns or perhaps a moving homily. We feel the peace of Christ in the Eucharist. An hour later, we go home and feel that we have done enough.
Yet, this is the challenge of the homily I heard. It is not enough.
If we truly want to be disciples of Christ, we need to recognise that the Great Commission is for us too. It is not only priests and religious who are called to go to the ends of the earth, to evangelise and draw people into a personal relationship with Jesus.
This is the calling for each one of us.
I know a couple who took that Great Commission seriously. They left behind their home, where they were surrounded by their family, friends and the comforts of life in a first-world country. They packed up their house and flew, with young children, to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
They lived there for 15 years. During that time, they built a Christian community among the most rural of people. They brought the word of God and spiritual counsel. They responded to the practical needs of the community: education for the children, skills training for the women.
When I speak to this couple, I see great faith. I see a spirit of love and service so deep that it was willing to sacrifice everything to accept the challenge of the Great Commission.
I am inspired by them, but also recognise that I don’t have their courage and faith to leave everything behind. The good news is…this may be the calling for some. But for others, God calls us to serve closer to home.
The new Pastoral Plan places a strong focus on the need to build stronger faith communities, by evangelising inside and outside the walls of the Church.
The document says that all Catholics are called to be part of an “evangelising community”—a “community of missionary disciples of Jesus, busy with God’s work”.
The Pastoral Plan has seven focus areas which are explained in detail in the document. Below are my musings of how the goals of the Pastoral Plan could take shape in our parishes.
The family of God
Our work of evangelisation can take root only if we first minister to each other. This includes forming strong bonds of faith among each other through faith-sharing groups and programmes such as Alpha, Life in the Spirit, Life Teen, and the many other excellent programmes that we can incorporate in the life of our parishes.
For the good of all
The family of God becomes self-serving if it looks after only those already within the walls of the Church or those who meet some unspoken “standard” of perfection.
True evangelisation, however, excludes nobody. Nobody is beyond the grace of God.
A Church that is truly welcoming meets people where they are at and accompanies them as Christ’s love slowly takes shape in their lives: those who are estranged or disillusioned by the Church but yet desire a deeper relationship with Christ, divorced people, LGBT people, those living with addiction, those who are grieving or living with depression…the list is endless.
The cry of the poor
The poor don’t just want food or money; they also seek companionship. They have rich stories of having experienced God’s grace in tangible ways. Their faith would put that of many of us to shame.
Soup kitchens are a great start, but hearing the cry of the poor demands more of us. It calls us to open our hearts and truly listen to their stories. It calls us to find creative solutions to help provide for their most basic needs.
It also prompts us to ask: How can parish projects to help the poor move beyond outreach so that the poor become an integrated part of our parish lives?
Care of creation
Evangelisation is not just in the words we speak, but also in how we protect the earth God has given us.
Natural resources are becoming depleted. We’ve ravaged the land and polluted the rivers and oceans. Our rampant consumerism and the industry that sustains it has affected the climate of the entire planet.
We don’t need so much stuff. This is a call to live simpler lives, to want less and live with less. It urges us to make responsible decisions about the food, clothes, and technology we buy, how we discard rubbish and things we no longer want.
Imagine if each parish had a recycling project that could also offer some form of employment to the poor?
Worship, the Word, Formation
Our source of sustenance is the Mass. We hear the Word of God. We receive Christ in the Eucharist. At the final blessing, we are sent out to give to others what we’ve received. But we can give only if we know what we’ve received.
I’m always agreeably amazed when confirmed Catholics join an RCIA programme, often to walk with someone journeying into full communion with the Church. At the end of the year they often tell us how much they have learnt about the Church’s teaching.
Getting out of our comfort zone and attending a Bible course, an RCIA programme, Alpha, a retreat, talks and seminars all help to deepen our knowledge of the faith, which in turn deepens our relationship with Jesus and our ability to pass on our faith to others.
Seeking social justice is an extension of our worship. How can we come to Mass but be indifferent to the suffering of our brothers and sisters?
The Church must continue to be the moral voice of our society. It is our duty to speak out against injustice and what is clearly wrong.
Last year Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of Johannesburg spoke out against the violence and prejudice against foreign nationals. The Justice & Peace Commission defends the rights of the landless, the exploited, and the disenfranchised.
We are called to add our voice to these Church-based institutions and support the work they do through financial contributions and/or our expertise in some of these areas.
I would prefer to call this the holistic formation of the human person.
We can reach our full potential only if our material, spiritual, intellectual, and emotional needs are met.
We need far more retreats offered to discover who we are, and how God calls us individually to do his work.
It is by discovering our own unique God-given purpose that we can know whether we’re called to defend the rights of the homeless in our hometown or become a missionary in the DRC.
This Pastoral Plan cannot be just another document that grows dust in the Southern African Church. It is, above all, a call to mission, a call to service.
It requires the guidance of our pastors, but it must be driven wholly by a laity that is on fire with the Holy Spirit to carry out the task of the Great Commission.
It is not enough. What more is God calling me to?