Wednesday, 26 October 2016

5 Ways of bringing Hope to your Parish

By Hannah Vaughan-Spruce

It’s the mantra at the end of every Youth 2000 retreat: “Going back to your parish is HARD! But stay close to Jesus in prayer, the sacraments, the Bible, Christian friends…” 

For sure, this is the reality in most of our parishes. Mediocre music, hit-or-miss homilies, and the next youngest person having been born several decades before you: yes, coming back to your parish is like coming back down to earth with a mighty crash. We go there because we love Jesus and this is where we can get close to him: receive him in the Eucharist and make things right with him in Confession. “Jesus is still there in your parishes,” we hear, “and that’s the most important thing.”

This is great advice, but do we ever wonder why it has to be like this? Why is this the reality in our parishes? At Youth 2000, we’re surrounded by other young people who have also experienced an indescribable, deep encounter with Jesus, who are on fire and excited about loving and worshipping him. It encourages us and spurs us on. We know we’re not alone; other people are striving to follow him and give their lives to him.

Imagine for a moment that this was the reality in your home parish, too. Imagine that your parish was a place you didn’t just go to on Sundays, but you were there throughout the week. A place where some of your best, closest friends were. A place where there’s amazing worship that opens your heart to God; where there is dynamic teaching that helps you understand and live your faith more deeply. A place where people are always bringing their non-Christian friends because there’s such a friendly, attractive atmosphere that draws people in. A place where people are frequently coming up with new ways to reach out to and serve people in the local area.

You know what, this is what our parishes should look like. 

Imagine for a moment, Youth 2000 as a parish (just how amazing would that be?!)… and that is how our parishes should look. For complex reasons, parishes in the West have failed to come near this reality over the last fifty years or more. They have, on the whole, failed to do what Jesus commanded the Church to do before he ascended to heaven: “Go… make disciples!” (Matt 28:19) Sadly, in many places, they are empty churches where people drift away and no-one notices.

But… God is all-powerful - he finds new, creative ways to “make disciples”. New movements and initiatives like Youth 2000 have grown up all over the Church which have been focused on making disciples. This is a real work of the Holy Spirit in our time.

Does this mean we have to just accept this is the way parishes are? That the parish “has had its day”? No! In fact, we could even say that the opposite is true. Pope Francis is calling parishes to raise their ‘disciple-making’ game, and parishes all across the world are starting to wake up to this challenge.

This is where we all come in… More than ever before, parishes need young disciples (that’s us) to get involved. Perhaps you’re at school and go to Mass at the weekend with your family, or you work and have a local parish that you attend, or even if you’re a uni student and go to your home parish only in the holidays.

Help make your parish become better. Here are five ways…

1. Don’t treat your parish like a service-station

It is SO easy to fall into this trap. We ‘fill up’ on the sacraments we need, and then go on our way. Of course, going to Mass and Confession regularly is good. But if this is all the contact you have with your parish, you can easily develop a “consumer” attitude, rather than a “disciple” attitude. Disciples want to know how they can give, as well as how they can receive.

2. Intentionally connect with others

At the end of Mass, make a habit of noticing any other young people you may not have seen before and say hello! Yes, we all know - attending a regular Catholic parish is like being on the Tube - sometimes talking and even eye contact are cultural taboos. But unless we start behaving differently, nothing will change. Imagine another young person approached you after Mass to say hi. Who wouldn’t like that?! So… reach out! Seriously, what’s the worst that could happen?

3. Disciples ask

What can I give? How can I serve? Trust me - if you approached your parish priest tomorrow and said, “What can I do to help?” you would make his day, if not, his year! For a parish to become alive again, it needs the input and gifts and creativity of all its members, not just the over-70s who normally hang out there. Serving is always win-win: the parish benefits from your talent and energy, and you always come away richer through the people you meet, the precious time you’ve been able to offer to upbuild God’s Church.

4. Share your passion, ideas and dreams

What ideas do you have about how your parish can reach out better? What passion do you have for a particular issue in your local area that your parish can address? Do you dream about how your parish can become a better place to invite people to? Share these with others. If God puts something on your heart, it is likely that through the Holy Spirit you will be able to find a way to make it happen.

5. Don’t be discouraged

If none of this sounds possible to you in your parish, here are two pieces of advice. The first one is: try somewhere else. Perhaps there’s another parish a little further away where you feel more at home, where you can get involved. When you have found that place, make it your spiritual home. Don’t flit around from place to place (remember: don’t be a consumer!). 

Secondly, pray in the church. If none of this seems possible and you can’t seem to find a parish to call home, don’t let that stop you from praying in the parish church. Praying in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament is not only spiritually upbuilding for you - it’s also spiritually upbuilding for the parish. Not one of our prayers goes unanswered.

Change in the Church always takes generations… (OK, sometimes centuries). But imagine if Catholics all started doing the five suggestions above. If we all pull in the same direction, and if we pray enough for it, there willbe renewal in our parishes. Just imagine: when your own kids are old enough for Youth 2000, they wouldn't even need it because they have it every single week in their own parish… Come, Holy Spirit, and renew the face of the earth!

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