SHOWING THE WAY TO GOD
Pope Francis’ prayer intention for parishes is timely. Not only in Australia but throughout the Western world, parishes have experienced great changes in recent years. The number of active parishioners has diminished, accentuated by the COVID restrictions. Due to smaller numbers of clergy and parishioners, too, parishes have amalgamated and reduced the number of Sunday Masses. The ageing and diminishing size of parishes have also affected church revenue, making it more difficult for Bishops to support outreach programs.
These changes can seem gloomy. They are certainly challenging. Many parishes, however, have shown great energy in developing online ministry to bring Sunday Mass into people’s homes and to connect people in other ways. They have also involved themselves strongly in the discussions leading to the Plenary Council and committed themselves to the reform necessary for a changing Church to flourish in a changing world.
Pope Francis’ intention reflects on what parishes must be like regardless of size, of their balance between young and old, rich and poor, and of whether in them English is the first, second or seventh language. Pope Francis places communion at the centre of parish life. It gives birth to communities. For Catholics communion is a rich word. It is about things that are central. It refers to the sharing of Christ’s body which is the heart of the Eucharist we celebrate. It refers to the unity between local churches through their unity with the Bishop of Rome. It also describes the inner union of Christians with Christ through prayer.
More recently communion has gathered together all these different aspects of union with God, with one another in our local church, between priests around the Bishop, between local churches with one another and with the universal church through the Pope. It embraces the movements of the heart in which we love and thank God, see our fellow Catholics, local and universal, as our brothers and sisters in the Lord who are members with us of Christ’s body, and who are taken into the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Pope Francis spells out what communion means for the parish. Where there is communion, strangers become friends and form a community built on their common calling by Christ. They are united by their faith – not just believing the same things but also holding Christ in the centre of their hearts. Their faith makes them want to know the people who share it, and to pray together. A shared personal faith turns strangers into brothers and sisters who can disagree with one another while listening to one another and working together.
Pope Francis also insists that the parish should welcome people in need. Welcoming means more than waiting for people to come and providing resources to agencies that help people in need. It means that just as our communion makes us reach out in prayer to Catholics and other parishes all around the world, so it leads us to go out beyond the church doors to meet and befriend the people in need in the local area. We share our lives with people in need and with others who serve them.
Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ
Feature photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels.