Saturday, September 20, 2014

Extending the Olive Branch

At the beginning of the third millennium, Pope John Paul II called on Catholics to participate in a New Evangelization by deepening our faith and proclaiming the gospel to a world that has become secularized. This new emphasis on the Great Commission has been a great omission for most of us. The time has come to take action.

Our small parish has seen numbers reducing substantially over the past thirty years or so. We all know family members, friends, and former parishioners who no longer practice their Catholic faith. If we were to ask a hundred of them why they left, we might get a hundred different answers. In many parts of the world today, Catholics are dying rather than forsake their Christian faith. Why is it then that so many in this country are so indifferent to Christ and the Church He founded?

Several of our parishioners met over the summer in what began as a bible study, but evolved into a discussion of our dwindling numbers and what we can do about them. Some of us had read a book called Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, Making Church Matter by Father Michael White and Tom Corcoran, the story of a dying parish turned into a thriving parish. While some staunch Catholics have been critical of the methods employed in the book, the results are impressive. I was particularly intrigued by the idea of moving from a maintenance mode into a mission mode, and making the parish more welcoming.

The United States Council of Catholic Bishops website statement on the New Evangelization calls on us in a special way to focus on those who have experienced a crisis in faith at some point in their lives. Knowing that we need to take an active role, our little group decided to reach out to people who were raised in the Catholic faith, but no longer practice any religion. After much discussion on how to approach fallen-away Catholics, we opted for an informal evening of fellowship over pizza and refreshments. This gathering is scheduled for a Wednesday evening next month.

Getting our separated brothers and sisters to attend is going to be our biggest challenge. We have placed a box in the rear of the church where parishioners can leave us names and addresses of people they know who were raised Catholic but no longer practice the faith. Our plan is to send them a personalized invitation. We will also publicize the event in the local media.

Another problem is how to charitably address their concerns sufficiently in one short evening to make them want to come back. While we are trying to prepare ourselves for the common objections to the Catholic Church, none of us are accomplished apologists. We are relying on the Holy Spirit to guide us and do the bulk of the work. Most of the evening may be spent listening rather than talking.

The odds for success may be against us, but we are eager to take the risk. If we are able to bring even one person back to the Catholics Faith, the effort will be well worthwhile. If not, we will try something else. I hope to report good news next month.