Pope Francis used the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul to warn us about complacency. After decades of Christendom, we tend to rely on the processes and habits we learned and used over and over again. The lackluster return to Mass after Covid along with ongoing trends indicating a decline in Mass and even parish community participation, make it clear that we cannot rely on the parish programs and static personal faith that have become so ingrained in our culture.
“Often we are like Peter in chains, imprisoned by our habits, fearful of change and bound by the chains of our routine,” Pope Francis says. In some of his most direct language, he encourages us to be more outwardly focused and welcoming. And to have a sense of urgency: “Christians are called to be a “church that is free and humble, that ‘gets up quickly’ and does not temporize or dillydally before the challenges of the present time; a church that does not linger in its sacred precincts, but is driven by enthusiasm for the preaching of the Gospel and the desire to encounter and accept everyone.”
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to do a mission trip to Fiji as part of the Propagation of the Faith. I saw how differently the Catholic Church can operate to respond to the people. It was one of the key points that Msgr. Lofton, our diocesan director for POF, emphasized. The beauty of our church is that, as a missionary organization, she has found ways to operate in context and respond to the needs of the people. The U.S. church has established decades of processes and rules that we sometimes allow to limit our vision. We have lots of room to dream!
What can we do? Here are a few ideas:
- Place a priority on welcome and hospitality. Focus especially on visitors.
- Challenge yourself personally. What can you read or learn? What can you do so your parish is appealing to visitors? If you bemoan what visitors experience when they do come to Mass, then what can you do to change it?
- Study and visit your community. What does the area around your church look like, and who lives there? Are you welcoming and serving them?
- Provide many options to participate in the community. Invite everyone to be part of the parish and have something they can do as part of a group even if they aren’t ready to go to Mass.
- Change your music and style for at least one Mass. Make a deliberate choice to have a liturgy that attracts and welcomes long-lapsed Catholics or “nones.”
Yes, the Mass is the source and summit of our faith and is a beautiful experience when you are open and present. But we are called to do more than attend Mass. To encounter and accept everyone, we have to invite and meet them. To accomplish this takes more people, planning, and activity. What a great opportunity to have everyone at the parish involved in a volunteer ministry!
Fr. Mallon writes about welcome and hospitality in his books, reminding us that we aren’t growing if we limit ourselves to people that look like us and already believe what we believe. In addition to flexibility and urgency, we are instructed to bring new people to understand the love of Christ. As Pope Francis said: “Everyone, everyone! This word of the Lord must resound in the mind and in the heart,” he said. “In the church, there is room for everyone! And many times, we become a church of open doors but to bid farewell to people, to condemn people.”
Terry Poplava is a multi-disciplined executive with extensive sales, product marketing, strategy and leadership experience in supporting faith organizations. Terry’s professional experience includes organizational leadership, corporate development and growth, consulting with and training church leaders, and leading strategic and priority planning for churches and dioceses. He currently serves on the advisory board for the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche in St. Augustine FL, as cantor at St. Andrew parish in Myrtle Beach, SC. and recently as Chairman of the Finance Council at St. Mary the Virgin Mother parish in Hartsville, SC.