Dear Friends in Christ:
For the last two years some of our staff members and I have participated in a program for parish leaders sponsored by a group called Parish Catalyst. We have been part of a learning group who have been studying and working together on a given topic. Our topic was The Next Generation. We looked specifically at millennials and the groups that are following. We listened and engaged scholars and experts in various fields to see how the changing culture and environment are impacting churches, believers, religious practice, and strategies on how to engage people in this new context. Overall it was most interesting, eye opening and challenging. It was also very affirming of what we are doing here at SJV. We are not perfect by any means and there are many challenges today and ahead but it was good to see that we are on the right path and that we are doing many good things. What was especially inspiring was meeting parishes from around the country and hearing the great things that they are doing to proclaim the Gospel and build the kingdom. Parish Catalyst was founded by William Simon, Jr., a successful businessman. Some of us remember his father who was Treasury Secretary in the 1970’s. Bill, a dedicated Catholic, has now turned his attention from business to see how parishes can become better and more effective.
One of the great themes is that parishes need to change focus. Instead of the plethora of things that parishes do, we should be focused on forming dynamic disciples. With that there are five characteristics that identify a dynamic disciple ~ Believes, Grows, Gathers, Loves and Leads.
A dynamic disciple is different that a follower or a member or a fan or casual observer. A dynamic disciple: Believes that Jesus Christ is true God and true man and that he came to earth, lived, died and rose from the dead to save all people from sin and eternal death; Grows in their relationship with Jesus Christ each day by continually growing spirituality and by deepening their faith; Gathers regularly with other disciples in worship (liturgy), in service, and in community (small groups of believers); Loves as Jesus loves by being the hands and feet of Jesus in their homes, work, and community; serving God and neighbor, and seeking to change lives and the world around us, and Leads others to Jesus, to faith, and to the Church.
Surprisingly, there really is nothing new in this. It is what the Church has been about for 2000 years: reading the Scriptures, The Catechism of the Catholic Church, the writings of the saints; one can see that this is indeed what we as Catholics have always been called to be and to do. At the same time, this is brand new to many, even faithful, lifelong and dedicated Catholics. I doubt that many readers of the Houston Chronicle would identify Catholics using these descriptions of a dynamic disciple. Would you describe yourself this way? If so, great. If not, why not? Would you describe our parish as a parish of dynamic disciples? If not, what are you going to do about it?
The philosopher Charles Taylor, among others, has pointed out that we do not live in an era of change but in a change of eras. While the epoch of Christendom has ended, Christianity has not. We live in an epoch of the post-modern and secular world. A world where God is not considered and Christian faith is not the standard. In this new Secular Age, there is a multitude of belief systems that shape, form, and influence society and many of these are in direct contradiction to Christian faith and belief. But as Taylor correctly points out, we have been here before. The world in which Christianity and the Catholic Church were born was one that was hostile to the disciples of Jesus even to the point of persecution and martyrdom and yet, the Church grew in numbers, impact, and influence. Before Christianity changed the world, it changed lives. Like the ancient world we are also experiencing a change in how institutions are viewed and treated. Today all institutions, not just the Catholic Church, are attacked, mistrusted, reviled, ridiculed, and even despised. We live in a culture that is anti-institutional. This applies to government, education, business, healthcare, and the media, as well as religion. But the Church is not like any other institution. It was not founded by human beings but was instituted by Jesus who is true God and true man and Jesus promised that not even the gates of hell would prevail against His Church (Mt 16).
Take a look again at those characteristics of a Dynamic Disciple. What can you do today to make this better describe you?
In pace Christi,
Fr. Troy Gately