The Church today is living through challenging times characterized by dramatic change. In the words of Pope Francis, “We are not living through an age of change; we are living through a change of the ages.” What does he mean by “a change of the ages”? St. John Paul II described it this way:
“Even in countries evangelized many centuries ago, the reality of a ‘Christian society’ which, amid all the frailties which have always marked human life, measured itself explicitly on Gospel values, is now gone” (Nove Millienio Ineunte, 40).
We are living through the collapse and the disappearance of a distinctively Christian society. For the past 1500 years, the Church has largely lived within a society that respected the values she espoused and the way of life she lived. The life of the Church was found in the parish, which for many was a kind of vital center for their lives. People looked to the parish as a home, where they found support, guidance, healing and community life. That too has changed.
Many parishes are being hit hard by this “change of the ages.” Instead of finding itself at the center of life, a place where people gather to find life, many parishes are experiencing serious decline in attendance, and a growing indifference to the life and message she offers.
This is a new situation for Catholic parishes in the United States and Canada. We have moved from what some have described as a “Christendom age” to a new “Apostolic age.” The Christendom age, characterized by a maintenance mode of ministry, that is, providing the sacramental life and teaching to the large numbers of people who were participating in the life of the Church, is no longer effective because people aren’t coming to the Church like they used to.
To meet this new challenge, parishes have to change. They need to operate in an “apostolic mode,” to become missionary. That kind of change is difficult, but it is absolutely essential. Change is always challenging, especially when we’re not exactly sure how to proceed. It’s hard to start moving toward your destination if you don’t know where it is or how to get there. This is exactly where many pastors and parish staff’s find themselves today. Stuck, not sure how to proceed.
It’s for these pastors and parishes that we’ve put together a new DVD called Renewing Today’s Parish: A Perspective from Priests. The DVD is a collection of five encouraging and informative interviews with priests and lay leaders who have found effective ways to move their parishes from maintenance to mission. The interviewees include Fr. James Mallon, the pastor of St. Benedict’s parish in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and author of Divine Renovation; Fr. John Ricardo, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel parish in Plymouth, Michigan; and Msgr. Charles Pope, pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian parish in Washington, DC. In addition, Tom Corcoran, co-author of Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, and one of the key leaders of the Church of the Nativity parish in Timonium, Maryland, and finally, Deacon Michael Thoennes and Mary Hagar, from St. Timothy’s parish in the Archdiocese of St. Paul, Minnesota and co-founders of Core Ministries.
Each one of these people have an inspiring story to tell about parish renewal. First, that parish renewal is possible! And second, that change and genuine renewal is not dependent upon the size of your parish, how much money you collect every Sunday, or whether or not you have a spectacularly gifted pastor.
I want to invite you to take the time to hear their stories. I know you will be glad you did.
This weekend only, April 1-2, Renewal Ministries is offering a special price on Renewing Today’s Parish: A Perspective from Priests. Click here to order the DVD with five episodes of The Choices We Face for only $5—more than fifty-five percent off the retail price!