As we journey deeper into Lent, the choice is ours - a mission or the Matrix.
If you saw the movie, you know the red pill or blue pill choice that was presented to the hero, played by Keanu Reeves in "The Matrix," is also how Pope Francis speaks of parish renewal. It is a choice for intentionality in the midst of a culture that would rather we just sleepwalk through life, with no real purpose other than to feed the economy. Lent is intended to be a time of disturbing questions that lead to new and vital growth. And the Gospel certainly poses larger-than-life questions to anyone who encounters Christ.
I recently assisted the parish vitality team at St. John Vianney Parish in Orchard Park to face difficult questions, and to forge from the answers, a new parish vision - "to be a place where Jesus is known, not just known about; a place where anyone can belong and everyone makes a difference."
Vital parishes do not just happen. Folks must be "all in" to achieve vitality. What about your parish or group? Are your folks "all in" or are they standing around waiting for something to happen to them?
Do you have a compelling, Christ-led purpose or is there a dream-like quality to the routine of coming to church? Through the Catholics Come Home campaign, we have been commissioned to keep the faith, but not keep it to ourselves. Did you know that the parish is bigger than those who attend on Sunday? Thriving parishes know that real success comes from asking the right questions, not just doing the right things.
In "The Joy of the Gospel," our pope quoted Blessed Paul VI: "The Church must look with penetrating eyes within herself; ponder the mystery of her own being. ... This is the source of the Church's heroic and impatient struggle for renewal."
Why not join St. John Vianney Parish, or nearby Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Elma, and so many others who are committed to asking the penetrating questions.
This Lent, isn't it worth asking our people in every parish organization and ministry to prayerfully consider how we might fulfill lofty ideals such as:
How can we welcome people with warmth and sincerity?
How do we express a distinct and compelling sense of purpose?
How might we engage newcomers in our mission or ministries?
How can we enlist regular parishioners to give witness to their faith in action?
How do we encourage young people to exercise leadership?
How do we think creatively about the challenges facing the larger community?
How might we sponsor faith sharing in every parish activity so we grow as intentional disciples of Jesus?
Lent is the time to go deeper with those who have shown a commitment to live their baptism. Thriving parishes often report real vitality springing from small Lenten groups that ponder the larger-than-life questions.
Recently, Immaculate Conception Parish in East Aurora had tremendous success with a program called Good News People. St. Mary Parish, Swormville has had years of success with the program, Christ Renews His Parish. All Saints Parish in Lockport and St. Amelia in Tonawanda have recently begun the Christ Life process.
A delegation from this diocese will be attending the national Christ Life training event in Baltimore from March 18 to 20. The Christ Life process invites the larger-than-life questions that arise when we encounter Christ, follow Christ, enjoy and share Christ. The Christ Life process can start after Easter, in the fall or next Lent. Why not come along to find out more?
The larger-than-life questions are worth asking, this, and every Lent. Call the Office for Evangelization and Parish Life at 716-847-8393 for more information.
Dennis Mahaney is director of the Office for Evangelization and Parish Life.