Jesus gave witness to the purpose for which He was sent; His mission was to proclaim the Good News (Luke 4:43) and He calls us as His disciples to continue that mission today. Inspired by his or her encounter with the Lord, the missionary disciple seeks to witness and proclaim Christ to all people, including those who do not know Him and those who may no longer practise their faith or participate in the life of the Church. Evangelisation is a natural expression of this discipleship, as Pope Benedict XVI observed: “[d]iscipleship and mission are like the two sides of a single coin: when the disciple is in love with Christ, he cannot stop proclaiming to the world that only in Him do we find salvation (cf. Acts 4:12). In effect, the disciple knows that without Christ there is no light, no hope, no love, no future”. (Pope Benedict XVI, Address at the Inaugural Session of the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin American and the Caribbean, Aparecida, 13 May 2007)
The vitality and future of our parishes and communities depend on our desire and ability to be faithful to Jesus’ call, by cooperating with the Holy Spirit to bring others into an encounter and friendship with Jesus Christ, and at the same time allowing ourselves to encounter Him anew. The story of the Church has always been that of a community of faith into which others are grafted and grow as disciples.
Leadership was central to the ministry of Jesus who took the time to call and form a group of leaders. Leadership is a foundation of parish life and an essential part of the cultural change required if parishes are to be renewed and become more missionary. Encountering and following Jesus entails leading in His mission.
Leadership involves the ability to influence, serve and move people toward an embrace of Jesus’ Great Commission to make disciples and to the work of building God’s Kingdom. Leaders cast a compelling vision of where the community is going so that others can engage in the effort to bring about that preferred future.
The growth and health of parishes and communities also require leaders who work together. In our parishes and communities, the leadership of the priest engages the God-given strengths and talents of the lay faithful, building up the entire Church and raising up new leaders who joyfully live out the mission of Jesus in service to others. Leadership teams in a parish are a critical support to presenting and sustaining a vision and culture of missionary discipleship, for making concrete plans and deciding on priorities that bring it about.
As seen in the life and ministry of Jesus and His first disciples, community is the place in which the faith of disciples grows and the place from which they are sent out on mission.
The experience of belonging to a meaningful community is essential to the growth of discipleship as it is in the communion of the Church where we are known and loved, where Christian witness and faith are shared, and mutual support and encouragement are given. The mission of evangelisation invites people into the Body of Christ which is the Church. It is especially in the life of local communities of faith gathered around God’s Word and Eucharist that Christ accompanies the Christian faithful.
Building a life of community within our congregations calls for generous welcome and hospitality, opportunities for the sharing of faith, and healthy relationships of faith and trust. It also calls for outreach to the poor, the lonely and the marginalised with the sense that they are welcomed to and served by communities putting faith into action. One of the fruits of healthy and vibrant community is that it encourages deeper spiritual commitment to mission, inflaming a desire to invite others into Christian community. It inspires a commitment to evangelise the wider culture and to respond to all forms of injustice.
Charity is not only central to Christian community but it is also an important part of authentic witness to the transformation that takes place through a relationship with God.
Jesus’ call to us to be missionary disciples includes a call to grow in holiness, faith and understanding. The disciple is called into a gradual and lifelong process of conversion to Jesus Christ. Once a person has encountered Christ and made the decision to follow Him, the process of conversion to ever greater spiritual, intellectual, emotional and human maturity unfolds. It is reflected in a growing life of prayer, ongoing encounters with Christ in His Word and sacraments, the witness and testimony of fellow disciples, the cultivation of habits which help us to grow in virtue, commitment to receiving catechesis concerning the person and teachings of Christ, and dedicated service to others.
Each one of us is constantly maturing in our knowledge and love of Jesus, “following Him on the way” (Mark 10:52). The evangelising parish provides ongoing opportunities to be formed and grow in the Gospel as lifelong disciples, equipping the baptised to share the saving person and message of Christ with others.
As St Paul proclaims, “[i]f I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a ringing gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). Hence, the works of mercy, love and charity are an essential element in the formation and expression of Christian discipleship.
In worship, we join in the praise of the Father by the Son in the Holy Spirit. As our primary act of worship, the celebration of the Eucharist brings us into an encounter with Christ and draws us deeper into His mission. From this experience we are sent forth to invite others to encounter Christ, and to the fullness of communion with Him and His Church.
As well, the mission of evangelisation leads to the Eucharist, as the Eucharist is the fullness of communion with Christ and His Church. As Pope Francis affirms, “[t]he Church evangelises and is herself evangelised through the beauty of the liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelisation and the source of her renewed self-giving”. (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium 24) For this reason, the liturgy is an essential dimension of our growth and outreach to others, bearing the fruit of active, intentional discipleship when “preceded by evangelisation, faith, and conversion”(Catechism of the Catholic Church #1072).
In the richness of our Catholic faith, our worship of God also includes the encounter of God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Penance, Eucharistic Adoration, practices of personal and communal prayer, devotions and other forms of praise, thanksgiving and petition in which our hearts and minds are raised to God.
This worship has a social dimension as Pope Benedict XVI reminds us, “if in my life I fail completely to heed others, solely out of a desire to be ‘devout’ and to perform my ‘religious duties’, then my relationship with God will also grow arid. It becomes merely ‘proper’, but loveless” (Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est 18). Thus, the ministry of charity within a parish is inseparable from its worship.