PEP Newsletter

Ideas For Your Parish


May, 2020

It Won’t Be The Same

                There will be a time when churches reopen, when people gather for Eucharist, when marriages and funerals take place before the assembly.  But the pandemic has changed us all, and the parish as well.  The old skins will no longer contain the new wine.  This will be a time to imagine the parish in a new light, to realize that, as Paul wrote, “everything has become fresh and new.” (II Cor. 5)  The response of Pope Francis to the Synod on the Amazon entitled, Querida Amazonia (Beloved Amazonia), might offer a framework for an altered future.   

The Pope’s Exhortation

            When the pope’s response was published in early February, 2020, many American Catholics were disappointed that he did not allow for the priestly ordination of married men or for women deacons,  This will not be the end of the discussion, however.  As Tom Reese, SJ commented, “Francis did not say yes to married priests, but neither did he really say no.  Discussion of the matter will continue, whereas previous papacies said no to even discussing the topic.”  (Religion News Service, Feb. 14, 2020)  More significant were the four “Dreams” the pope enunciated for the Amazon region and for the world at large.  The first was a Social Dream so all are able to enjoy “a spirit of human fellowship.” (No. 20).  The second was a Cultural Dream that fosters “intercultural encounter.” (No. 36)  The third was an Ecological Dream where there is a “close relationship between human beings and nature,” (No. 41).  The fourth was an Ecclesial Dream where the “missionary proclamation must continue to resound.” (No. 62)

Dreams For The Parish

            These dreams could serve as a framework for what the “New Normal” might be for parish life.

Socializing:  Once the distancing is relaxed and people are able not just to “watch” services but to participate in person, the key word is listen.  This begins with the leadership, flows through the community and out to those on the margins who need to be included and given a voice.  They are part of the  new wine  that God is offering.

EnculturationPope Francis warns, “Factors like consumerism, individualism, discrimination, inequality, and any number of others represent the weaker side of supposedly more developed cultures.” (No. 36).  Parishes  might be quite different as diverse people search for a spiritual home that satisfies their longings. The pope goes on the say, “Let us sit around the common table, a place of conversation and of shared hopes. .  .  . Our own cultural identity is strengthen and enriched as a result of dialogue with those unlike ourselves.” (No. 37) 

Ecology:  The response to the pandemic showed that we can make changes to our lifestyles in a crisis.  Another one is staring us in the face.  Much as people would like everything to be as it was before Corvid-19, this is no longer possible.  A parish community can provide a model for care of our environment by living and preaching a simpler, cleaner, renewable way of life.  “A sound and sustainable ecology,” Pope Francis wrote, “one capable of bringing about change, will not develop unless people are changed, unless they are encouraged to opt for another style of life, one less greedy and more serene, more respectful and less anxious, more fraternal.” (No. 58)  One locus for change could be the parish, a place to pour new wine into new wine skins.

Inclusion: One aspect of the New Normal could be the increased role of the laity, both men and women.  Referring to the Amazon region, the pope affirmed, “The laity can proclaim God’s word, teach, organize communities, celebrate certain sacraments, seek different ways to express popular devotion and develop the multitude of gifts that the Spirit pours out in their midst.” (No, 89)  The same needs to continue to grow in the parish as well.  A second aspect of inclusion is connecting with other denominations and faiths.  All reflect the action of God in our world.  Including them in the new wine skins can enhance the life of the parish itself.