Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Christ-centred Parishes

The recent World Youth Day in Cologne (right) gave our Holy Father a chance to speak repeatedly to the youth of the Church on the centrality of Christ, especially in the Eucharist. But his words are not just for the young, or those who were in Germany; they are for the universal Church. Indeed, there is much to mull upon and draw inspiration from in the words of this gentle and teaching Pope.

At the ceremony welcoming the young people to Cologne, Pope Benedict XVI reiterated the resounding words of his homily at his Installation Mass and said, "Be completely convinced of this: Christ takes from you nothing that is beautiful and great, but brings everything to perfection for the glory of God, the happiness of men and women, and the salvation of the world." These beautiful words, born of the Holy Father's richly lived experience and steadfast faith, places Christ at the central of human lives and of the cosmos. It is precisely this Christocentricity, so much at the core of the Second Vatican Council, that has still to be re-established and discovered in the parishes and dioceses of the Church. Before the Church can even bring Christ into the heart of the world, she has to find Him at the heart of her parishes and the Baptised.

All too often, I find parishes are struggling with dwindling numbers and indifferent parishioners, faced with ageing congregations and shrinking collections. Some have responded to this by trying to build 'community' and this is achieved by a host of social events, from bingo to lunches, toddlers clubs, youth clubs and concerts in church. This may be well, if our parishes were just social centres, but not enough if they are to be Christ-centres. As Dietrich von Hildebrand had the foresight to say in 1967:

"[Such activities] may have some temporary success in attracting people to church, in increasing parish activity. But they will not bring people closer to Christ; nor will they quench their deep thirst for God and for the peace that the world cannot give, that Christ alone can give. And the Kairos calls us to attract people to Christ, not merely to the parish."

(Trojan Horse in the City of God, 136)

That is clearly the crux of the matter - that people are attracted to Christ and not just to the parish. Interestingly, a lot of the above could be said of the state of parish liturgies as well - full of superficial activity but not spiritually nourishing in such a way as to ultimately draw people to Christ. This is not to disregard all the hard work and good intentions that parishes pour into their parish activities and even their 'liturgies' but it is a call for careful discernment and reform so that parish activities always strive to have Christ and the upbuilding of His Church as the focus, and not just to have a full parish-based social calendar.

As Pope Benedict commented in his Homily at the Mass at Marienfeld for WYD 2005, "Form communities based on faith! In recent decades movements and communities have come to birth in which the power of the Gospel is keenly felt. Seek communion in faith, like fellow travellers who continue together to follow the path of the great pilgrimage that the Magi from the East first pointed out to us. The spontaneity of new communities is important, but it is also important to preserve communion with the Pope and with the Bishops. It is they who guarantee that we are not seeking private paths, but are living as God’s great family, founded by the Lord through the twelve Apostles." Therefore, a Church-centred, faith-filled approach to building community is that which guarantees the centrality of Christ in our communities and indeed, in our lives.

This can often be tested by its fruit. Are parish communities vibrant in faith and thus witnessing communities that grow in love and holiness? Such communities naturally grow not only spiritually but numerically! For, it is natural that Christ-centred parishes will lead others to Him, who is their focus. Again, as the Holy Father told the youth, "Anyone who has discovered Christ must lead others to him. A great joy cannot be kept to oneself. It has to be passed on. In vast areas of the world today there is a strange forgetfulness of God." This forgetfulness is evident because parishes have forgotten to put Him at the centre of all their activities and events.

There is yet another fruit by which we may gauge a parish's spiritual health. Parish communities which are Christ-centred are also mindful of the 'littles ones' of God. As Yin Ee Kiong noted in the July 2005 issue of 'Catholic Asia News': "It's very well to run kindergartens, day care centres for old folks, officiate at weddings or funerals etc. These are important and necessary functions. But what about the wider Christian responsibilities regarding issues of injustice, human rights, religious freedom. The former activities are benign while the latter are fraught with risks. Church leaders are very good at risk free witnessing but shun away from anything that hints of risks... A Church that practices 'risk free' Christianity is only half a church." I would suggest though that this witnessing must first and foremost be a witnessing to Christ and be united with the first fruit mentioned above.

And how may our parishes become witnessing, faith-filled, people-attracting communities? Only if each person in a parish comes to know Christ and love and serve Him. They must first encounter Him in the Eucharist and the sacraments and in the teaching of the Church, coming from their parish priest. As Pope Benedict told the youth last week, "The encounter with Jesus Christ will allow you to experience in your hearts the joy of his living and life-giving presence, and enable you to bear witness to it before others." And then, we will behold the transformation of hearts and communities, of parishes and the Church, and the world.


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