A staff colleague had an extra copy of Divine Renovation, so I’ve been taking the book to bed the past week. Fr James Mallon has a web site, a study guide, and even a conference to back up another variation on the theme of Catholics not doing some key things well: liturgy, evangelization, discipleship, mission, and leadership.
This book is a variation on the theme of Rebuilt and Intentional Disciples. Instead of Baltimore or Seattle, the setting is Halifax, on the Atlantic Coast of Canada.
James Mallon found serving as a JP2 priest not everything he’d hoped, both personally and in ministry. Like a number of dissatisfied ministers, he took a long look at the Catholic way of doing a parish, and found it wanting. Seriously wanting.
Short chapters move the reader from Fr Mallon’s early experiences in ministry with intransigent parishioners, through the arc that links Vatican II to Pope Francis, and reflections on the dying reality of maintenance churches.
Chapter Five lays the foundation of parish transformation, and at 110 pages–more than a third of the book–I thought it was never going to end. But it does cover the essential pieces of reform. Sunday Mass is vital, including the Big Three: hospitality, music, and preaching (no surprise here–people have known this scientifically for at least thirty years). Other values: meaningful community life, clear (and high) expectations for parishioners, discernment, small groups, a relationship with the Holy Spirit, and an active impetus in evangelization.
Like the Rebuilt guys, Fr Mallon admits his efforts are a work in progress. He tells the reader when he messed up. He tells the reader how he fixed it. He had trouble with leadership, time management, and his own weaknesses. He inspired his parish to blow up traditional faith and sacramental formation for children, and while his numbers are a bit better on the commitment side, it seems the pastor thinks he can do better. My sense is that it’s better to take risks–we certainly can’t do much worse than we’re doing now.
I have a question for these authors. How do they find time to keep the renovation divine at home with all the time they spend at conferences telling other people how bad everybody else’s parish is? To his credit, Fr Mallon chats up that topic, too.
One of my colleagues in ministry once criticized his parish. His pastor, staff, and parishioners loved the latest idea. They would buy books, read them together, get excited, and … then a few months later hit up another author with another fun idea. Going with the latest idea is a great way to feel personally good, not do anything, and think things are progressing. Addicted to the new idea–as long as nobody had to make tough changes.
Sunday Mass, discipleship, evangelization, community, and discernment: viable faith communities need all of these. How does it happen without some smart visionary as the pastor or key staff person moving it forward? Read the book, and think about your own parish.