Parishes today have great promise and high hopes. But most do not engage the mission of the Gospel optimally. We have a lot to learn–from the Lord Jesus himself as well as from the best practices of many communities that indeed do good work.
A priest friend of mine once described his parish metaphorically as a big cruise ship: the lights are on, the band is playing, the engines are humming, everything’s above water and a good time is being had by all. The problem? Nobody knows where the last port of call was and nobody knows where they’re heading.
The Aparecida bishops advocate for a structural check, with the question: Does this work for a community of missionary disciples, and not just a country club at sea:
172. Renewal of parishes at the outset of the third millennium requires reformulating its structures so that it may be a network of communities and groups, capable of being linked to one another, so that their members feel like and really are disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ in communion. What Jesus Christ “did and said” (Acts 1:1) while he was with us must be proclaimed from the parish. His person and his work are the Good News of salvation proclaimed by the ministers and witnesses of the Word that the Spirit raises up and inspires. The Word received is saving and revelatory of the mystery of God and of his will. Every parish is called to be the space where the Word is received and accepted, is celebrated and expressed, in adoration of the Body of Christ, and thus is the dynamic source of missionary discipleship. Its renewal requires that it always let itself be enlightened again by the living and efficacious Word.
Do our parish celebrations of Word and Sacrament lead our people into missionary discipleship? If not–or when they do not–it may be a cause for examining our motives, structures, and message more carefully.
For a deeper look, remember to check the English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.