by Sue Jones

Bishop Barron’s article “Getting out of the sacristy: A look at our pastoral priorities” (NZ Catholic, August 12) raised questions about evangelisation. How are we, as Catholics, to evangelise? What is evangelisation? Who does what? Is it something we do, or is it a life God lives in us? Or both? We perhaps now realise that we need to get out of the sacristy. Does this mean the end of ministry for the laity and, if it does, what are we to do without ministry and all that it means to us and the parish?

The bishop puts up a good case for programmed evangelising in the secular world. He speaks fondly of parish life and its goodness. He says that two or three generations ago we could trust that many people would come to our institutions to be evangelised. It seems that is no longer the case and we must, he says, heed Pope Francis’ words and “get out of the sacristies and into the streets”, and go “to the existential margins”.

None of this is new. The laity have been trying to get out of the parish to evangelise since Vatican II. We were told long ago to go to the “cutting edge”.

Technology has given us new ways of evangelising and Bishop Barron is taking advantage of those technologies.

But is there a case to be put forward for evangelising within the parish itself? One has to ask how we got into the sacristy in the first place and why we can no longer trust that our children and other seekers who suffer the angst of “existential margins” within themselves
no longer come to our parishes to be evangelised.

We who are actively making parish life work, maintaining the human structures we have created, wanting to be “inclusive” perhaps cannot see what is lacking in our lives, but our critics outside the Church can. Do we listen to them? Do we hear the silent words our absent friends with existential angst whisper? These people do not want to be included in what they see. They need something other but cannot articulate that.

So how do we leave the sacristy? Do we need an exit strategy? Sacristies are pretty small places. In a worshipping community relatively few people are in them but there seems to be a mentality that has come with ministry and lay hierarchy that those few people are
leaders in holiness and mission in the parish. There is some truth to this. Why else would Pope Francis speak to such a comparatively small number of people? Perhaps he is also addressing the “sacristy mentality” that filters down from the few to the many.

Have we now grown into a situation in which it is normal for people to think that lay ministry in the Church is the height of the life to which the Gospel calls us?

Exiting the sacristy is not easy. An uncomfortable gap opens up in life. It feels as if someone else is putting a belt around us and leading us somewhere we would rather not go.

Pope Francis has exhorted us recently to live saintly lives. We do this by turning from sin to live the Gospel. It ain’t easy, it takes time and spiritual effort, but it works.

Another way we can be saintly, and this is often the mark of the saint, is a willingness to give up things that we consider spiritually good in order to discover something unknown but hopefully better.

This ain’t easy either, but it brings us closer to God and to the life of his Son. Can we risk giving up the sacristy and its “life” in order to discover something better, some other Life?

We can if we are led by a shepherd in our daily midst. Being open to being evangelised
is receiving and sharing, (without the “sacristy mentality” putting up barriers) the way the Word touches us, through our thoughts, in our words and in our deeds.

We can, as laity, build up the parish and at the same time celebrate and work with the Word present in the lives of others around us. Women will lead the way in this life. We can do more than one thing at a time and mothers particularly are less likely to institutionalise this sort of evangelising life.

Catholic motherhood, the evangelising of children, is not a ministry. God forbid that it ever should be such. Of course there is a place for targeted, programmed evangelisation
such as undertaken by Bishop Barron and his team. Equally there is a place to come into and go out of the Word in a more round about lay sort of way.

Mary, the Mother of God, no doubt enjoyed and even needed Nazareth when bringing up her Son, preparing him for public life.

Mothers need an evangelising parish life. We need the parish to be a family of families. If we do not move with spiritual support towards the Word with our children in tow, we will continue the default position which says that it is OK for mothers to leave the evangelisation of their children to a post-teenage time, trusting that someone else might evangelise them. That does not seem Catholic to me, but I could be wrong.

Sue Jones is a writer from Mahia Beach.

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