Fostering Integral Growth in Parishes

Fostering Integral Growth in Parishes

SEEKING the renewal of the Church on all levels—certainly the parish is included—the Second Vatican Council noted that everyone, regardless of one’s state in life, is called to holiness.  What are some few, pivotal steps that can be taken to develop and maintain one’s spirituality, so as to better serve in the parish?

As Jesus often went away by himself to pray, each Christian needs personal time for prayer.  This is particularly true for those involved in ministry; they need a frequent “God-encounter” to animate their ministry and maintain their focus.

Joined to one’s prayer-time is the obligation to read and study scripture.  As one meditates on bible passages, God’s Word speaks in the depths of one’s heart.  One may also profitably explore the biographies or writings of saints or read modern spiritual masters (e.g. Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton).  Also, a spiritual guide can help one uncover the sacred in one’s life and suggest ways to grow in holiness.

Qualities Needed in Parish Leaders. To foster continued parish growth a variety of spiritual qualities that characterize a genuine parish leader come to mind.  Such leaders must be firmly committed to being “missionary disciples” of Jesus.  Each day they renew their encounter with Christ; thus, as Pope Francis notes, their hearts are filled with the “Joy of the Gospel.”

An authentic quality of Christian leaders is love and respect for the Church; they read the Bible, seek to know the Church’s teachings, live its message, and spread its Gospel.  In addition, leaders actively participate in the liturgy through the celebration of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.  They are involved in the Church’s mission, specifically practicing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.  They also struggle to live a virtuous life, witnessing their faith convictions through upright living.  Their very life-style becomes a joyful proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus.

Contribution of Families to Parishes. The family is called the “domestic church” by the Second Vatican Council (LG11).  This beautiful description suggests that the community of faith begins in the home. Families beget new members for the parish and the Church.  It is in the home that the faith is first transmitted by the word and example of parents.  Love is best imbibed in the family setting; children learn to care for one another, share life in common, and to practice forgiveness and reconciliation.  Family prayer and devotions can effectively foster the faith.

Pope Paul VI encouraged families to be conscious of their mission; the Christian family should become “the evangelizer of many other families” (EN 71).  The parish, as a community of communities, is composed of a wide variety of families with different backgrounds, practices and traditions; all are most welcome!  One key parish goal is to strengthen the family, God’s Domestic Church.

A Brief Parable.  We can draw inspiration from a story of a cracked pot that served a beautiful purpose. An Indian water-bearer went daily to the river, carrying two large pots suspended from a pole across his shoulders.  One pot was perfect; the other had a leak.  Naturally, the perfect pot was proud of his accomplishments, always delivering a full measure of water.

The leaky pot apologized to its owner for its less-than-perfect service.  However, the water-bearer had compassion; he told the cracked pot that he should notice the beautiful wild flowers growing by the road-side.  They grew because they received a daily supply of water from the leaking pot.

Each day the water-bearer picked flowers; his master appreciated the beauty and fragrance they brought.  The water-bearer said to the imperfect pot: “Without you being just the way you are, there would be no daily supply of flowers for the master.”  Indeed, many diverse, small contributions make parish life beautiful!