Renewing our Parishes: Prayer is the Foundation

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A womanprays in Church. Prayer is the key to parish renewal and evangelisation, No prayer – no renewal. Photo: CNS, Lisa Johnston, St Louis Review

One of the first questions that can arise for parishes seeking to grow their life and mission is: where to begin?

Often marked by numerous groups, programs, competing concerns and urgent needs, parishes can feel overwhelmed as they seek to strengthen a culture of discipleship and evangelisation.

However, the experience of growing Catholic parishes in Australia and abroad highlights a number of principles that can assist them to identify priorities and pathways for growth. Over coming weeks, I will share several ways that our parishes can put the great commission of Christ to ‘go, make disciples’ into practice (Matthew 28:19).

Families pray the Rosary at home. If we are going to seriously begin praying for our parish’s outreach to those who are searching for God’s love, we can do this in our churches as well as our homes. The domestic church – the family and the home – are perfect places to lay the spiritual foundation of parish outreach. Photo: CNS, Doug Hesse, The Leaven

It starts with prayer

As underlined by our Lenten observance, a deepening conversion to the Christ and his mission begins with – and relies upon – prayer.

The quality of prayer within our parishes is foundational to bearing fruit and growth, especially intercessory prayer in which we look not to our own interests but to those of others. A concrete sign of our commitment to evangelisation will be our particular prayer for those people we desire to know Christ more deeply.

Existing prayer groups and individuals with a gift for prayer, such as many of our elderly parishioners, can be invited to pray for these intentions. Parishes can pray for those distant from the Gospel or the Church through intercessions during Mass in the Prayer of the Faithful.

We can invite parishioners to pray a Hail Mary each day for conversions, introduce regular fasting and prayer days in the parish, or a monthly Holy Hour to pray for the parish and its mission in the wider community. Praying for our ongoing conversion as a parish and the spiritual openness and discipleship of others recognises that it is the Holy Spirit who is the principal agent of evangelisation and the one ‘who gives the growth’ (1 Corinthians 3:7).

Pope Francis greets religious sisters during his general audience on 15 January. Religious can be one powerful element in transforming parishes from meeting points into centres of an impulse of re-evangelisation which spreads out throughout the community and the world. Photo: CNS, Paul Haring

The kerygma – get to know this word

Also central to evangelisation is a commitment to place what Bishop Robert Barron, Auxiliary Bishop in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, describes as the ‘Great Story of Jesus’ at the heart of preaching, programs and ministries of parish life. Also known as the ‘kerygma’, this basic proclamation of Christ’s life, death and resurrection as the revelation of God’s saving love and mercy calls to be at the heart of renewal.

In his exhortation on the joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis affirms, “we have rediscovered the fundamental role of [this] first announcement or kerygma, which needs to be the centre of all evangelising activity and all efforts at Church renewal…it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways” (Evangelii Gaudium 164).  This kerygma communicates the loving plan of God for each one of us; the separation from God brought about by sin and its consequences; the sending of Christ, the Son of God, for our salvation, this Jesus who sacrificed his life, rose again, and gave us the Church; and the response this grace calls forth from us, to repent, believe in the Gospel, be baptised and live as a new creation.

we have rediscovered the fundamental role of [this] first announcement or kerygma, which needs to be the centre of all evangelising activity

We can sometimes assume that our parishioners or the wider community already know of this central proclamation at the heart of our Christian identify and life. However, many are still to hear this truly Good News or to allow this mystery of faith to shape and re-shape their whole lives, their relationships, projects and desires.

As Pope Paul VI shared, “the Good News proclaimed by the witness of life sooner or later has to be proclaimed by the word of life. There is no true evangelisation if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed” (Evangelii Nuntiandi 22).

Everyone’s prayers matter – from the oldest to the youngest. A family prays during Mass in the Church of St Catherine in Bethlehem,Israel. Photo: CNS, Debbie Hill

By laying a foundation of intercessory prayer in our communities, and ensuring the kerygma is at the heart of our homilies and preaching, in sacramental initiation, in our catechesis and service of the poor and those in need, our parishes offer a living and transformative encounter with Christ.

It is prayer and proclamation that offer us sure foundations for the renewal of our parishes, that keep us faithful to Jesus and empower us to live and extend His evangelising mission in the present.

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