Last month the Hallam News reported on the Divine Renovation initiative. This is the second in a series of follow up articles.
Fr James Mallon’s book, Divine Renovation, sets out a powerful challenge to all of us who call ourselves Christians. He begins by asking the question – why does the Church exist? Since Vatican II, each pope has given the same answer, “the mission of the Church is mission.” The Church’s identity is as a community of people who have a living relationship with a loving God, and are eager to share that love with those who do not know it for themselves.
Through their history, the people of God have needed to be reminded of their true identity over and over again. In the time of Isaiah, the Jewish people in exile had become inward-looking. God’s message to them was, “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). When Jesus rode into Jerusalem he saw how the temple had been misused. He threw out the money changers and reminded the people, “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations” (Mark 11:17).
In our time we too have become inward-looking, and we have forgotten the great commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel to, “go make disciples of all the nations, baptise them and teach them.” (Matthew 28:19).
So whose responsibility is it to introduce others to a relationship with Jesus and his love for them? Most people find it hard to think of themselves as missionaries. Surely that is for the few with a special calling? The message of Divine Renovation is that everyone who is baptised is called to be life-long learner, learning to walk Jesus’ way, to hunger for truth, and to seek to live his life. That discipleship is what equips us to meet the universal call to mission, and our mission field is all around us – family, friends, neighbours, those we work with. Mission is bringing others to a personal encounter with Jesus who offers the gifts of God’s grace and mercy. We don’t find it hard to share our enthusiasm for our favourite TV programme, music, movie star or sport team, so why does it seem so uncomfortable to share our good news about a loving God?
Pope Benedict met with Latin American bishops at the pilgrimage site of Aparecida in Brazil in 2007. He commissioned a study of why Latin American Catholics left the Catholic Church to join other traditions, and this showed what those people had to go elsewhere to find. They looked for a personal encounter with Jesus that changed their lives. They looked for communities where people could feel accepted, valued and included. They looked for biblical learning which is not just head knowledge but feeds their spiritual growth. Finally, they looked for a missionary commitment to bring those on the edge home to the family of God. These findings ring true for our country too. Our big challenge is to make our parishes places where all are welcome and all can grow into ever deeper encounters with a loving God.