We are drawing ever closer to the Archdiocesan Conference on Divine Renovation, which will take place here at Holy Redeemer Church for the whole day on Saturday 18th August. Over the next few weeks I would like to highlight some of the major themes of the book Divine Renovation, written by Fr James Mallon, and who will be here to present the Conference. Originally from Scotland, Fr Mallon lives and works in Canada, and was able to transform the quality of his parish through the practices explained in his book.
The subtitle of his book hints at the main purpose of his work: to move from simply maintaining our parish life and structures and to focus afresh on the fact that, as disciples, we are called not simply to attend Mass each week, but also to embrace our vocation to share in the Mission of Jesus.
In the first chapter, entitled House of Prayer, he argues that the Catholic Church is suffering from an identity crisis. This is because we have forgotten who we are, and what we are called to do as Church. The Church exists for Mission, but what exactly is that mission? The mission of the Church was given to the disciples just before the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven, when he commanded them to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). The problem that Fr Mallon sees is that as a Church we are called to make disciples, but very many of us have not really become true disciples ourselves. But the truth is clear. We are a Church that is sent by Jesus. We are all called to be a missionary by nature. That is our true identity as Catholics.
In the second chapter, entitled Rebuild My House, Fr Mallon gives us a summary of how, over the last 60 years, from the time of the Second Vatican Council up to the writings of Pope Francis, the focus of Church teaching has been on a renewal of our Church through a deeper awareness that we all are called by baptism to share in the missionary dimension of the Church.
The third chapter of the book is entitled House of Pain. Here, Fr Mallon focuses on the fact that in most parts of the world we are witnessing an institutional decline. By this, he means that more and more Catholics do not attend Church regularly, and he also highlights that many young people no longer find the Church welcoming or as a place where they can find spiritual fulfilment. Because of this decline in numbers, and also the shortage of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, many parishes all over the world find that it is a major struggle just to maintain our existing structures and practices. As a result, we are no longer driven by spiritual and pastoral zeal to go out to others and to make disciples. We no longer think in terms of sharing the gift of our faith with others.
Fr Mallon gives us much to reflect on in these opening chapters of his book. Next week I hope to turn attention to what he has to say about moving forward towards a renewed faith and sense of our parish life.
Fr Gerard, CSsR