In today’s gospel we hear Jesus proclaim what he has come to do – “to bring glad tidings to the poor….to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” This is OUR mission as well! And how we do that mission can have a great impact. In the one and a half years that Fr. Mark and I have been here, we have done a lot of observing and a lot of listening. We have spent many hours in discussion with staff, parishioners, and parish leaders. In our short time here, we have received much affirmation for some of the “changes” that have been initiated. We are told of a new energy and revitalized spirit. A universal concern has been a significant decline in Mass attendance. Over a period of 13 years OLM saw a decline of 20%. In the time Fr. Mark and I have been here, attendance has increased 13%. Last fiscal year OLM had the highest percentage increase in the Sunday collection among the 124 parishes in the Diocese. Fr. Mark and I do not and cannot take any credit for this……it is God working through the Holy Spirit touching people’s hearts and lives through HOW ministry is being approached at Our Lady of Mercy.
On January 8th I made a presentation to the leaders of all the ministries and organizations of OLM explaining the shift in the “how” I want us to undertake. It is modeled on the words of Pope Francis: “I dream of a missionary option capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.” We are undertaking a shift from a “maintenance mode” (we’ve always done it this way) to a focus on mission – to giving people the opportunity to meet Jesus, not just an institution. The institution (Church) is important….she holds up the highest standards of truth and morality. But many people give up trying to reach and live those standards because when they reach out to the church they are judged and condemned, told they have to change first, have no personal relationship with Jesus, and no communal support to even try to live as Jesus calls us to live. The old “pray, pay, obey” doesn’t work anymore. Obedience motivated from a converted heart that has met Jesus is true obedience. Obedience motivated by rules and fear misses the point. Jesus mingled and ate with sinners. He didn’t tell them to change first before he would meet with them. And I believe His accepting people where they were in their life, gave them the power to make needed changes.
So, I’ve asked all staff and ministry leaders to adopt a spirit of radical welcome here at OLM recognizing that every person has a unique journey and story that needs to be heard and respected. When someone calls or comes to our offices to request a baptism, wedding, funeral or registration in RE, I don’t want the first thing they hear is: “are you a registered parishioner?” I want our staff and all of us to approach every person who comes to us as sent by God for a reason. The attitude of welcome and invitation must permeate all we do at OLM. I want to give people a reason to come back, not leave. I want people invited to experience ALPHA and discover a totally new relationship with Jesus and His church. Each organization and ministry needs to ask the question… how does what we are doing, including how we celebrate Mass at OLM, bring others closer to Jesus? I’ve asked the staff, our parish leaders, and now I ask YOU to join the mission of radical welcome and invitation to ALPHA – as a permanent shift in our thinking at OLM!
Have a blessed week!