Recently, I was reminded of St. Augustine, who when speaking to the people of Hippo, remarked that his deepest satisfaction, strength and consolation, and the challenges that awaited that local church rested in the fact that he was a brother in Christ to so many of them. This was particularly moving to me in light of a recent address I presented at the Diocese of Saginaw Lay Ministry Assembly in November. During my address, “How a Church on the Move Functions,” it was important to drive home the point that we must always pray that our local church grows in the grace of our baptism. We pray we grow in faith, hope and love.
Together, we are called to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the truth about the world, and the truth that leads us to our true and common home, the New Jerusalem, the city of the living God. This proclamation of the Gospel in the Diocese of Austin is expressed through 127 churches with their religious education programs, 22 Catholic schools, Catholic Charities of Central Texas, clergy and religious, and a host of dedicated lay ministers. When we explore how a church on the move functions, we must recognize the role of the laity who possess an indispensable role in the mission of the church. The church cannot be without a dedicated laity.
Every day, I am tasked with trying to bridge the ideological gaps between Christians devoted to social justice work and Christians engaged with the pro-life work. I am often intrigued by the dissonance projected sometimes by those in either camp. This dissonance is intriguing because each group’s work is intrinsically pro-life. When our church grows in faith, hope and love, we are better able to celebrate our diversity as a sign of the Holy Spirit. Without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, a church on the move must not allow itself to get so entrenched in any one “political” camp, that it rejects the inviolable dignity of others.
Each of us must challenge one another, and especially our young people, to be radically generous in offering their lives to Christ as priests, consecrated religious, or dedicated lay persons engaged in ministry for the proclamation of the Gospel in our world. We must continue to encourage young people to never settle for anything less than the spiritual and moral greatness of which they are capable. If we are going to be a church on the move, we must be willing to make a path for young people to enjoy a more prayerful and active involvement in the life of our parishes, schools and lay ecclesial movements throughout this local church.
For those of us — whether clergy, religious or laity — who have caused others to become estranged from the church, the love of Christ impels us to reach out to our brothers and sisters, welcoming them back to the sacraments and the fullness of our relationship with Christ and the people of God. If we have, even inadvertently, failed to “welcome the stranger,” the love of Christ and the Gospel message impel us to model compassion, social service and advocacy on behalf of the poor, the addicted, the lonely, the immigrant, the widow, the homeless and the despairing. A church on the move is a church that welcomes all God’s people with open arms and hearts full of love.
May our deepest satisfaction, strength and consolation rest in the certain reality that we are as Pope Francis says “protagonists in the work of evangelization and human promotion.” We are brothers and sisters in Christ who are called to function as a church on the move!
“A Church on the Move” by Joe Paprocki, is available from Loyola Press, www.loyolapress.com.