by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The greatest mission statement ever made is 2,000 years old, and Father Gary Pennings wants archdiocesan Catholics to answer this ageless call.
“Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And teach them all that I’ve commanded you,” said Father Pennings, paraphrasing Mt 28: 19-20.
The Great Commission, he said, is our common objective and challenge — to sanctify God’s people, to proclaim the Gospel, to serve all people and to make other disciples.
Father Pennings, who is the director of the archdiocesan department of parish ministries, talked about evangelization and discipleship in his opening remarks at the 2015 Archdiocesan Convocation of Parish Ministries, held on Sept. 11 in the Keleher Conference Center of Savior Pastoral Center.
The theme of the convocation was “Building a Culture of Evangelization: Proclaiming the Faith in Spirit, in Word, in Deed.”
Because of prior commitments, Father Pennings addressed the more than 370 pastors, parish leaders and archdiocesan employees via a prerecorded video.
“We all know that an essential element of becoming a disciple of the Lord is grace — supernatural grace — a freely given, unmerited gift,” said Father Pennings. “That’s something we don’t have anything to do with. That’s all a free gift from God. We know it’s necessary because Jesus himself said in John’s Gospel: ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.’ But discipleship also requires a human response.”
One of the main challenges for those engaged in church ministry is creating the opportunities, places and environments for an encounter between grace and the human heart.
“My hope for today, for this convocation, is that you go away from here with a renewed spirit — with a renewed commitment — to create in your parish and your ministry those conditions for encounter,” said Father Pennings.
The main presenter of the day was Curtis Martin, president and founder of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. His first talk was “Casting a Vision for Missionary Discipleship,” and the second was “Practical Steps for Evangelization.”
In his first talk, Martin said the key was to view the situation of the church through the lens of hope and to have joy in the Lord.
“Joy is the key to evangelization,” said Martin. “If you lack joy, you will never be a great evangelist, because no one cares what you think — because whatever you’ve got doesn’t work for you.
“Whereas, if you don’t even know how to explain yourself very well, but you’re walking through life going, ‘This is awesome!’ I’m going alongside you [thinking], ‘Either you’re crazy or you’ve got something I want.’”
Martin recommended that disciples do a prayerful, daily reading of the Scriptures (also known as “lectio divina”) and he quoted Pope Benedict XVI: “I am confident that if Catholics were to practice ‘lectio divina’ on a daily basis, it would bring about the new springtime [of faith].”
In his second talk, Martin spoke about the need to build a “culture of encounter and accompaniment.” Saints, he said, come in clusters. Friendships, rather than programs, are key to helping others achieve intimacy with Christ.
Archdiocesan director of evangelization Father Andrew Strobl gave the final talk of the day, “Applications for Parishes.”
“For me, the new evangelization is about personal responsibility,” he said. “It’s not the job of a specialist, and it’s not the job of my neighbor. It is my privilege to be involved in this community of missionary disciples.”
We’re all in this together, and we’re all on the team, said Father Strobl. We are all “player/coaches,” and it’s not someone else’s job but ours, too.
We need to get involved — not just keeping busy, but getting involved in people’s lives.
So what can parishes do?
Father Strobl offered five recommendations: Pray for renewal; discuss evangelical efforts and review parish activities through the lens of evangelization; identify and encourage parishioners who have hearts for evangelization; develop by reading “Forming Intentional Disciples,” by Sherry Weddell; and discern evangelical opportunities.
Right now, the archdiocesan office of evangelization is asking parishes to become one of the intentionally evangelical pilot parishes as part of the archdiocesan 10-year mutually shared vision.
“Our goal is for every region to have a pilot parish,” said Father Strobl.
In closing the convocation, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann expressed optimism about evangelization efforts in the parishes.
“I think that we are on the cusp of a new Pentecost here in northeast Kansas, and I’m thrilled and excited about what the Lord wants to do,” said the archbishop.
“I want to do everything I can to support all of you in your ministries,” he continued. “We know here at the archdiocese if anything is going to happen that is meaningful in the church, it’s going to happen in the parishes.
“It’s going to happen in your ministries through your work.”