by Bill Scholl
As English- speaking Catholics, we have much to be embarrassed about, but the most scandalous is perhaps our language’s use of the word “parochial.”
Parochial, the adjective that describes a parish, also means: narrow-minded in scope or view, only concerned with the interest of one’s small group.
However unfair it may be to us as modern Catholics, we must own up to the fact that, in the past, the way we have lived parish life has given witness to the world that we only care about ourselves. So much so, that parish has become a synonym for small-minded, exclusive self-interest.
This was never the vision of our Lord Jesus Christ. He instituted the church to be a collection of groups that made up one body and, through this body, made visible the love God has for the world through concrete works of mercy.
Christ constantly sends forth the Holy Spirit to renew his church. It seems this breath is blowing forcefully in the direction of parish collaboration because our pope is calling the church to cultivate a culture of encounter, and our archbishop is calling parishes to not be so — for lack of a better word — parochial.
It is starting with the jubilee Year of Mercy in December that calls for all Catholics to personally learn, look and live the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
It will continue with the call for parishes to discern ways that they can partner with other parishes locally to better carry out the mission of the church. As part of our shared vision, our goal is the following: “By Easter Sunday 2016, each parish (or parish cluster) will commit to new opportunities, or recommit to existing opportunities, for partnering with other parishes or organizations in order to better encounter Christ in one another.”
It is an ambitious moon-launch kind of goal. However, our neighbors desperately need someone to show them Christ’s way to happiness, and we can’t do that by minding our own business anymore.
Jesus observed that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand (Mk 3:24). Collaboration and encounter are the remedy to parochialism. So, start praying and start talking to your pastor about ways your parish can work with other local parishes.
Originally, the word parish came from the Greek “paroikia,” which meant a community of sojourners. The idea was that this life is a journey on our way to be with God.
The first parishes were joyful, welcoming communities on a mission.
Let’s return the word “parish” to that meaning so that, when the world looks at our parishes, they marvel like the ancients, who according to Tertullian would exclaim, “See how they love one another!”