Our parishes are once again opening their doors into the neighborhoods of our parish communities and inviting people back to our places of worship. During the last few weeks we have celebrated baptisms, weddings and the beginning of over one hundred confirmations. Last Thursday we gathered with over sixty-five families who had lost a loved one during the past year. We celebrated Mass and prayed for the deceased and for those who continue to grieve. Slowly our parish communities are gathering again. Many of our parish groups are planning to meet and renew their activities.
I wonder if we will be a different parish as we come out of a series of lockdowns. I wonder if there are new and fresh opportunities for our parishes to consider now. At the heart of parish life is the worshipping community that gathers each Sunday. That gathering expresses our faith that the God who has called people to follow in the past is still active and alive among us today. We gather because we believe that Jesus Christ continues to call us into a living and active relationship with God. We gather to be fed by the stirrings of the scriptural word of God and nourished by the living bread of life. We gather because we are strengthened by the witness of faith of one another. And we gather to be sent. We know that the life we receive from God in the Eucharist is not to be guarded and sheltered away. It is a life that is to be shared. It is a life that sends us to the lonely, the elderly, the sick, the young, the grieving, the lost, the broken, the displaced and the disenfranchised.
And we probably don’t have to look too far to find those to whom we are sent. Many are probably gathered with us and around us. Pope Francis talks often about a missionary church that has an outward focus. He talks of the image of the Church as that of a field hospital where medical assistance is set up in the place where it is needed – out in the fields, in the streets, wherever the sick and needy are found. I wonder if the beginning of the missionary Church for a parish is to start by opening our eyes to the ‘field hospital’ that gathers each week. Here we can acknowledge our own woundedness and brokenness, our own fears and anxieties and here we can share them with one another in a eucharistic setting where we are building a mission community. A sent community.
As we emerge from the pandemic and its many lockdowns, I wonder if our first mission is to one another. To build a place of trust and care that reflects the gift that the living God gives us in the Eucharist. Only then, when we have experienced that gift can we look beyond to where we might be called to travel further.
By Fr Brendan Reed