Part of the future of our church may be out there, outside the traditional boundaries and definitions of who church is. For certain, they do not come regularly for Sunday mass, if they do come at all. Their numbers are large and growing. For some of them, church in its present form has lost its relevance to their lives. They are now scattered into every facet of society, found in all lifestyles, values and liberal opinions. Today, our mission to reach out to these Catholics away from church is urgent and critical.
Pentecost renews our definitions and boundaries. The Holy Spirit always renew our views of mission and our ways of being church. Our mission has never altered. Evangelization has always been about making known the one constant through time: the love of God present with humanity. What has changed is the stage on which we mission. Evolving worldly ways and values challenge the church into the new evangelization of finding new methods, expressions, and ardour to speak the language of today.
This mission to reach out to our Catholics outside must speak a language they understand. In an over-informed age, for some, doctrines and teachings are no longer catalytic for re-conversion. Intellectual arguments are easier settled when we have a living experience of this love. When the disciples emerged from the Upper Room, they spoke in different languages, each listener heard them in their own native language.
Today, personal life stories are our most native tongue, each story speaking to each different person about the mighty acts of God in their individual, unique life. Our life events are like a personal language God uses to speak one to one with each of us. The message is clear: God is active in each of our life.
Landings, the ministry welcoming returning Catholics, uses the language of personal life stories to good effect. Everyone has a life story and the events that happened in our personal life are more linked than we imagined. Often the hidden presence of God in our chapters lead to what we nonchalantly regard as ‘blessings in disguise’. Precisely. The methods of Landings remove this ‘disguise’ for us to see the intervening presence of God in episodes we thought He was never there. Encountering God this way ignites faith.
Relevance can only be found in our own personal life. Many people can be quite disconnected in their faith life. Relevance will reconnect us. Relevance is when we see God’s hand guiding us through the harsher episodes of our past; we look back to realize how we got to the present. It is only when we see God real in our realities that we can claim ownership of our faith; it is no longer faith from our parents. Faith no longer remains a teaching or a doctrine or a Sunday ritual. Faith evolves to become a dynamic, powerful living experience.
In our experience with Landings, we can testify to this power. Returning Catholics encounter God in this very personal way. They may have abandoned God but realized through the story of their life that God never abandoned them. God’s love had accompanied them through the passage of their personal history, leading, affirming, encouraging, empowering, and healing through the course of time. It is no longer a theory but an experience of love. Life story becomes faith story. Conviction is power coming from the native tongue of our life story. Every one of us has this potential in our inner self: A faith life ready to move onto a new stage, ready to be set on fire.
‘Returning’ is not just about Catholics who have left the Church. It is for everyone including those who sit regularly in the pews on Sundays. ‘Returning’ is about being drawn infinitely closer to God. In this sense, we are all always ‘returning’. Coming closer ignites us, fires our faith life whichever stage it is at, in whichever facet we find ourselves in society. We are the Body of Christ with many parts scattered into our world, perhaps for a purpose yet to be revealed.
Pentecost renews our sense of purpose and the way of being church to one another. Our mission includes re-evangelizing our own, baptized Catholics struggling to connect. This could possibly be our own self. We have a new way for doing this as laity by participating in a synodal church, journeying together, and listening intently to the stories of each other. Everyone has a story. Allow the Holy Spirit to set it afire.