Every parish deserves and needs a parish mission once in a while. The renewal, enthusiasm and shot in the arm from this type of event invigorates even the best of communities.
We clerics make our yearly retreat; get away from the normal activity to renovate our spiritual, pastoral and human lives. There is no way that over 60 million Catholics could get away to a retreat house during a 3-to-5-year time frame. The parish mission is what renews their faith, commitment and attachment to the Body of Christ present in their faith community. Let’s face it. All machines, whether they be cars, television sets or computers, sooner or later need a checkup or to see a mechanic for a tune up. People are no different. To get someone out of a rut or comfort zone, you need to program something special and out of the ordinary.
|A parish mission is a time of grace, a time for repentance, for change, for becoming a renewed person. Shutterstock
What makes a parish mission successful, unlike all other spiritual exercises, is its extraordinary preaching that is different from the best of Sunday homilies or other instructional courses. By its very nature, a parish mission has in its DNA a conversion mode. Redemptorists define it this way: “The mission is a preaching event. God’s Word is proclaimed through the Bible and Catholic doctrine. It is also proclaimed through the life, learning and personal experience of the preacher.”
The mythical cat can be skinned many different ways. To be a parish mission there has to be Christological, scriptural, sacramental and Ecclesial dimensions, in a kerigmatic way. Even though catechetical material can be incorporated, a mission is not so much a learning process for the head but an experience to touch the heart.
Since parish missions in the USA tend to have been reduced to 4 or 5 or even 3 days, one cannot expect a mission to treat all the important issues for today’s Church. There is a core message which has to be implanted first. The rest will follow naturally as people will want to grow and develop their insights into the full richness of their faith.
There are people who offer good courses on prayer, the liturgy, pastoral involvement or instructions about Social Justice, but to equate these activities to a parish mission is misleading. Obviously these other services are important elements in a full Christian life, but a parish mission touches the very core of a Christian’s being, moves his or her heart either to recall (or learn for the first time) how passionate God’s love is for each and every one of his sons and daughters, and how far a person can stray from this covenant.
In times past parish missions were often seen as a time to “scare the hell” out of people, putting the fear of the Lord into them. Today’s modern mission will include eschatological elements, however the main emphasis is centered upon how much the loving Lord desires to encounter and save each one of us.
If the parish mission formerly tried to return fallen-aways to the Church’s life and liturgy, today it may be used more to strengthen those who will reach the ones who step no more inside a church. It is not preaching to the choir, however, but helping everyone to realize that their choice of remaining faithful to Christ has not been in vain, that they are on the right course, and that they can touch those who have lost their way. Younger people from 18 to 35 marvel at what they experience and at the profound effect a mission has upon their religious practices, which are vitally important while raising small children.
A parish mission is a time of grace, a time for repentance, for change, for becoming a renewed person. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is an essential part of a good mission. Maybe the preacher will not be a priest, yet a true mission needs to have confessors available. St. Alphonsus used to say that the thermometer for a successful mission was judged by how many people used the confessional. Without this piece of the plan, any other spoken event is just another happening. I personally have heard many a priest’s confession in the rectory, as the good pastor enters into the spirit of a parish mission and realizes that he too needs to set the example for his parishioner.
Another positive collateral effect of a parish mission is that the pastor finds that the missionary preacher reinforces what he has worked so hard to transmit to his parishioners.
A fruitful parish mission will increase bonding among parishioners. People may not know those in their parish who go to the other Masses. During a mission, the whole parish is doing something together. When there is a social or reception afterwards (e.g., coffee, cookies, cakes, etc.) people bond, get to know one other. It is easy to “bribe” the kids by promising them cookies if they get their mom and dad to take them each evening to the mission. They remind the big people that it is time to go. And, at parish mission receptions, I have seen people talking with their pastor for the first time on a personal level.
Many parishes like to have their parish mission during Lent or Advent. Some parishes will use a September mission to kick off their fall programming. Others prefer January as a way of getting the new year underway. Still other parishes see the mission as a great tool for heightening the great season of Easter. The feast day of the parish’s patron might be a good, as is a special anniversary year for the parish such as its 25th, 50th, 100th. Believe it or not, resort parishes have missions in the summer when folks aren’t interested in TV re-runs. In short, any time of the year is time for a mission.
If you are interested in having a Redemptorist preacher come to your parish to lead a parish mission, and you would like more information and details, try calling 636-464-6999 or check out our site at www.liguorimissionhouse.org.
Father Kirchner, C.SS.R., teaches cources in parishes, and currently works and lives in Liguori, Mo.