That’s me in the corner / That’s me in the spotlight / Losing my religion / Trying to keep up with you / And I don’t know if I can do it / Oh no, I’ve said too much / I haven’t said enough (R.E.M.)
If one attends any Sunday Mass in any parish, it would most probably be packed. Any observer would be tempted to say that the Catholic faith is alive and well in the Philippines. We are not facing issues of parish closures and mergers, of churches being turned into museums. A closer look, however, would reveal disturbing trends. There are many people losing interest, getting turned off, or even not getting engaged at all with the church. Moreover, many parish churches have low retention rates among young adults. Could it be that the church is not perceived as relevant and attuned to the hopes and dreams, the joys and sorrows of the people? Given the cultural shifts happening in society where people, especially the millennials, are engaged in various ways of meaning-finding, could the church have been left behind and caught unawares? How does the church deal with the reality that God is missing but is not missed?
In countries where the lack of engagement in church are more pronounced, there are studies looking into the vitality of parishes. How can we say a parish is alive and vibrant? What can be done to revitalize dying communities? There are many qualities cited by many authors, scholars and practitioners. I would like to name three qualities that we can use to assess our parish communities to help us reengage people―especially the young―who may have fallen by the wayside.
Life-giving Sunday Mass
Sunday Mass is the primary―if not the only―way most people get to interact with the priest and the parish volunteers. The parish leadership must make it a priority to make the community a very welcoming and inclusive community. It is moving to see people having a strong sense of belonging in the celebration of the mass where people are treated as equals, where people sit together and worship the same God. One of the most meaningful celebrations I have is when the church is full of children singing to their hearts contents, unmindful if they are off key. What matters is that they are praying twice, all because the liturgical music ministers guided them well. The priest must deliver homilies that are life-sustaining, where the Word of God meets the man on the street and the encounter brings about meaning and strength. If a priest is remiss in fulfilling this obligation in a loving and faithful way, an injustice is done to the community. Ultimately, the Mass is where God encounters the people, where the people find solace and comfort in God’s presence, inspired to face the daily grind because they have been fed their daily bread. We have to ask ourselves, how have we made our Sunday Masses inspiring and life-giving?
Meaningful growth in faith
Knowing comes before loving. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to love someone one does not know. Our parish communities should strive to provide learning opportunities that are sustained. This could take the form of catechism classes and bible prayer groups that do not just broaden the perspectives of the faithful but also widen their hearts, stretching, challenging them to show in so many concrete ways their deep appreciation for our loving God. This growth in faith leads to a more meaningful discipleship, through which every person makes a loving decision to follow Jesus whom one has come to know more intimately every day. How have we intensified our communal efforts to know God more clearly, in order to love Him more dearly and to follow Him more nearly?
Compassionate service to the poor
The church may be a place for some to feel good, to find refuge, some semblance of peace and quiet. For others, the church is the place and the community to be good, to find co-pilgrims in the journey where everyone is challenged to be a better version of themselves. For many, the church is also a chance to go good, to share whatever God has given us to help others help themselves, empowering the least, the last and the lost to walk the path of healing and salvation towards Christ. How have we responded to the call to mission, to go wherever God sends us?
We hope that our churches will strive to be life-giving, to be signposts of hope for everyone, serving as meaningful places of encounter with our loving and forgiving Father. Our churches are faced with many problems and challenges but to quote the poet Ella Wheeler Cox, “no difficulty can discourage, no obstacle dismay, no trouble dishearten the man who has acquired the art of being alive.” I do believe that the same can be said of parish communities. When the parish community is alive and vibrant, parishioners feel the energy and excitement to be part of something bigger than themselves, to be agents of change in the church and in society, to be truly the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
Fr. Didoy Molina is a Doctor of Business Administration student at the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. He took up philosophy studies in San Carlos Seminary and finished his theology studies in Loyola School of Theology, Ateneo de Manila and seminary formation in San Jose Seminary. He finished his MBA at the Ateneo Graduate School of Business. He is currently the parish priest of Christ the King Parish in Pamplona Uno, Las Piñas City. He can be reached at [email protected] The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.