Saturday, November 01, 2014

Parish outreach in the 21st century

At the close of the recent synod, Pope Francis made a brilliant comment that deserves some reflection. He said:
So, the duty of the Pope is that of guaranteeing the unity of the Church; it is that of reminding the faithful of their duty to faithfully follow the Gospel of Christ; it is that of reminding the pastors that their first duty is to nourish the flock – to nourish the flock – that the Lord has entrusted to them, and to seek to welcome – with fatherly care and mercy, and without false fears – the lost sheep. I made a mistake here. I said welcome: [rather] to go out and find them.
This seems right to me. The mission of the Church is not one of sitting around and hoping someone rings the rectory doorbell. We must be involved in outreach. We must go out.

So, where do we go to find people? There are no doubt many answers to this question.

Nevertheless, certainly if we are going to go out to where people are--where they live--we have some obligation to reach out to them through social media. The world today lives online. (See some mind-boggling statistics here.)

Using social media for Christian outreach cannot be simply an "option" anymore. Whatever your feelings toward it, one cannot simply pretend social media doesn't exist or that it is merely a minor part of the culture of the 21st century.

I'm not saying the internet is not without its dangers. Let me be clear about that. But, as the old saying goes, abuse does not negate proper use.

With that in mind, I have to write about one of the projects of our parish priest, Fr. Anthony Saroki (Pastor, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church, San Diego). Working with parishioners who are involved in marketing on social media, Fr. Saroki has written and helped produce videos that parishioners can share on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

This--in my mind--is at least part of what it means to preach the Gospel in the 21st century. As Pope St. John Paull II said after another synod,
For the new evangelization to be effective, it is essential to have a deep understanding of the culture of our time in which the social communications media are most influential. Therefore, knowledge and use of the media, whether the more traditional forms or those which technology has produced in recent times, is indispensable. Contemporary reality demands a capacity to learn the language, nature and characteristics of mass media. Using the media correctly and competently can lead to a genuine inculturation of the Gospel. At the same time, the media also help to shape the culture and mentality of people today, which is why there must be special pastoral activity aimed at those working in the media. (Ecclesia in America, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation [January 22, 199], 72.
Here's Fr. Saroki's latest. Please consider sharing it with others!


Susan Moore said...

This video does what I have seen few evangelical-minded videos do. That is, besides connecting a person to a Person (Jesus), it is also connecting the person to the Purpose (the Church): it begins to bring home the message that we are each part of a worshiping and serving body of Christ. Awesome.

Evangelization is my favorite subject to think about, talk about, and do. The love of evangelization allows me fleeting opportunities to glimpse His slowly threading of Himself into other’s lives through His words and loving works. The world’s a big place, but He came to save it (ALL).

Not just the Catholics who have stopped coming to Mass, although that is an ingenious place to start. Please understand, though, that is not where He started me. He started me with the other lost sheep, and their needs may be, at least initially, slightly different.

“We are of God. He that knoweth God, heareth us. He that is not of God, heareth us not. By this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error” (1John 4:6 DRV).

During the two years He had me do street ministry, coming to an understanding of that verse proved pivotal in coming to an understanding of the reactions I was getting to my healing testimony (50% confusion, 25% terror and/or rage, 25% worship).

This is what I learned: the worship reactions were not coming from Catholics, nor were they coming from Protestants. The people who were falling on their faces in worship were from the world, but were the people that “knoweth God” and are loving. These are the people that have been given the faith of Abraham, that believe in the supernatural reality and are spiritual-minded. They see God in natural revelation and are doing their best to follow their consciences. The only thing they lacked was a person: Jesus Christ, and His body, the Church.

It turns out most of these people were also poor and broken. Some lived in shelters. They didn’t have nice church clothes. Pray tell, which church shall I lead them into –the Protestant one down the street who will accept them as they are, the Catholic one with a ‘nice clothes sign’, or no church at all?

Henry said...

Dr. Barber, thanks for some really great insights. Something that came to mind with social media is the potential that we have to reach multiple walks of life. You don't think about it like standing in front of a room with 2000 people, but the preaching of the gospel today via social media and media in general...well media is much more readily available today then ever before. If you make a post on yahoo news you have the attention of millions of people. Each one of us now are like little mini conference speakers. So why aren't more people christian then? I once watched an interview of an agnostic. His main argument for the reason that he wasn't christian, or rather wasn't a proclaimed anything, was because he said how could you possibly have all these religions at the same time being correct..correct. There are a lot of people like this. We not only need to take to social media in spreading the gospel, be it by making moral arguments on random blogs or social media outlets or directly on Catholic blogs, but be good at telling the world what the Catholic faith is about or conveying a good moral message. But what is most encouraging about this article is that for all you out there who say you can't contribute or you will never be as good as this or that conference speaker, is you have the potential to really save souls when your posts and contributions are focused on conversion.

Susan Moore said...

Woke up at 3am. Cessationism is the false belief that the signs, wonders and miracles of God ceased sometime around the end of the Apostolic age. I understand Protestants falling for that lie, because Protestants do not believe that the Apostolic age has continued through a succession of Popes and teaching hierarchy. However, I do not understand why some Catholics who have teaching authority propagate that horrific lie that is against the very power and nature of Christ.

Catholics who teach cessationism should be stripped of their privilege to teach until they grow more in their faith and denounce that lie. If they rebel against this loving discipline, they should be excommunicated.

The Church’s failure to act on this is causing His bride problems: why would God grant grace to someone worshipping an idol?

heidi said...

Dr. Barber,
Thank you. That video is absolutely beautiful. Profoundly touching.
I will indeed share it.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. Good read.

Daniel O'Connor said...

It's certainly true that online evangelization must occur.

But it's not what we really need *more* of. No man can count the number of online evangelization attempts that no one will ever even read. What we really need more of is face-to-face evangelization; getting out on to the *literal* streets, not the figurative ones. Grace is poured out most powerfully in real life.

Philosoraptor said...

And that seems to be the personal nature of the interaction. Online communication, for all its usefulness, is ultimately impersonal. Meeting someone in the flesh, however, is not.

Susan Moore said...

Ah, take it easy on technology and social media. After all, if it wasn’t for the printing press, how many of us would have a Bible to read? And if it wasn’t for computers and this blog site we may have never ‘met’.

Before we say words in and of themselves are impersonal, it seems prudent to remember that we all first met the Word of God before we met Jesus Christ (at least met Him in our conscious understanding of Him); have any of us walked on this earth with the incarnate Christ? I’m guessing no. But some of us are blessed to have what we consider an extremely personal relationships with the image of the invisible God -and at the same time we consider ourselves enlightened and sane…

My healing testimony was online for two years. During that time God used those words to save and heal people. Let’s remember that the same God who created the light before He created the things that give off light, also made, among many other ‘things’; a donkey speak, a bush catch on fire and not burn up, a river part, a sea part, an army of invisible warriors appear, a virgin give birth, and His own human body resurrect. In the end He’ll make the child play with harmless cobras, the wolf lay down with the lamb, and a day that never ends. Therefore He can certainly make do with whatever meager human words and humble efforts we offer Him, we have no power over Him.

Susan Moore said...

Come to think of it, in regards to my first entry above, I do not know whether or not the ones who "heareth God." had been baptized as infants with the faith of Abraham into the Catholic church family. I wasn't thinking of asking that back then, I hadn't reverted yet.

Similiarly, I do not know if either of the two practicing Protestant men, whom I had asked to pray for me prior to my healing, had been baptized as infants.

Susan Moore said...

But I do know that it was only because I was baptized as an infant with the faith of Abraham into the Catholic family that I had the Spirit of the living God in me that I was empowered to fearlessly say no to the cult practices I was exposed to as a five year old, and walk away alive. Perhaps that was one of the earliest miracles He expressed in my life. I believe He expresses miracle after miracle, and signs and wonders, in all of our lives. Just some of us notice them, and thank Him, and some of us don't.