Wondering just how Catholics can live as missionary disciples? Pope Francis' suggests that we do it by visiting with those at the margins. In other words, we learn to be missionaries by spending time in the company of those with whom church insiders can find it most difficult. If we want our parishes to thrive and not merely survive, we need to pay attention to those who we find hardest to understand. Why? Because that is where many of God's people are. Our purpose is to connect, welcome and engage them.
The method is simple: listen. Then listen until trust and empathy grows. Why? What is in it for us? Just God's people - who may be the ones with the cure for our spiritual malaise. Beware: the commitment to listen is not intended to be a one-off event, rather, it leads down a path toward re-investing and re-directing our energies, on behalf of those who, Jesus insists, are at the heart of our mission as church. The success of so much of our big plans for a new evangelization, just might come from what we learn from those at the margins.
Do you wonder where? Consider those with disabilities (at least one in five Americans) or those who feel discarded by the church - the "Nones" or our young or the incarcerated or those struggling to live or those wounded by church-folk many of whom are in non-traditional households - the "Dones." With the help of those who already travel at the margins, it is still possible to hear from those who live there. Admittedly, this will call us beyond our comfort zone, but I recall Jesus doing that when he called his contemporaries beyond the confines of the congregations and campuses of his day. Is it possible that God still has some that the church does not, and the church still have some that God does not?
Listening can occur in conversations: one-to-one, tabletop conversation or facilitated small groups.
The purpose of these conversations is to learn about the personal needs, hopes and aspirations of anyone. It is essential to set aside ulterior motivations and premature expectations (e.g. immediate results) when we listen to one another. There are no intentions for the person from whom we are learning. We only hope to grow and appreciate those who we started seeing more as different, but may come to see as more the same as ourselves. Once trust is established, we are in a sacred space with one another. This is the place within which to receive the truth about their relationship with church. But it helps to have a few good conversation starters. These questions might include:
- What do you most enjoy doing lately?
- For what do you most hope for yourself and those you love?
- From where do you draw your strength, or find meaning or joy in life?
- Have people of faith helped or hindered you?
- How might people of faith help you or those who you care about most in the future?
- How has your life, or your experience with people of faith, impacted how you see God?
You might be surprised by what you hear.
Interested in doing some listening? Contact Dennis Mahaney by calling 716-847-8393.