The coronavirus continues to sweep the globe while various measures are employed, adjusted, re-employed, and fine-tuned in the on-going effort to diminish the spread and weaken the effects of this pestilent virus.
In the multi-leveled twists and turns of our times, leaders in every field are asked to assess and make decisions involving state of affairs in which they have never been trained, and of which they could never have imagined. Political authority, business executives, cultural heads, school administrators, and – yes – the pastors of the Church are under-qualified and overwhelmed.
But such is life in our age, and leadership is doing its best.
In particular, Church leadership, which oftentimes has a direct connection to the hearts and homes of people, is laboring to know the right thing, the safe thing, the prudent thing, and the faithful thing to do in these times. It is called to discern the balance between the needs of the physical health and the spiritual health of the people entrusted to it by God.
Although not directly related to the current COVID context, this past week the Vatican issued a new document that could prove a surprising and unexpected guide to the decision-making of the Church’s shepherds.
Issued by the Congregation for the Clergy, and entitled, The pastoral conversion of the Parish community in the service of the evangelizing mission of the Church, the instruction provides a contemporary pastoral vision of the parish, enhances some older views, and gives several practical pointers and ideas for nurturing and growing a parish in the evangelical mission of the Gospel.
Although perhaps not intended, its timing is providential. The instruction complements other resources to the local parish, as pastors and their pastoral and administrative teams attempt to wade through and navigate the ever-changing world of the coronavirus.
The instruction states: “In virtue of this discernment, the parish is called upon to read the signs of the times, while adapting both to the needs of the faithful and to historical changes. A renewed vitality is required that favors the rediscovery of the vocation of the baptized as a disciple of Jesus Christ and a missionary of the Gospel…”.
Yes, this call to awaken the baptized is essential. If a parish is going to truly reopen and rebuild what was before, then it requires all hands on deck. The members of the parish who are a part of Church’s work must see it as a direct involvement in bringing about the kingdom of God.
There are no philanthropists among the baptized. There are no volunteers. And among the laborers, there shouldn’t be those who merely “want to do Father a favor.” The baptized are called, chosen, and sent by the Lord Jesus. The work is about discipleship and continuing the Lord’s labors in our world today.
The task is daunting and all the baptized – with their specific talents, trades, and training – are needed to weather the storm.
As a resource in this effort, the Word on Fire Institute is providing a free download of Catholicism in the Time of Coronavirus by Stephen Bullivant. The book describes the history of the Church’s response to pandemics and gives encouragement and hope to believers in our current situation. It’s an invaluable tool in the hands of motivated believers who want to truly live and serve as disciples of the Lord Jesus, as well as parish teams who are leading parishes through the current pandemic.
Later in the instruction, we’re told: “The parish is a community gathered together by the Holy Spirit to announce the Word of God and bring new children of God to birth in the baptismal font. Assembled by the pastor, the parish celebrates the memorial of the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord, bearing witness to faith in charity.”
As believers become aware of their mission in the world, they need to be taught and formed on what the mission truly is (and what it is not). Parish teams must make it a constant effort to provide witness, instruction, and opportunities for all believers to dive into the richness of the glory given to us in Jesus Christ.
As a help in this effort, especially in these times, Teresa Tomeo has written a superb new volume entitled Conquering Coronavirus: How Faith Can Put Your Fears to Rest. The book develops an entire spiritual overlay on what it means to fully live our baptismal faith. It’s also a useful tool to Christian disciples, as well as to parish teams, who are seeking ways and means to persevere and flourish in our current struggles.
Further along in the instruction, it repeats the collaborative expectation, and emphasizes, “The pastor who willingly serves his flock with generosity, must instruct the faithful, however, in such a way that each member of the community feels responsible and directly involved in caring for the needs of the Church in a variety of ways and in a spirit of solidarity.”
The Church does not consists solely of her shepherds. No shepherd should stand alone. Now more than ever, the work and vibrancy of the Gospel must be a shared task. No pastor, however talented, knows everything of what has to be decided.
The Holy Spirit, however, has called together a community, blessed it with the means and resources it needs, and has strengthened its pastor with the abilities to discern, identify, listen, empower, entrust, and support his fellow believers in their talents and gifts. In this way, pastor and people – together, accomplish the mission of the Gospel, even in the midst of a worldwide pandemic.
As a help in this effort, Our Sunday Visitor has published the small book, A Pastoral Guide to Opening Your Parish. It’s meant as a practical resource for pastoral teams to facilitate parish life in our fluid state of affairs.
In these ways, and many others, the Vatican-issued instruction on parish life is a timely and complementary resource to many efforts focused on building up and assisting parishes in these times. Although perhaps not intended, the instruction gives a much-needed blueprint to parishes on how to navigate and flourish in these times of coronavirus.
Follow Father Jeffrey Kirby on Twitter: @fatherkirby