by Fr. Frank DeSiano, CSP
President, Paulist Evangelization Ministries
Parishes need to shift their focus toward a more explicit language of discipleship; and then they have to back that language up with explicit behaviors that place discipleship at the heart of the Catholic experience.
Why do we need to do this? Because our main emphasis has been to rely on various cultural patterns to pass faith from one generation to another; or, for that matter, to even invite people to think about becoming Catholic.
What cultural forms? For one, our residual ethnicity as a way to preserve some kind of Catholic identity. Was it not true that, for many decades, German Catholics were convinced that, unless their people preserved the German language, they would then leave the Church? We see something analogous to this in terms of Spanish and Catholicism as well.
Another form was the parish as a social center. This worked best when Catholicism was mostly urban, and neighborhoods had largely ethnic patterns, but it was bigger in scope. With this model, we could offer a cradle-to-grave Catholic social experience. Even if someone didn’t go to Mass, they could still belong to the parish in some sense, including burial from the Church.
While some parishes can maintain this in suburban environments, the truth is that no one is locked into any cultural experiences today. There are simply too many choices people have; as a result, parishes cannot depend on education, sports and social programs for children, activities for teens, and social organization for an array of adults (woman’s club; men’s club; Knights of Columbus; sodality, senior’s club, etc.). This model goes only so far.