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December 29, 2014

The call for parishes to move from maintenance to "the reinvigoration of the missionary calling" is not new. But, in Canada at least, it has never been put forward with as much fervour and detail as one finds in the Canadian bishops' statement, The Missionary Dynamic of the Parish Today. (See story on Page 7.)

A "profound conversion" is needed in how parishes are run and parishioners need to move beyond their comfort zones to spread the faith.

Nevertheless, most parishes are not sitting idly by waiting for everything to be made right at the parousia. They are beehives of activity. Some activities might well be termed "maintenance"; many others, even if not explicitly missionary, have a mission component.

Hosting funerals, for example, can eat up large amounts of time for parish staff. Yet funerals are an excellent opportunity for mission, for reaching out to those whose connection with Church life has grown cold.

A welcoming approach, good music ministry and compelling homily may not, in themselves, bring people back to the Church. But they can show that the Church is not a group of neanderthals bent on imposing arcane regulations on the unwary. For some, that is a revelation.

Conversely, no one thing drives people away from the Church faster than a parish unwelcoming to those whose loved one has just died.

The line between mission and maintenance, then, is not always clear.

Still, explicitly missionary activities that take the parish into the surrounding neighbourhood or community are needed. To say we are not comfortable with or well prepared for such ministry would be an understatement.

Yet most Catholics shouldn't need a theological education to be missionaries. A friendly invitation to a family member or friend to attend Sunday liturgy may be the most effective form of mission. The overwhelming majority of Canadians pray, believe in God and have spiritual yearnings. The ground is fertile.

The bishops' statement ought to a major agenda item for parishes. In an increasingly secularized society, we need to find more ways to be a countervailing force, a voice calling people to meet Jesus in the Catholic Church.