Reflection on Leading a Missionary Parish – Session 2

On Thursday night 16th July I attended the second zoom session on Leading a Missionary Parish. The topic for the second part of this series was entitled “The hope that does not disappoint.” The speaker was Dr. Mary Healy. Dr Healy is a Professor of Sacred Scripture at Sacred Heart Major seminary in Detroit, USA. She was one of the first three women to be appointed a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. She is an international speaker on topics related to Scripture, evangelization, healing, and the spiritual life. I thought I would share with you some of what I gained from the talk she gave on that night.

Currently our Church faces several challenges. The Pandemic has made us aware just how little we are in control of everything. Since the 1940’s and 1950’s Catholics have been leaving the Church in large numbers. We have had to deal with the sexual abuse crisis. Our access to the Sacraments has been greatly restricted in recent times.

It raises the question is now the right time to turn towards the Word of God? Hebrews 12:26 tells us that God will move what can be shaken and what cannot be shaken will remain. What is unshakeable is God’s kingdom that Christ died to give us.

It is when we are stripped of what we have always relied on we realize that we still have God in our lives. This present time as we go through another lockdown gives us the chance to realize this at a deeper level. Dr. Healy believes that the Lord is using this time for the world to receive the Gospel. The soil is being prepared to receive the seed of the Word of God. What is being asked of the Church is to get ready.

Romans 5:5 tells us that hope will not disappoint us. Even though this letter was written to the Romans, Paul wrote this letter from Corinth. At the time Paul wrote this letter the Church in Corinth was in all kinds of trouble. Despite all the problems Paul remained filled with hope. This hope transcends human optimism because it is founded on God himself. It cannot be broken. It cannot be shaken.

If we look back to the disciples around the time of the death and resurrection of Jesus the disciples were commissioned after receiving the best possible formation programme ever. Yet as we know they did not immediately understand what was being asked of them. They were in the Upper Room. They were in lockdown. Jesus word’s right at the end of Luke’s Gospel and at the beginning of Acts holds the key. In Luke 24:49 Jesus tells his disciples, ‘stay in the city. ’In Acts 1:4-5 he tells them to ‘wait.’ The very first step before proclaiming the Gospel is to wait. It is easy for us in the 21st century to just try and go ahead with our plans. The commands to “stay” and “wait” apply to every generation. God usually charges us with impossible tasks, so the call placed upon us is to rely totally on him.

“Baptized” was not yet a sacrament in the time of Jesus. The meaning in the time of Jesus was to immerse, soak, plunge into water. As John was baptizing, he was basically saying, ‘I am plunging you into water but the one who comes after me will plunge you into the Spirit of God.’ Receiving baptism was Jesus’ first act before going into public ministry. Jesus being plunged was done for the purpose of identifying himself completely with sinners. If you read this passage you will notice that the heavens remained open and continued to remain open during his public ministry. Jesus is the model for us. He began to proclaim the Good News in power after receiving the Holy Spirit. The spirit led him into the desert, and it was there that he was able to resist the temptations of the evil one. Our mission as disciples is to be filled by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:1-3. Who was in the Upper Room? There were about 120 people there-the entire Early Church. They were plunged into the fire of God’s love. This was a perceptible life changing experience. Going back to Romans 5:5 they had an overwhelming revelation of the Father’s love. The second thing is that they had an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. At that moment they had a revelation of the Lordship of Jesus. St Paul said that no could say it and really know it without the power of the Holy Spirit.

This knowledge should bring us joy because it reminds us that we cannot be dominated by anything else. Luke goes on to explain what happened to these disciples. It was then that they fully understood what God’s plan was. They knew then the time of waiting was over, and it was the right time to leave the Upper Room. They subsequently went out to all the corners of the Roman Empire to proclaim the Good News. This joy of proclaiming the Gospel did not cease even in the face of great persecution. By the time Christianity had become legal in the Roman Empire about half of the population had converted.

At the end of his time Paul was imprisoned but still went on boldly proclaiming the Gospel. Luke does not finish Paul’s story in the Book of Acts. This was a deliberate act because the message is the story is meant to be continued on in us. Referring to Zechariah 4:6, Dr Healy reminded us that Jesus did not die for a lukewarm, powerless Church. No matter what happens Jesus is alive and victorious.

I took away a few thoughts from this talk. What does it mean to “stay” and “wait” for the Church in our time? Are we being asked to be Church in ways that we had never thought of previously? Could this time of pandemic be an opportunity for us to deepen our relationship with God? It is natural at this time to hold some fear about what is happening right now, but can we still be open enough to allow God and not fear to be the dominant force in our lives? The disciples having experienced the Father’s love for them and understood the implications of their call went ahead and focused on what they could do despite all the challenges they faced. If we wish to lead others to Christ, then living a hope filled life is the best witness we can give.

You can view a recording of this second session here.

A report on the first session in this series can be found here.