"In the Gospel there's the beautiful passage about the shepherd who realizes that one of his sheep is missing, and he leaves the 99 to go out and find the one, but, brothers and sisters, we have only one. We're missing 99! We must go out and find them.” Pope Francis address to parish leaders from the Diocese of Rome June 18, 2013
Pope Francis has had a reoccurring theme in his messages from the time that he first became pope, and actually even before that. The theme is, “Avanti,” that is, “Go forth.” He has called on bishops, priests and lay people to get outside the walls of the Church to spread the message of the gospel. He even reverses the popular image of Jesus knocking on a door, which we see as Jesus wanting to come in, interpreting it as Jesus wanting to get out! Jesus wants to get out of our churches and into the lives of the people around us.
So here is a radical proposal. We all know that there are wonderful, amazing Catholic video series out now; Bishop elect Robert Baron’s Catholicism, Symbolon, Great Adventures Bible Studies, and many more. What we typically do with these series is show them in the church hall, and with all our advertising, promoting, and announcing, we get the same crowd that came to the last series we presented. What would happen if Catholic disciples showed these videos in their homes and invited their friends, relatives and coworkers?
For many who are away from the church, the idea of going to an event in a church building can be intimidating and risky. Many who have drifted from the faith have no interest in returning and therefore no interest in attending a class. Some have lost their trust in the Church as an institution and as a source of truth and so have no interest in what the Church has to say. Besides, everyone knows that every Christian church has an agenda - “They want me to join!”
We all know that the New Evangelization is about building relationships of trust where the message of God’s love and grace can be spoken and heard; where the gospel can be effectively communicated. Our culture has lost that trusting relationship with the Church. Therefore, we must go out of Her as individual missionary disciples and BE the bridges of trust. My neighbors and friends, even my children and my siblings, would probably never go to the Church for a video series if I invited them. But if I invited them to my home, my domestic church, to watch a video and have an informal discussion, they probably just might.
Small group settings have always been a wonderful resource for evangelization and discipleship, and arguably the most effective one. When I invite people to my home, it is much less threatening, there is not the outward appearance of an agenda, it is in the context of relationship, and it is casual and relaxing.
Over the years, I have been part of many small groups that met in homes. This setting fosters a certain vulnerability that cannot be replicated in a “class” (classroom setting?). In a home setting, relationships can develop that encourage vulnerability and honest communication. Genuine caring can be expressed in practical ways and (practical) prayer. Here, the gospel can be communicated in a much more organic (natural?) way.
I want to be clear that what I am encouraging is the empowerment and support by parishes of the disciples in their midst to turn their homes into little centers of evangelization. These are not to be “parish” programs hosted in homes. Parish programs invariably come with lots of baggage: coordination, communication, safe environment issues, and the like. This is simple, grassroots evangelization that any Catholic disciple could do.
It is simple, and with programs like “Formed” from the Augustine institute, where there is a wide array of quality Catholic videos available to stream, it is getting even simpler. Just choose a video series that has spoken to you, taught you, changed you. Buy the series or get it from your parish library. Set aside one evening a week for this coming fall. Start inviting. Invite twice or three times as many people as you can host because most will not be able to attend, even though they appreciate the invitation. Make your home as inviting and comfortable as you can but keep it simple. A simple snack, a bowl of popcorn, carrot or celery sticks - nothing burdensome. And then see what the Holy Spirit is able to do in people’s hearts, even outside the walls of the Church!