Growth Through Ministry

Today we live in the culture of "ME". Parish growth, personal spiritual growth, and reversing focus on self can be accomplished through ministry; that is, learning how to love others as Jesus loves us through the seven corporal works of mercy… especially during this Year of Mercy.
In our last post we looked at how parishes grow through worship. Now it's time to look at growth through ministry.

Parishes grow broader through ministry. Ministry can cover a lot of different things. There are ministries for feeding, clothing or housing the poor. There are prison ministries (a particularly rewarding one, I hasten to add). There are ministries catering to Catholic singles, children, youth, seminarians, the elderly, the sick and infirm—actually more ministries than we have space to cover in this post. However, no matter what ministry a parish undertakes, ministry has as its origin the seven corporal works of mercy.

Some parishes have no ministries at all. Others are so top heavy with ministries that their focus has taken all emphasis from the mission of the Church, which is to apply the redemption won for us by Christ on the cross for the salvation of souls. Just like all the other elements necessary for a parish to be in healthy growth, ministries have to be balanced among the other elements. Otherwise, you just have a parish that looks healthy but is really dying of a cancer from within.

When parishes become ministry driven they by necessity take their eyes off the real mission, which is given in the Great Commission. Compromises begin to be made, which leads to a loss of genuine mission. That is when the parish ceases being the city on a hill and becomes nothing more than just another philanthropy.

In Matthew 25:34-46, Jesus gives the only criteria in all of Sacred Scripture for the general judgement. He welcomes into heaven the disciples who spent their lives performing the corporal works of mercy. But people often misinterpret what He’s saying to those condemned to hell. Most people think Jesus is condemning them for not performing the works of mercy, but that isn’t the case at all. Go back and read it. Those facing condemnation seem genuinely alarmed and confused. They actually ask when is it they had failed to minister to Him. Notice that Jesus didn’t say they failed to minister, but only that they failed to minister to Him. Therein lies the warning for ministry driven parishes. They were souls who did indeed perform the corporal works of mercy, but they failed to do so for love of Him. Rather, they did so for other motives, whether those motives be simply for the sake of mankind or for one's own ego.

The major difference between a Catholic performing the corporal works of mercy and a philanthropist is simple but the line is thin. The Catholic performing the corporal works of mercy does so for no other motive than to serve Jesus in others—for the love of Jesus. The philanthropist may very well perform the same works of mercy, but his motivation is the betterment of man or for his own personal interior benefit. Same work, different motives. One results in heaven, the other hell. Ministry driven parishes tend to lose sight of why they do what they do, and this is because they aren’t balanced in their approach to ministry; they leave out some or all the rest of what’s necessary to be balanced. Losing focus, then, can lose souls for heaven.

A good example of the need for balance comes from a conversation between St. John Paul the Great and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (soon to be saint). The Holy Father praised Mother for her work among the poor and dying of the world, but told her she was too ministry driven. He told her she must begin to share the faith with those to whom she ministered. Mother’s problem, though, was that not even her sisters were immune to ignorance of the faith. She honestly told the Holy Father her sisters didn’t know the faith well enough to share it and make converts. St. John Paul then sent her to then Cardinal Ratzinger, who called in Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, SJ, to solve her problem. This was actually the beginning of the Marian Catechist Apostolate, but that is a story for another time. Lest I be tempted to digress, the point here is, the Missionaries of Charity were off balance because they had become too ministry driven. This is what happens in parishes that are ministry driven, and it will become a terminal illness for a parish to remain that way. Instead, parishes can and will grow through ministry, but only when it is balanced with fellowship, discipleship, worship and, the topic of our next post, evangelism.

Until the next post in this series comes out, please consider the possibility of using
What We Believe...Why We Believe It in your parish to help your lay faithful better know and understand our holy and ancient faith.
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