Most Blessed Sacrament parish in Toledo, Ohio is exceptional in many ways. The parish lives its name. Anchored in a neighborhood community, liturgy and homilies are reverent, relevant and robust. Perpetual adoration is expressed in constant service to one another and the broader community.
Needless to say, the parish has generally fit the portrait of Catholic parishes in the United States (from CARA and PEW studies): 79% drop the name “Catholic” by age 24. No more than 30% practice their faith with any regularity. The number of those seeking marriage and baptism has declined dramatically.
Of course, a measure of faith is deeper than a checklist. What can be said of one’s faith when no more than 13% of those who attend Mass pray before meals? Less than 8% are engaged in parish life. 40% question if a relationship with God is possible.
Yet the following truth is more than a stat. It’s universal. Catholic. Applicable to every person on the planet: We were designed for a fulfillment and intimacy that can only be found in God. In light of this truth, we discover that we are a world languishing in direct proportion to rejection of our nature in Him.
Herein is our great hope: It can be otherwise.
If we authentically encounter Jesus Christ, we can not help but love Him. And if we truly love Him, if we recognize in Him our own nature and mission, we can not help but give our lives to Him. This is really the ultimate purpose of our existence. Presented with it, each of us must answer with our lives. We must accept or reject.
Acceptance does not mean we will immediately, perfectly and fully respond. Hardly. It means we’re in the game. It means, when we’re pressed with every obstacle (and we will be!), we will persevere because there is no other way.
In spite of bewilderment, confusion and every difficulty, with Peter our lives will proclaim: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)
Here’s the first big hurdle. You may agree with all that’s been said thus far. But perhaps it’s only served to inform you. Challenge you. Perhaps even inspire or enthuse you. But if only these, if that’s all that happens, it’s served to pacify you.
As Catholics many of us are vulnerable to one of Satan’s greatest tricks. We equate knowledge of the faith, or even practice of the faith, with actually being alive in the faith. Like the Pharisees of old, many of us are contented with having gone to Mass. Praying our prayers. Reading the book. Hearing the homily. Doing good things.
We’re consuming, but are we being consumed?
How do we measure the difference? In our parishes are we experiencing ever-greater depth and multiplication of discipleship? Do we even expect this? Do we desire it? Are we planning it? Are we seeking it? Are we laboring for it?
If not, it’s possible we’re like every other person languishing without an authentic, living, personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ, only we’re wearing a suit of religion.
Here’s another indicator. If we’re not enthusiastically and naturally evangelizing, so moved to share Him who is moving us, it’s worth asking: Are we being moved? Are we being evangelized? Does what we profess correspond to what we really believe?
What if faith was more than just a moment, but a movement?
Not just a program, but a way of life?
That’s what God desires. That’s what God offers. The Word became flesh. (John 1:14)
With parish leaders, the Msgr. Michael Billian at Most Blessed Sacrament was earnestly considering these questions. They were eager to see their faith-filled community become all the more a holy community lived proclaiming the Holy Communion received. They were eager for more than any number of atomized events, but all directed towards a common, driving mission and purpose shared by all.
After a short season of evaluation and processing, we were engaged to help them journey over a season of becoming a community of missionary disciples. Here is how “CoreMission” is playing out now at Most Blessed Sacrament.
We began by inviting the community to participate in a three-night parish mission we call Parish IGNITION. Many were moved by a deeper encounter with Jesus Christ. They discovered that the "empty, fill and overflow" movements of our ordinary human lives are, by God's design, a participation in the extraordinary life of Jesus.
We didn’t expect that this encounter alone would drive family and parish revival. We knew only a few would be truly caught. We wanted to find and engage them. John 6 informs us that great numbers are preceded by great depth of a few. In that scene many left Jesus, which enabled Him to discover a few who might profess with Peter, “Lord, where are we to go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)
Herein is a principal of success. Jesus spent the vast majority of his time forming a relative few. In this He taught us “cross metrics,” that the vertical beam of deepening discipleship holds up the horizontal beam of multiply disciples. Guided by Jesus, we needed to similarly engage and form “the 12” who would become “the 72,” and so forth.
Thus, beyond the moment of Parish IGNITION, an initial 12 were discerned and accepted the movement. They said yes to becoming a community of missionary disciples. Duly noting that pursuit of holiness is a lifelong task, and we all fall short, they were selected on the basis of being Mature, Orthodox, Responsible and Evangelical (M.O.R.E.).
So what’s the mission? From the beginning, we have repeated our mission from Acts of the Apostles, which is not meant to be a historical account, but a present description. Specifically, “The community of believers were of one heart and soul… with power they gave witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (Acts. 4:32-34)
An introductory retreat was occasion for all to powerfully encounter God alive among us. So much more than just “another program,” all were awakened to this missioned community as a way of life, a context of ongoing support, encouragement, accountability and growth-- that would make us better spouses, parents and neighbors.
What does it look like? Over the past nine months, we have been gathering to talk and pray twice a month. We’ve been using the Live IT guide to more deeply encounter Jesus Christ, as a missioned community and, especially, in our homes. The Live IT Guide is a free, weekly, downloadable guide that makes it easy to talk and pray in groups and homes based upon subsequent Sunday readings.
Each time we gather, we light our individual “prayer candles.”
As we gathered each time, sharing our victories and challenges, it was evident transformation was happening. Each of us were more fully discovering Jesus more present in our ordinary lives. Like the Acts of the Apostles, we were learning to call upon His name, to claim authority in His name.
Literally before our eyes, emotional, relational and even physical healing was taking place. It truly was, as one member said, “a culture changer.”
After a few months it had to overflow. These missionary disciples became the core community for monthly SPARK / IGNITE events in their parish, the arms of Jesus personally reaching out to members of the parish.
SPARK is a meal and short testimonial by a team member, encouraging all to receive the gift of God alive in their homes using the Live IT Guide. At SPARK participants light their respective candles and get a small taste of the “talking and praying” made possible by the Live IT Guide.
Immediately following SPARK, all process reverently to the Church. IGNITE begins. Candles are placed on the Burning Bush, a pyramidal structure upon which the Monstrance is subsequently placed and Jesus is adored through worship, Word, reflection and silence.
The Burning Bush hearkens back to God’s self-revelation to Moses. We’re reminded that our God is present. He deeply cares. He wants to work wonders. He wants to set us free. Not simply for us, but for everyone. He desires that all be saved. Mindful that we can not do it, He promises us that He can, through us… if we act in faith.
Through this Core Mission formation, the Burning Bush became a living symbol. At IGNITE we experience Jesus Christ surrounded by candles corresponding to real people who are really, intentionally seeking to live it in their homes and groups. Afterwards, the team shared the blessing of missioned community, an ongoing context of prayers, encouragement and support. There would soon be an opportunity for all to be involved in a LIT Group (small faith-sharing community in the parish).
Each participant of SPARK / IGNITE received a personal note from a team member promising support and prayers.
All along, each team member has been praying for their “O3,” which stands for Overflow 3, corresponding to 3 others each have been praying for. God willing, this missioned community will continue to increase this way in both depth and number, continuing to reverberate over time to every parishioner, and everyone in the entire geographical area! An ever-growing Holy Community we live proclaiming the Holy Communion we receive.
At a recent meeting I snapped a photo that is worth a thousand words. Amidst candles of the team gathered is a list of about 50 names-- each of whom we’ve been praying for, who will be receiving the invitation from the pastor to join in this mission. These will begin their own journey with their own retreat.
As our mission states, we are “awakening families to their extraordinary life in Jesus Christ within their ordinary world.” Mass Impact is about engaging the masses in the great adventure of Holy Mass.
Recently we conducted a survey to gauge the impact of Mass Impact. Among those engaged in Mass Impact:
- 95% reported increase in talking and praying in their homes
- 91% reported increased commitment to their parish communities
- 86% reported increase in inviting others to participate in parish life
“As you all know, the Core Team is very important to us. In fact, the first Core Team retreat was, in many ways, the start of our spiritual journey together. While we had prayed and attended mass together, I’m not sure that we have ever discussed and lived out our spirituality in such a profound way before. Through our experiences with IGNITE and all of you, our faith has deepened, and our relationships with each other and our families have grown in unexpected ways. So, we thank you all for sharing your lives, your prayers, and your hope with us.”
- Aaron Baker and Edna Miklosek
(soon to be Mr. and Mrs. Aaron Baker)
If you are interested in this becoming a portrait of your entire parish community, please read this Big Picture. CONTACT: Alive@MassImpact.us
REGISTER SPARK / IGNITE: IGNITEMBS.eventbrite.com