Reported by Fr. Jim Brobst, OMI
I was privileged to participate in the annual gathering of the CONFERENCE OF MAJOR SUPERIORS OF MEN in Nashville, TN. It focused primarily on the “New Evangelization” which engages the church at large. One of the more helpful conferences given was by Fr. Bob Schreiter, CPPS, who addressed us at our April Convocation. The topic was the “New Evangelization” for religious communities.
One of the challenges we face in such a “New Evangelization” is not simply to repeat the same message more loudly. The call is to PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR IN NEW WAYS AND VENUES, in a far more multi-cultural reality within and beyond our Congregation. Our Catholic Church in the United States is still very parish-dependent, while many drift away from such structures. This is not a wholesale drift away from faith or from a desire for spirituality and transcendence. Strengthening and adapting current traditional non-parish ministries (retreat houses, shrines) and delving into newer ways of reaching out (media, internet) are something which we as Oblates in the Midwest already have structures to address.
RELIGIOUS COMMUNITIES WERE GIVEN THREE WAYS IN WHICH WE MIGHT EVANGELIZE IN NEW WAYS in such a context.
1. The need to create new social spaces in which to encounter and dialogue with people. The elimination of time and distance through instant digital communication opens up the possibility of “niche” communities of common interest on social media such as Skype, Facebook, (yes, these are already old to many of the people we’re hoping to reach!) and developing digital means for further outreach to them.
2. The need for ministry of presence both within and beyond such spaces. We can use both media and our physical presence to include those marginalized by poverty or social isolation, accompany them in their journeys, advocate for genuine needs and be in solidarity with them.
3. The need for a ministry of absence, as well. By this, we mean creating spaces free of mere activity and diversion – an absence of distraction in order to develop a deeper internal life. People are seeking a deepened interiority. We need to acknowledge the reality of evil and also provide a place for mystery. If we encounter others, but do not help them encounter the Presence beyond us, we have failed at our mission, but may have good social experiences along the way.
It seems to me that retreat houses, shrines, our media ministries and our mission centers could become (and in some ways already are) venues beyond the traditional parish church structure where we can address those needs. The challenge will be to reach beyond what we know and try new things, not all of which may succeed.