Fr. James Mallon spoke to about 100 people about the New Evangelization and parish life at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament on Nov. 19. Photo by Michael Swan.

Catholics must engage in making disciples, Fr. Mallon tells Toronto audience

By 
  • November 20, 2014

TORONTO - Fr. James Mallon believes your parish can be better, that it must be better and that a better parish is your responsibility.

“We’re not talking about shifting our theology. We’re talking about shifting our practice,” the author of Divine Renovation, From a Maintenance to a Missional Parish told about 100 people who braved an icy, cold and traffic-snarled night to hear him speak about the New Evangelization and parish life at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in midtown Toronto Nov. 19.

The Halifax priest and founder of the JPII Media Institute lectured on how Pope Francis’ insights into the New Evangelization need to be incorporated into a meaningful and dynamic parish life.

“We’ve bought into an entirely privatized experience of faith,” Mallon said. “We don’t even want an experience of community.”

Mallon’s lecture was the first of an annual series his publisher, Novalis, is sponsoring. The series on parish realities will run under the banner of the Living With Christ Lecture, promoting Novalis’s monthly and annual missals.

Mallon argues most Catholics have decided the great commission (Matthew 28:16-20) has nothing to do with them or their parish. When Mallon quotes back Jesus' command to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you,” most Catholics can’t tell which of the four verbs — “go, make, baptize, teach” — is the most important. Three of the verbs are used as nouns and only one of them is a direct command to action — make.

If making disciples is the furthest thing from the mind of most Catholics, and nowhere on the agenda of most parishes, the Church isn’t doing what Jesus commanded it to, said Mallon.

Rather than making disciples — learners and followers anxious to know better and draw closer to Christ, their Master — parishes have become obsessed with maintaining their buildings, their status, their numbers and their schedule, he said. If parishes want to know what they should be doing instead, they should pay more attention to what Pope Francis has written and taught.

In the 2007 Aparecida document, principal author Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (who was to become Pope Francis) uses the term “missionary disciples 121 times. The Aparecida document, which many regard as a kind of preview to Pope Francis’ encyclical Evangelii Gaudium, constitutes the Latin American bishops’ response to millions of Catholics leaving the Church to join Evangelical and Pentecostal groups who offer a more meaningful experience of community, a bolder proclamation of Jesus, instruction in the Bible and a tangible, dramatic and memorable experience of Christ.

“None of these people have left for theological reasons. They’ve left for what they (the Latin American bishops) call vivential reasons,” Mallon said.

While the North American Church may be more likely to lose its members to the religious nones who feel no need to affiliate with any faith or tradition, it doesn’t mean that the richer half of the Western Hemisphere isn’t dealing with the same failures in Church life, particularly at the parish level, said Mallon.

A clerical culture that cannot act without the approval of a priest or bishop, combined with a thinly stretched corps of priests trained in theology but not leadership, leaves most Catholics with almost no sense that they are supposed to be disciples, let alone make disciples, he said.

“Making disciples is the heart of the matter,” said Mallon. “We miss the very heart of this when we fail to make disciples.”

With a whole suite of DVDs, books, web sites and television productions — plus Mallon’s extensive speaking commitments across Canada and the United States — the JPII Media Institute presents itself as a full-service media consultancy for Catholics. Since Pope Francis' election in April 2013, Mallon has also presented the organization as a way for Catholics to take up the challenges of the Argentine Pope’s teaching. 

Mallon founded JPII Media in 2005 and continues to lead it while also pastoring St. Benedict parish in Halifax.

The new 286-page, $24.95 book from Novalis fits into Mallon’s vision of equipping Catholics for evangelization.

Comments (1)

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Father Mallon is a very good speaker and is committed to evangelization. I have been to his parish many times and listened to his homilies, which are lively and inspiring.
Chris MacDonald, author - CATHOLIC EVANGELIZATION: practical ways of...

Father Mallon is a very good speaker and is committed to evangelization. I have been to his parish many times and listened to his homilies, which are lively and inspiring.
Chris MacDonald, author - CATHOLIC EVANGELIZATION: practical ways of spreading the gospel and building up the Body of Christ.

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Chris MacDonald
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