Parish: Doing What We Can

Jul 26, 2021 | The Irish Church

Fr Chris Hayden (Totus Tuus, Edition 19)

There’s a saying that goes: Many of the greatest things in history have been achieved by people who weren’t smart enough to realise they were impossible. Any time anyone ever ‘attempts the impossible,’ there are two available outcomes: either they fail, because it was indeed impossible; or they prove that it wasn’t exactly impossible after all. It may be perfectly reasonable to regard things as impossible, but if they were to make a habit of that, it would risk becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy: It looks impossible; it can’t be done; so we won’t try; so it won’t be done.

Consider the challenges facing the Church at this time. The cultural pressure on the Church and its message is immense. Who can withstand the juggernaut of secular thinking on a range of issues from the dignity of the unborn, to the dignity of the dying, to the understanding of freedom, of sexuality, of the meaning of life? The culture we live in seems to have all these aces. We could be forgiven for thinking that the battle for the hearts and minds of young people has been won, but not by the Gospel. The media, for the most part, are deeply committed to values that are completely at odds with Christian values, as are other shapers of culture such as workers’ and professional unions, and all sorts of artistic and cultural organisations. 

Being committed to the Christian vision can feel like trying to keep the tide from coming in, which can’t be done! We might think that things are just as they are: a whole new set of values is being put in place, in a way that’s largely hidden, but unstoppable – like an iceberg. There’d be no contrast: we’d find ourselves heading for the bottom, like the Titanic. 

What are we to do, as Christians and as parishioners, in the face of the challenges to our faith and the face of various changes that can give rise to all kinds of feelings, from nostalgia to anger? Some people quit; some hold on for dear life; some become cynical; some give in to inevitability; many more just keeping plodding on, preferring not to think too much about where things are going.

There is another way, and we find it in the Gospel, where Jesus wants to feed a large number of people in the wilderness. The Lord’s followers tell him they haven’t got anything close to enough food, but Jesus asks them to bring what they had. 

They could have said: “we haven’t enough,” and left it at that. That would have been reasonable, because everybody knows that five loaves and two fish won’t feed thousands of people. They could have said that, but they didn’t; instead, they brought to Jesus what they had, and he did the rest. 

We are not asked to do the impossible, yet the Gospel cautions us against being too ready to conclude that our situation is impossible. We’re asked, as disciples and as parishioners, to bring to the Lord what we have; to offer him what we can and to trust in his capacity to use it. The Lord does not require to offer what is proportionate to the needs of our time: he asks us to offer what we have. 

That’s the answer to defeatism and discouragement: that we keep offering to the Lord the little we have; that we keep trusting him to use what we bring – our little faith, whatever goodwill we can muster. Our efforts are the currency of the Kingdom, a currency that does not devalue.

Opinion-shapers in the newspapers, radio and TV commentators, and bloggers of many stripes may yield a lot of power, but they can’t stop you or me from brining what we have to Christ. They can portray the fate of the Church as being sealed, but not even their combined efforts can stop Christ from multiplying and transforming our poor efforts. So, let’s keep offering. Let’s keep bringing what we have to Christ, so that he can use it as he sees fit.