Gathered and Sent

Gathered and Sent – Jack Jerzeel     JustFaith Conference   Louisville, KY        May 4, 2011

How a parish defines itself can be a structural impediment. 

  • Does it see itself as a community of saints, prophets, and martyrs? 
  • Is the practice of the faith actually the practice of compassion – comfort the afflicted, etc.? 

Role of what we call Social Ministry can be evaluated in several ways:

  • as an extra, an optional side dish to the real meal of parish life
  • with the assumption that a commitment to the poor and vulnerable is biblical and central to the Catholic faith and
  • this is evidenced in measureable evidence: the job descriptions of staff, budgeting, homilies, calendars, language. 

The tradition of compassion for the poor is quintessentially Catholic – the vision of God’s justice and Jesus’ way of compassion are integral to our mission.  Do the ministries support this, are we trying to form real life saints, prophets, and martyrs?

We may need a dramatic reconfiguration of the Catholic parish, a move toward a new paradigm.   While social ministry is thriving in some places, it is not in others.  Many pastors are not very engaged in social mission of the Church.  Many liturgists and religious educators are disinterested.  Their lack of enthusiasm is reflected in parish budgets. 

The solution does not lie in more encyclicals or programs.  The obstacle is the assumption that the parish is organized is such a way that a majority of Catholics are not really involved in social ministry.  The Gospel repeats over and over again.

The drama of gathering and getting ready for the work of our lives which is “sending:”

  • Gathering is the work of liturgy, and faith formation. 
  • Sending is about mission, serving victims of injustice, like St. Vincent de Paul – making place for people in need. 
  • Matthew 25 – the last reading of the Church year, read on the feast of Christ the King. 

To know compassion for the poor is to know God.  Without both gathering and sending, our faith is incomplete.  

Our parishes are primarily places of gathering (period).  The most repeated Catholic question is “What time is Mass?”  Gathering is critical to the human hunger for God, to be formed in the way of Christ.  But, “gathering” disconnected from “sending” is something less that then gospel.   There are 2 serious consequences:

  1. parish life becomes static because they lost their focus on the mission.  The Church exists for the world.
  2. to be concerned with itself makes it difficult to be involved in the mission. 

In other words, if we don’t do “sending” our gathering loses its purpose (it becomes turned in on itself.).  Parishes that are no heroic, challenging, are losing people.

Cloud of Witnesses (people who have lived out love and compassion):  The Church has a tradition of sending – many who have been inspired by faith come from every country in the world.  Damien, Mother Teresa, Oscar Romero, Dorothy Day are all one of us.  Many of these have functioned outside the parish.  How did compassion move from the parish?

Where do we go from here? The home parish is the Catholic Social Ministry headquarters.   Look at the broad horizons of our past to see where the saints, prophets and martyrs came from.  Many lived in religious communities that were moved to peacemaking and justice work.  Religious communities had work to do.  Nobody joined Maryknoll because the Mass times were convenient.  The terms of membership were that you would serve. 

Is gathering and sending on the calendar?  If not, why not?    

  • Define parishes by gathering and sending. 
  • Why not divide every parish into teams of 12 to make a commitment. 
  • Why not become catalysts, advocates? 
  • Why not create a local version of Doctors without Borders? 
  • Why not work with at-risk moms? 
  • Why not dedicate half the parish budget for gathering and half for sending?  Half the parish buildings for gathering and half for sending, half the parish energy…?

Gather 12 people who want to be sent and get started.  This is exactly what St. Francis of Assisi did!

Why do this?  God gathers us in prayer, study, Eucharist – to form us so that all people could be safe and loved.


“Gathered and Sent” can be viewed as a 4 part series on YouTube. Click below to watch the presentation: 

Gathered and Sent Part 2

Gathered and Sent Part 3

Gathered and Sent Part 4