Going to the Root: Nine Proposals for Radical Church Renewal

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Today no less than two millennia ago, there is no limit to what the Lord can do in our midst. Luke for the accomplishment of her mission. It began in March of with my announcement of a year of prayer for a new Pentecost. During that year the whole Archdiocese was united with Mary, the Twelve, and the other disciples in the Upper Room, praying for and expectantly awaiting a new coming of the Holy Spirit. People from all over the Archdiocese began to tell me of signs that this prayer is being answered.

In April the Amazing Parish Conference provided a powerful impetus for local parish leaders to reimagine and fortify the mission-centered focus of our parishes. A profoundly significant step along this itinerary was the Mass for Pardon on October 7, , in which I came before God with my fellow priests and hundreds of lay people to repent on behalf of the Archdiocese for the sins committed over the generations by our bishops, priests, lay ministers, institutions, and all the faithful—sins that all too often had become embedded in our church culture.

Finally, the archdiocesan-wide Synod 16, held November , , was an historic occasion during which representatives from all corners of the Archdiocese—clergy, religious and lay people—gathered to pray and reflect together on what will make the Church in southeast Michigan a joyful band of missionary disciples. The Synod was the ignition spark that is to set the Archdiocese ablaze. Its goal was nothing less than a radical overhaul of the Church in Detroit, a complete reversal of our focus from an inward, maintenance-focused church, to an outward, mission-focused church.

This pastoral letter is to serve as the charter for implementing the fruit of Synod Parts 4 and 5 are the heart of the letter. Part 4 is a series of ten guideposts, each with some specific markers, to guide our implementation of the Synod. Part 5 lists the specific propositions and action steps that, following the recommendations of the Synod, we will take in order to become a missionary Church. Finally, in Part 6, I reaffirm that unleashing the Gospel is the work of the whole Church in the Archdiocese empowered by the Spirit of the risen Lord, and I describe how I aim to lead us in this mission in my remaining years as Archbishop.

It is [Christ Jesus] whom we proclaim, admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. Colossians For families this means that every family embraces its role as the domestic church and, in connection with other families and single persons, actively seeks the spiritual and social renewal of its neighborhood, schools and places of work.

For parishes and archdiocesan services it means the renewal of structures to make them Spirit-led and radically mission-oriented. This missionary conversion entails a strikingly countercultural way of living grounded in prayer, Scripture, and the sacraments; unusually gracious hospitality; a capacity to include those on the margins of society; and joyful confidence in the providence of God even in difficult and stressful times.

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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. Matthew The missionary conversion to which the Lord calls us is new, yet it is also a return to the roots of our identity as the Church of Jesus Christ, manifested to the world on the day of Pentecost. It is the Church becoming young again! It is a reawakening to our foundational calling, applied in a new way to the specific circumstances and challenges of our time.

She exists in order to evangelize. Evangelization is, very simply, proclaiming the good news of Jesus to those around us. This proclamation is to be both in word and in deed. On the other hand, if we share the good news in deeds only, people will not learn of the One who is the source of the joy and divine love we carry within us. Those around us are thirsting for the Gospel, the words of eternal life, even if they do not realize it.

How can we fail to share generously what we have freely received? Parishes and dioceses slipped almost imperceptibly into a mode of maintenance rather than mission. Many Catholics came to think of evangelization as a special calling, primarily for priests and religious in the foreign missions.

But in the last half century, even as the western world has become increasingly secularized and countless people have abandoned the faith into which they were baptized, the Church has been ringing out a call for all Catholics to awaken to their baptismal identity as missionary disciples.

All are being summoned to engage in a new evangelization—a renewed proclamation of the good news of Christ to the people of our time. John Paul II, takes account of the fact that the Church in our time exists in a vastly changed situation. The Synod participants noted the many opportunities for unleashing the Gospel. Our local Church is rich in lay involvement; there is a wide variety of flourishing movements, ministries, and initiatives. We are ready now to build on that foundation. If our first response was to change our way of thinking about ourselves as the people of God, our response now is to make use of the fruit given in these past five decades in order to go outward with the Gospel.

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Our internal renewal is for the sake of mission. In our civil society as well, there are many signs that our communities are ready for renewal. There is a recognition that we are in a new social situation, a readiness to move beyond the way we have always done things and to think about new ways. At the same time the Synod participants recognized the many challenges facing the Archdiocese of Detroit.

For several decades the number of practicing Catholics has been in steady decline, a significant factor leading to many painful closings and mergings of parishes and schools, which has in turn caused more people to drift away in discouragement or frustration.

The number of active priests has also dropped considerably. In the last half century our metro area has suffered from urban blight, economic decline, racial tensions, family breakdown, substance abuse, and crime. The Archdiocese covers a wide range of geographic and demographic settings—inner city, suburban and rural—each with its own unique characteristics and needs.

These multiple challenges have contributed to a widespread pessimism regarding the possibility of authentic renewal. Some might say that the Archdiocese of Detroit is a most unlikely setting for a large-scale revitalization of the Church. But is it not in the most unlikely settings that the Lord loves to show forth his divine power? Our acknowledgement of our own spiritual poverty is precisely what can lead us to rely wholly on God.

Then it becomes clear that success belongs to him alone and not to any human ingenuity.

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If we have become spiritually dry, we need not fear. Dry wood is perfect for being set on fire! We also recognize that Catholics are not the only ones who are seeking to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ in southeast Michigan. We honor and support the efforts of our brothers and sisters in other Christian communions to bear witness to Christ. God is at work in them, and there is much we can learn from their evangelistic fervor. Wherever possible we should work together with them to bring the light of Christ into our city and region, although without ceasing to proclaim the fullness of Catholic teaching.

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The roots of the present crisis of faith go far beyond the boundaries of our local Church. For the last several centuries the western world has been gradually abandoning its Christian foundations. Underlying the rejection of Christian faith at a deep level are often false or pseudo religions, belief systems based on profoundly misguided assumptions.

Many people hold these beliefs unreflectively, not aware of their underlying premises. Some of the most common false religions today are the following. Scientific fundamentalism. Scientific fundamentalism is a belief that all questions about human existence and the world can be answered by experimental science. The universe is regarded as a closed system in which everything can be explained by the laws of physics, chemistry, biology, and evolution. God, if he exists at all, does not intervene in the world. Anything that cannot be proven scientifically is assumed to be false or at least unimportant.

In reality, such a belief attributes to science a role that is far beyond its competence, since there are vast domains of existence that experimental science cannot account for, including ethical goods, aesthetic values, love, friendship, sacrifice, knowledge, and even science itself. Moralistic therapeutic deism. This term was famously coined by two sociologists to describe the amorphous set of religious beliefs to which many American young people subscribe. It is therapeutic in that it envisions God as on call to take care of problems that arise in our lives, but not otherwise interested in us nor holding us accountable for our choices.

It is deistic in that it views God as having created the world but not personally involved in it. Such views fall far short of the Christian understanding of God, who does hold us accountable, who gave his Son for us to save us from the devastating consequences of sin, and who desires to be deeply involved in our lives. Secular messianism. Secular messianism is a politicized version of Christianity that makes the Gospel subservient to a human agenda. It comes in various forms both liberal and conservative , but in every case it reduces Christianity to a program of social progress in this world.

Such an outlook has lost sight of the eschatological vision of the Gospel—the fact that what we believe and do in this life has eternal consequences, because the world as we know it will one day come to an end and Christ will return as the Lord before whom every knee will bow Phil All these false answers to the deepest questions of life are not reasons for discouragement but for hope, because they show that people are hungry and searching for truth even if they are knocking on the wrong door.

As St. It has only misdirected it. Every human being, even if they are not aware of it, longs to be known and to be loved unconditionally. Everyone yearns for authentic happiness. Everyone wants to be secure in their identity, to be fulfilled as a human being, and to matter to others in some way. God himself has placed these desires in the human heart, and they can ultimately be fulfilled in Christ alone; anything less will fail to satisfy. That is why we who belong to Christ can never cease to propose him to those who do not yet know him. Jesus Christ is the desire of the nations, and his Gospel is the answer to the deepest aspirations of the human heart.

At Synod 16 many frank discussions were held in which the participants discerned and evaluated together the present state of the Archdiocese of Detroit. A look at these good and bad habits will help us identify both what has to change and what we are called to become. Our bad habits are those attitudes, misunderstandings, or deceptions that hold us back from unleashing the Gospel. Five of these stood out in particular at the Synod. A worldly notion of the Church. Too often the Church is viewed, even by Catholics, as simply a human institution, and the Catholic faith as merely a lifestyle enhancer.

The priest is seen as a kind of ecclesiastical civil servant. It is Christ who directs the mission and activity of the Church and who will bring her without fail to her final destiny. All of us, clergy and laity alike, are servants of the Lord who will one day render an account of our service to him. Spiritual lethargy. The second vice is closely related to the first. If the Church is viewed as a human institution, then it is easy to become overwhelmed by the challenges that face us.

The feeling that we have to carry the burden of a struggling Church contributes in turn to weariness, discontent, and defeatism. It may seem as if we are pushing a rock up a steep hill and getting nowhere. Where there has been such lethargy, dear brothers and sisters, let us repent! If our ardor has cooled, let us ask the Lord to touch us once again with a burning ember from his altar cf. Isa that we may be rekindled in our zeal for him. Status quo mentality. There can be a kind of institutional hardening, a resistance to change.

We may consider that certain institutional forms, customs and practices have carried us in the past and we do not want to put in the effort to reform them. The fourth bad habit can sometimes be more hidden. We can be subtly influenced by a combination of fears: fear of taking risks, fear of failure, fear of losing control, fear of going beyond our comfort zone. But yielding to fear keeps us in spiritual bondage cf. Heb Isa We must choose not to be guided by fear.


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Whenever we become aware of fears and anxieties influencing us, we can bring them before the Lord in all honesty and ask him to replace them with apostolic courage. A complaining attitude. A common temptation in reaction to problems is to lament that we no longer have the power or prestige we once had. But complaining leads only to discouragement and paralysis. God thinks we have enough, because we have him.

Our good habits are those dispositions of mind and heart that we must take on in order to become a radically mission-oriented Church. They are in fact a participation in the mind and heart of Jesus. The following good habits are particularly crucial to the cultural change we are seeking to effect in the Archdiocese. Docility to the Spirit. Apostolic boldness. A quality that stood out among the early Christians was their boldness in proclaiming the Gospel, even in the face of hostility and persecution cf. They did not hesitate to proclaim Jesus as the one Savior whom God offers to the whole human race, and to call their listeners to repentance and conversion.

Their boldness was not a human personality trait, but a result of their intimate union with Christ cf. A spirit of innovation. The rapidly changing cultural situation in which we find ourselves requires that we think in new and creative ways. We need to be willing to jettison some old structures that no longer work and to experiment with new ones. Paul tried different missionary strategies in different settings cf. A spirit of cooperation. There can be no competition in the body of Christ, because we have one Lord and one united purpose Eph The whole Archdiocese has embarked on the new evangelization together, and any victory for one is a victory for all.

Confidence in God. We give the Lord the best of our effort, but it is he who will bring the increase. We can trust in him, for the renewal of the Archdiocese of Detroit is not our work but his divine work in which we are cooperating. An attitude of gratitude. The best antidote to discouragement is to praise God continually for who he is and to thank him for what he has done. Gratitude puts us in a right posture before God and opens us to his further work in our lives. I will bring spirit into you, that you may come to life. The Lord is breathing his Spirit into you to bring you to life!

He is awakening you to what Christ came to give you, the fullness of life that comes from knowing him and receiving the free gift of his salvation. Smart travelers look for directional signs on their road. One of the most precious fruits of the Synod experience was the disclosure of these signs to mark out the way for us to take in our efforts to unleash the Gospel. Specifically, they serve as the guides for plotting the action steps set out in Part 5 in order to implement the propositions endorsed at the Synod.

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth. Synod 16 has definitively set the Church in Detroit on the path of the new evangelization; we are living in our own time the Gospel mysteries of the Great Commission and Pentecost. As the first evangelization could not have taken place without the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, so the new evangelization cannot be accomplished without a new Pentecost.

Rom , revealing to us the Lordship of Jesus and our own exalted identity as beloved sons and daughters of God. The transformation caused by the Spirit was most visible in the apostle Peter. Before Pentecost, Peter had left everything to follow Jesus and was earnestly seeking to live by his teaching.

But his ability to fulfill his apostolic mission was compromised by his own fears and failings. Then after boasting of his loyalty to the Master, he came face to face with his own weakness and cowardice. For the Church in Detroit, reliving the Gospel mysteries means that we continually return to the Upper Room, asking for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit on us and on the whole region.

We seek to bring every member of the Church, insofar as possible, into a personal and life-transforming experience of the Holy Spirit. The book of Acts ends in chapter 28 with Paul under house arrest in Rome, still boldly preaching the Gospel. We are living the 29th chapter of Acts! The ecology of the New Testament by which the Gospel was unleashed in the ancient world is the ecology of the Church today.

It thus includes the same elements of repentance and faith; signs and wonders. The kingdom of God is at hand. There is no true offer of the good news that does not also call for repentance. And calling people to repentance requires that we speak of sin and its consequences, including the ultimate consequence of eternal separation from God. It is the key that unlocks the mercy of God! The call to repentance is always addressed to ourselves first, since all of us are continually in need of deeper conversion.

We must provide our pastors, catechists and others with practical help and a systematized approach to presenting Christian morality. To believe means to accept the free gift of salvation that God gives us in his Son, which far surpasses anything we could deserve or accomplish cf. Eph Grace comes first; our part is to receive. The invitation to believe in the Gospel is always personal: it is not a moral program but the offer of communion with a person, Jesus.

The evangelist presents the challenges of the Gospel not as the word of a superior to an inferior, but of a friend to a friend. Relationships are key to this whole process. We prepare the ground by first establishing trust, and then we offer accompaniment to the sinner along the challenging road to life in Christ. When the woman came to the well for her daily task of drawing water, Jesus engaged her in conversation, showing that he cared for her as a person.


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By the end of their encounter she forgot all about her bucket, because she had now drunk of the living water—that water that is the Holy Spirit Jn Because of that encounter the woman herself became an evangelist. Could he possibly be the Messiah? The joy of her new life was evident to all who saw her. This formerly isolated, outcast person was now forgiven, healed and reconciled to God.

So powerful was her testimony that, as a result, the entire town came to faith in Jesus Jn We have been given a prison-shaking Savior, a deliverer who sets captives free! Signs, small and great, are a normal part of the Christian life. Our focus is not on the signs themselves, but on the risen Lord Jesus to whom they point. Let us… persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. Hebrews The task of evangelizing is to propose Jesus Christ as the Savior whom God the Father offers to every human being. The new evangelization is not a membership drive, nor is it an effort to shore up a code of conduct.

Rather, it is a love affair. All are invited to encounter Jesus and let their hearts be captured by him. An encounter is a person-centered form of contemplation; it is two people being present to each other with no utilitarian purpose. In either case, encountering Jesus is like meeting the person you are going to marry: you are overwhelmed by this encounter and cannot imagine going forward in life without that person. The Christian life becomes not just one but a series of encounters with Jesus, especially through prayer and the liturgy, which continually deepen our relationship with him.

Preaching and catechesis in our local Church must foster such encounters, especially by explaining our love relationship with Christ as the purpose of the liturgy. Whenever possible we should invite people to respond to Jesus by surrendering their lives to him, and give them concrete opportunities to do so. For many of us, even for clergy, there is need for a renewed encounter with Jesus. Whenever we feel spiritually fatigued, arid, or battle-worn, it is this return to our first love Rev that lifts us up again and revives our hearts.

This is indeed essential, but it does not come first. As Pope Francis has reminded us:. The kerygma… needs to be the center of all evangelizing activity and all efforts at Church renewal…. It is first in a qualitative sense because it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways…. It is essential for all preachers and catechists to learn the art of proclaiming the kerygma and to reflect on how to make all their preaching and teaching more kerygmatic.

Priests and deacons, in particular, should consider how to make use of opportune moments to preach the kerygma, especially to those who are not practicing the faith—occasions such as weddings, funerals, parish social events, baptismal preparation for parents, and sacramental preparation for children and families. Personal testimony has an indispensable role in evangelization. Testimony has a unique power to touch hearts, since it is almost impossible to ignore the witness of someone who has encountered Jesus personally and whose life has been transformed by him.

The townspeople of the Samaritan woman at the well came to faith in Jesus because of her testimony, which eventually led them to encounter him themselves Jn , There is a wide variety of appropriate occasions for the giving of personal testimonies, not only in church but also in less formal settings; for instance, at the end of Mass, during times of informal prayer, in catechetical settings, RCIA programs, marriage preparation, small groups, Bible studies, etc. There is need for prudent discernment of whom to invite to give testimony, and it is wise to have them practice and receive guidance beforehand.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. John So in this age of the new covenant the Creator communicates himself to us through the created means he himself has chosen. In our efforts to unleash the Gospel, we proceed with the firm conviction that the Holy Spirit brings about life-changing encounters with the Lord Jesus in his Mystical Body the Church, particularly in fellowship with one another, in Sacred Scripture, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and most especially in the Holy Eucharist. The Church is the context given by God in which we encounter Jesus Christ.

God relates to his people not as isolated individuals but as a people, a family, united with one another in deep bonds of love Eph Pastors and other leaders should reflect on how to deepen the experience of communion among their parishioners. Do some people attend Mass in isolation, not knowing or being known by others?

Do some have the impression that relating to God is sufficient and relating to others in the parish is unnecessary? Are all aware of their responsibility to encourage and build up the faith of others? Do all recognize the need to forgive the offenses of others, to bear with their faults and failings, to avoid cliques and factions, to overcome social and cultural barriers, and to reach out to those who may feel lonely or neglected? For nearly fifty years he would make a yearly circuit from London to Bristol to Newcastle and back to London, preaching and teaching daily, with many side trips along the way.

It is hard to grasp all that is happening in this one small incident. Perhaps a more contemporary comparison will help. Wesley followed this basic pattern for decades, all over England. Wesley, the master organizer, never built a great evangelistic organization. He simply went everywhere preaching, and he sent out other preachers in similar pattern.

He concentrated not on the efforts leading up to decision but on the time after decision. Wesley would have nothing of solitary religion, secret Christians, or faith without works. Many years later Wesley wrote, In religion I am for as few innovations as possible. I love the old wine best. Although eighty-six when he made this remark, he could have said the same thing fifty years earlier. The key words are as possible.

Hold to the old. But if the old hinders the gospel, then changes. This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue? Upload Sign In Join. Save For Later. Create a List. Summary John Wesley's model of the church. Read on the Scribd mobile app Download the free Scribd mobile app to read anytime, anywhere.

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Brian T. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means— electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without prior written permission, except for brief quotations in critical reviews or articles. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All rights reserved worldwide.

Aldersgate and Fetter Lane 3. Preaching to the Poor 4. A People Called Methodists 5. What is the Church? The Church in History 8. What Kind of Radical? Patterns of Renewal The Wesleyan Synthesis Hence this book. The Foundry, Moorfields, London. The first Methodist class meeting, Bristol, The first Methodist conference, Charles Wesley Specimens of traditional Methodist class tickets.

John Wesley preaching from a market cross. Organized to Beat the Devil It is hard to grasp all that is happening in this one small incident.

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