Something awesome this way comes! Can you feel it? Can you sense it? We so often see the downward spiral of statistics showing the Catholic Church of the West in decline. We’ve seen here in Jackson over the last 40 years a dramatic down-shifting from the numbers of parishes, schools, vocations and participating members. If we look at numbers alone, the near future seems almost bleak. Yet, there are tremendous signs of life, renewal; the leaves are green and the vine is readying for a fruitful harvest ahead!
When Pope Benedict XI was still a local priest in Germany, he was known as Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, and he gave a radio address to German Catholics that aired in 1969. This seemed prophetic.
“From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so it will lose many of her social privileges. …As a small society, it will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. …But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. The Church will be a more spiritual Church … a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. …The future of the Church, once again as always, will be reshaped by saints, by [those] whose minds probe deeper than the slogans of the day, who see more than others see, because their lives embrace a wider reality. …We must pray for and cultivate unselfishness, self-denial, faithfulness, Sacramental devotion and a life centered on Christ.”
Bishop Boyea penned a Pastoral Letter, 2012: Go and Make Disciples. He called us to “engage our Catholics more deeply” with retreats, essential moments, small groups, formation opportunities, formation events, and discipleship training. He asked us to be aware of our Sunday experience and to evaluate how inviting our parishes are with an eye toward the lost, questioning, and hurting. He has held three large assemblies, gatherings, in hopes of reinvigorating the people of the Lansing Diocese. And so, dutifully, this has been our plan the last few years: making an attempt to cultivate faithfulness, focus on Sacraments, fuel hospitality, and favoring Christ as the center of everything.
We are already seeing signs of renewal. There is new life coming. The signs of a fruitful spring are being experienced, even though our Catholic community is smaller. There are measurable increases in Sunday Mass attendance for the first time in many years, a steady stream of new people seeking out Catholicism through RCIA, very favorable responses to initiatives like Alpha and the big Diocesan Assembly, more people asking for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, momentum with various outreach and service projects, more requests for prayer and spiritual direction, growing youth programs, new faces at most formation events (Bible studies, talks, and Adult classes), a terrific response to a major capital campaign (Witness to Hope), powerful Confirmation retreats for our 8th graders, over a dozen small groups meeting regularly, and, most importantly, a pattern we have seen often of folks who have been encountering our Lord and deepening their walk with Him. Those of us fortunate to be on staff at the parish see it daily. Something awesome this way comes.
We are seeing around us in the Church an awakening to what our recent Popes have called “apostolic zeal” and “joy of the Gospel”; what Scott Hahn calls a “newness and freshness reminiscent of the first Christians.” Matthew Kelly calls Catholics who live this way “dynamic” and that they live lives that are “contagious.” Sherry Weddell calls them “intentional Disciples”; we could say alive, genuine, radical, or authentic.
I truly believe we are on the cusp of experiencing a huge surge of holy disciples on mission to grow and go to reach critical mass so that it is NORMAL to be a dynamic, intentional, contagious, joyful, radiant disciple of Jesus Christ. It starts with us. And the plan involves the holiness of every one of us. Remember what Fr. Joseph said: “The future of the Church, once again as always, will be reshaped by saints…” The world was shaken by one Mother Theresa; it learned amazing new thoughts from a handful of brilliant minds like Augustine, Teresa, Aquinas, and Catherine; it was forever changed by a motley crew of Jewish boys who became Apostles…Imagine if all of US reading this were to give Jesus our all. Hold back nothing. Give Him our sins, our plans, our time, our will, our everything.
Many of you are already engaged. Many of us can do more. What if we gave Jesus a blank check? What if we were all in? Sign our name to it. Let him fill in the amount of time and talent and treasure that he wants us to give? What if we radically trusted? This is the challenge of our time. Will we be disciples on a mission? Will we be saints?