Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Church Ignited

When my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Henzie, offered extra credit for pronouncing and accurately spelling the word behind the acronym DNA, I rose to the occasion. Deoxyribonucleic acid was indeed a challenging word for a 12 year old, but I was a good speller and enjoyed the benefits of a good memory.

Understanding DNA is a bigger challenge than spelling it. Those gifted with a scientific mind can describe its components detailing genomes, nucleotides and chromosomes and how they all fit together. I simply know that this chemical substance contains genetic coding that is passed on from one generation to the next.

When Archbishop Vigneron stated that he is seeking a “change in the very DNA of the Church in Detroit”, I began thinking, what does that mean? Does Church have DNA? How can we decode it? If a DNA test was performed on the Church, what would it reveal?

In 1974 Pope Paul VI called for a Synod of Bishops to focus on evangelization. The Bishops performed a pseudo DNA test on the Church which revealed that the gene for evangelization had weakened and the Church was not reproducing the faith in others as she once had. They began decoding the Church’s DNA from which Pope Paul VI wrote the Magna Carta document; Evangelization in the Modern World. This document reignited the whole Church towards her primary mission and sparked a resurgence of the gene for evangelization.

In keeping with this momentum, Archbishop Vigneron has launched Synod 16 to resurge Detroit in the area of evangelization.  He hopes that this synod will help us better understand how we can be an evangelizing diocese, established in our time and sustained through future generations. Through this synod process, the Archbishop seeks to reawaken the hearts of the faithful to have a renewed encounter with Jesus, to grow in relationship with Him and to share Him with others. He wants us to be a Church on mission.

Working in the office of evangelization has offered me a chance to run some diagnostic work in parishes and Catholic organizations. I have discovered some common cultural norms that actually work against evangelization and mission and must be corrected if transformation is to occur. They are as follows:

De evangelizing parish cultural norms
Evangelizing parish cultural norms
Belief that faith is a private matter
Correction: While faith in Jesus is personal, it is not meant to be private. Being a disciple means we have been chosen by God to take Jesus into the world. We can say no to God’s choice if we wish, but then our faith will fizzle and God will have to find someone else.
Belief that evangelization is for the ordained
Correction: evangelization is for the Baptized and Confirmed. Through these sacraments we receive gifts and charisms and are sent on mission. Ordained ministers are at the service of the lay faithful, that they may grow in holiness and be  sent into the world.
Belief that formal education is a pre requisite to evangelization
Correction: It’s not about us and what we know, it’s about the Holy Spirit who moves in and through the Body of Christ, sends us on mission and gives us the words or actions needed for evangelization.
Belief that Catholics don’t evangelize
Correction: evangelization is at the very heart of our identity. The Catholic Church exists in order to evangelize. Catholics are the original evangelizers.

Archbishop Vigneron intends that through Synod 16 “we will inform ourselves of the nature and practice of evangelization as our first and most important pastoral activity. As a diocese, we will seek to establish practices encouraging and nurturing evangelization as a normal activity in our Catholic institutions.”

Synod 16 promises to be an exciting time in Detroit as we decode and recode our Church DNA and radically change how we do things. Passing on the faith is everyone’s business and our number one concern. We are saved in order to be sent.