Our future as a parish will depend on your participation and input.
October 5, 2019
Dear parishioners and friends of St. Bride,
This is an invitation to an important meeting at St. Bride on Monday, October 7, 2019, at 6:00pm in the church hall. Our future as a parish will depend on your participation and input.
What is this about? As you already know, the Archdiocese of Chicago is engaging in a comprehensive parish restructuring process known as Renew My Church. You have already received the three scenarios that outline the parish structural possibilities for our grouping. Which sanctuaries will remain open, which will not, where masses will get celebrated, how will the staff be configured? And you now know the basic outline of the financial health of each of the four grouping parishes.
These are hard realities. Nonetheless, in light of the decline in the number of priestly vocations and the decline in the number of practicing Catholics in our archdiocese that has been trending for a long time, Chicago Catholics must face these squarely.
However, these are not the only “hard realities” we as a Catholic community must face. Our spiritual health is also at stake. And I don’t say this lightly.
Renew My Church has a mission. And that mission is to renew, rebuild, re-ignite, and re-invigorate, Chicago Catholics, and in the process, rebuild the Chicago churches. This is a very tall order, but what is the alternative? The slow but steady death of our parishes and the leaders we count on to represent Christ on earth.
Cardinal Cupich’s reflections are worth contemplating to help us get started in understanding this mission.
1. The process of renewal touches the very heart of who we are as the believing people of God. The purpose of the Church is to bring Jesus Christ and the power of the Gospel to the entire world beginning with ourselves.
2. Renewal is a constant task and calling of the Church. Every age and every people must reclaim the faith they have received. Every generation must ready itself to pass on the faith to new generations. This was true in the time of Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica, of Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Clare, of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Saint Teresa of Avila. It is no less true for us in our own time. In a word, we have to ask ourselves constantly, “How are we bringing about the renewal that is necessary for us to pass on the faith to the next generation?”
3. The Church that seeks renewal is a communion of persons gathered in the name of Jesus. This means that our movement forward will always involve cultivating and fostering relationships with each other. In fact, I believe that an important by-product of Renew My Church will be the new relationships we will build among the parishes and within the Archdiocese. To do this, we need to learn to listen to each other, to appreciate each other, to pray for one another, and to appreciate the presence of God in each other.
4. The Church that is on the path of renewal is truly on a path and has not yet arrived at its final destination. We will go forward as the pilgrim people of God. Our journey together will not always follow a straight line. We will learn from our mistakes but also find encouragement in new surprises of grace. We will encourage each other on the road.
5. Renewal can only happen in the open spaces of our lives. A spiritual writer once wrote, “Just as nature abhors a vacuum, the Spirit of God abhors fullness that gives no room for the Spirit to move.” We need to hold as a mantra the words, “Be open; be available.” We will need to remind each other regularly of this essential frame of mind and heart. Just as the Blessed Virgin Mary, in her openness and availability said, “Let it be done to me according to your word,” so, too, do we need to follow a similar path. No preconceptions, no rigidity, no pre-set formulas. What is essential is a ready and open willingness to follow the promptings of God’s Holy Spirit.
Thank you, Cardinal, for lighting this flame at the start of the tunnel.
What does it mean to be a communion of persons gathered in the name of Jesus? The first of Renew My Church’s three mission imperatives is that we are called by Jesus Christ to make disciples. I don’t need to convince you that making disciples is not easy. Despite our hesitation, fear, or resistance, we must reach out, as Alice Baker told me years ago.
In whatever configuration our new parish will be, we members have a huge challenge. We must build new relationships. Any psychologist (and educator) will tell you that relationships are the hardest thing that we must do. Between parents and children, between spouses and partners, between working colleagues and neighbors, between friends old and new. And between members of a new parish in which we may or may not know much about each other’s lives. How do we do this? How do we reach out? How do we build new relationships? How do we make disciples?
Jesus told us in the 15th chapter of John. After the allegory of the vine and the branches in which he enjoins the Twelve to ‘bear much fruit’ by remaining with Him, Jesus said:
It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit and be my disciples.
I have loved you just as the Father has loved me.
Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.
I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete. This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you.
Christ did not say love one another as you want to love, but as I have loved you.
We must love as Christ loved us.
My late friend and Episcopal priest (formerly Roman Catholic priest), Frank Fortkamp had this to say about becoming disciples through love.
“A person becomes a disciple when she or he produces good works in imitation of Christ: good works produced by love…. When we do good works for any of our brothers or sisters because we love them as Jesus loved the Twelve, we not only make this world a better place, we, like Jesus, give honor and glory to the Father. Love God; love your neighbor…. Since no one of us is perfect, each of us will encounter people we find impossible to embrace honestly with Christ-like love…. The disciple whose soul is rooted in Jesus will consistently get better and better at the difficult task of loving our neighbor. We will fail sometimes; sometimes the neighbor will be hard to love. He might be stupid or arrogant, odious for a variety of reasons. He might smell so strongly that even approaching him makes you nauseous. Vomit if you have to, but do not give up the attempt at Christ-like love.
Reach out. Build new relationships. Make disciples through love.