Here we go! We have spent the past twelve months preparing for this work and now we begin. Like a journey, we have prepared, packed and prayed to the best of our abilities for where we are going, but until we actually begin, the journey is still theoretical. For about half of us in the Archdiocese of Detroit, however, Families of Parishes is here.
While we might not notice much in the first days or weeks of this new journey, we have our eyes set on a new frontier. Like the first few miles of a road trip, the terrain will look familiar. But we will soon pass the normal makers of our daily lives and enter into the exciting territory of the unknown. This journey is not simply an exercise of demonstrating what we can do. Nor is it an exile from the safe shores of 20th-century parish life. Rather, it is an exercise in obedience to the Holy Spirit which we committed ourselves to in Synod 16. We heard the call for us to journey more deeply into the mission territory and to become a missionary archdiocese, aligning everything in our parishes to the fundamental commitment to evangelization.
In his pastoral note on Families of Parishes, the Archbishop calls us to remember the command Jesus gave the apostles after his resurrection. They were not many in number or of great worldly import but it was enough for our Lord: “The numbers [of apostles] would hardly have made a passer-by turn his head. But it is never the size, political influence, or earthly power of the disciples of Jesus by which his ministry is measured. It is measured in faithfulness. Therefore, the eleven are enough. They are enough because they are obedient to him.”
It is easy to get distracted or discouraged by the challenges of our resources or the dangers of our journey. But if we keep in mind our deepest “why’s” for this journey, we will be amazed at what we are able to accomplish in and with Jesus.
We are embarking on this journey to more radically and authentically live out our missionary call. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” is the command Jesus gives his apostles before his Ascension. Two thousand years later, our call is nothing less and nothing more than this. We are bearers of this same call to be disciple-makers. Our mission field is not simply those who come to Mass week-by-week. This is not one of Jesus’s hyperbolic statements. He really means–Of. All. Nations.
At another time, Jesus speaks of this work as being “fishers of men.” Being a fisherman is not standing on the shore and trying to attract the fish. It is not about going out on the water and hoping the fish hop right in. Fishing means going into the water and bringing the fish out. So too, our work of evangelization is not about setting up great parish programs and hoping the “fish” wander in. No! We have to look for ways to go “into the water” where the fish are!
This means our parishes need an outward focus. We need to be actively seeking those who do not know Jesus, those who have never encountered him in truth, love, and power, and bringing them to him. And “our parishes” are not amorphous entities. They are you and me. So this work is for you and me, to learn not simply how to prepare the fish we already have, but to go fishing.
The new “mission direct structure” of Families of Parishes is the boat we need to go fishing. On its own, it cannot do the work. But if we use this structure, and approach our work with a spirit of cooperation and a spirit of innovation, we will be well on our way to the missionary transformation that makes it possible for us to unleash the Gospel.
Whether we think of this work as “going fishing” or setting out on a journey, we have tremendous work ahead of us. We were not born into a comfortable time where our mission is to preserve what others have done. If ever a time existed such as this, it is surely not ours. Ours is a time of adventure. And this adventure can be intimidating, exhausting and exciting. Whatever comes our way, we are not afraid, for Jesus is with us. So lead us, kindly light, into the mission field you have prepared in Southeast Michigan!