Two years ago, my wife and I had the privilege of going on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Our first stop was the Mount of the Beatitudes, the very place where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount. As I stood atop the mountain and looked down to the Sea of Galilee, it was easy to imagine in my mind the scene where Jesus preached perhaps the greatest sermon of all time.
As the Gospel author Mark recounts the scene, Jesus begins with the beatitudes, but then immediately follows with similes of salt and light to describe what it means to be a person of faith.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”
In this description of the life of a disciple, Jesus challenges us not only to be salt and light but also to put those roles to work by seasoning those around us and by sharing our light for all to see.
But how? How do we go about doing this? The answer lies in our relationships with others.
While individual prayer and spirituality bring us closer to God, communal prayer and spirituality bring God closer to others. When we live out our faith in the context of community, we are making disciples; we are sharing the good news; we are evangelizing. This is our call from the great commission. It is also our call from the Synod 16, that sought to refashion our church toward becoming a better evangelizing diocese.
There are some who have been gifted with the charisms necessary to walk into a grocery store or a football game and easily find acceptable ways to preach to others about their faith. I admire such people. But this is not always the case. Many of us Catholics — myself included — struggle to do this well. And yet the call remains for us to evangelize. So how can we effectively be salt and light to the community if many of us struggle to personally reach out to others?
The answer lies in the church. The church is a community of believers who grow in faith together by supporting one another and by collectively reaching out to others.
In the context of the church, the faith of each person supports and affirms the faith of others in the community, and the entire community grows in faith as a result. In addition, the church provides the structure by which people of faith can evangelize in less daunting ways. As a faith community, we can more readily embrace and lead evangelizing ministries like discipleship formation, engagement, evangelical charity, family ministry and worship.
Thus, within the community that is the church, we are given a comfortable and supportive mechanism to grow in faith together and to evangelize the faith to others.
For many years here in the Archdiocese of Detroit, our faith community has largely been defined by our parish. But as the number of priests has declined, it has become more and more difficult for our pastors to find time to lead our evangelization efforts because they have become unduly burdened by administrative or maintenance tasks. This is a serious problem, because we exist to be on mission and not to be dragged down by maintenance.
To address these challenges and help all of us become more missionary, Archbishop Vigneron has called each parish to become part of a parish grouping called a Family of Parishes. Not only will Families of Parishes free up our priests and deacons from much of the administrative burden that they currently carry, but they will also empower the laity to do more in ways that first began to be discussed many years ago at Vatican II.
In a domestic family, every member brings their own unique gifts and talents to the table. My wife and children have skills that I do not, and I in turn bring my talents to the family in areas where they may not be as inclined. If we are truly open to each other’s talents and gifts, we are at our best.
The same is true for Families of Parishes. One parish will bring a certain spirituality or ministerial focus to the Family that the others may not have ever experienced. One parish may bring their gifts that result from a particular religious order, or a particular ethnicity, and the others can benefit from it.
A Family of Parishes can form an even larger sense of community in which all of the parishes can grow in faith together by supporting one another, and in an even larger sense, they can collectively evangelize others in solidum. Imagine the power and witness of ever-larger groups of Catholics expressing their faith in the public square!
In the introduction to Unleash the Gospel, Archbishop Vigneron states the following:
“Jesus Christ makes all things new! He himself is at work to renew his Church in the Archdiocese of Detroit. He is pouring out his Holy Spirit anew so that every member of the Church may be formed and sent forth as a joyful missionary disciple, so that the Gospel may be unleashed in Southeast Michigan.”
May we all embrace the renewal of our Church as we seek to unleash the Gospel through Families of Parishes.
Learn more at familiesofparishes.org!