It’s hard to believe that it has been five years since our Archdiocese held Synod 16. For those who were there, you likely recall the movement of the Holy Spirit, the excitement, and the feelings of anticipation for what lay ahead. It was clear that the Archdiocese of Detroit was on fire for the Lord, and that we were being sent on mission.
Who would have ever dreamed back then that so many obstacles would be put in our path to being more missionary in the five years which followed? We’ve experienced a global pandemic that still holds a grip on us, a series of tumultuous political elections, and a continued onslaught of scandals that have plagued the Church.
To make matters worse, several studies have been conducted which tell a rather dismal tale of the state of not only the Catholic faith in the United States, but pretty much every faith. The religiously unaffiliated – sometimes called the “Nones” – are now one of the largest if not the largest faith demographic in the country.
It has not been an easy five years, to say the least. But we have great reason for hope.
Remember what Jesus told Peter: “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” Sometimes we picture this verse by imagining a ravenous, demonic creature attacking the Church, but she manages to defend herself against it. I would offer a different depiction. Picture in your mind instead the Church being on the attack, leading the charge all the way to the gates of the netherworld. And in the end, those gates will not prevail against her.
This image of the Church on the attack is how I view Synod 16 and all that has come from it. We in the Archdiocese of Detroit are well aware of the problems facing the Church. We are also true to the great commission of our Lord who told us to go and make disciples of all nations. And so, we called upon the Holy Spirit to give us direction, and he did. He told us to unleash the Gospel. That kind of sounds like the Gospel is being unleashed on the gates of the netherworld, does it not?
And we have been true to the call of Synod 16. We have undertaken many things to revitalize our Church here in southeast Michigan. We have prayed together, we have organized programs and events, we have developed plans to revitalize our Catholic Schools, and so many other things.
But as is true in a life of faith, when progress is made there is certain to be spiritual warfare from the evil one in an effort to thwart that progress. The pandemic forced us to regroup, to rethink, and to reimagine how we can continue the onslaught against the gates of the netherworld despite the problems that we face. We have dwindling resources, an aging clergy that is shrinking in quantity every year, and a number of parishioners who are fearful about coming back to Mass because of the potential for the spread of Covid in crowds.
That spiritual warfare that has tried to diminish our progress of being a more missionary diocese could have beaten us down. It could have caused us to retreat and hide. But it did not. No, we chose a rather different direction. We chose to fight back.
The first thing we did was to address the structure by which our parishes are organized. How can we continue to be more missionary, despite the shortage of resources that we face? The answer came in something that has been a part of the Catholic world for some time now but has not been seen very often in our country: Families of Parishes.
Families provide us with a structure that supports several things to keep us in the battle. They allow for clergy to join together and pastor groups of parishes in ways that will allow us to better handle the reduction of clergy that faces us in the years ahead. They allow for laity to take on leadership positions as Family Directors and utilize their skills in ways that were imagined way back during Vatican II. And they allow us to combine and streamline current Family ministries and activities so that we can establish new ones that support our efforts to be more missionary.
There is no question that our move to Families brings with it a number of problems and concerns that we have never before faced. We are not moving down this path with rose-colored glasses. But something must be done, and Families is the best answer we have.
The second thing that we are doing is that we are re-starting our efforts around Missionary Strategic Plans, or MSPs. Only this time around they are not parish MSPs, but rather Family MSPs. Family MSPs serve a two-fold function. They allow the Family to discuss, debate, and eventually document their plans over the next few years to be more missionary in response to our call from Synod 16 and the Pastoral Letter Unleash the Gospel. They also help the clergy and Directors of the Family to start working together and figuring out how they can best support each other in their missionary efforts.
On this five-year anniversary of the Synod, we in the Archdiocese of Detroit can look back with satisfaction at all that we have done since 2016. But we can also look back and see that there have been many roadblocks put in our path that have sought to turn us around to give up. Thank God Almighty, we have not! We continue to push forward in our response to the call of the Holy Spirit to be a more missionary diocese. The circumstances have changed, but the goal has not.
It is my prayer that we will all take a step back and see what has happened through the lens of Synod 16. When we do, we can unite in our efforts to confront the challenges that we face, as well as those that are yet to come. When we do, we unleash the Gospel and go on attack all the way to the gates of the netherworld.
Blessed Solanus, pray for us. We need it! And we thank God in advance for all that he will do for our efforts to unleash the Gospel in the Archdiocese of Detroit.
Learn more about Families of Parishes.