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It is hard to believe that this Pentecost marks the seventh anniversary of the release of Archbishop Vigneron’s Pastoral Letter, Unleash the Gospel. So many graces have been received through the Holy Spirit’s work and our archbishop’s apostolic boldness. The Church in the Archdiocese of Detroit has indeed been blessed!

Seven years is a long time. While we have had many opportunities to allow the Holy Spirit to enkindle the fire of his divine love within us and for Unleash the Gospel to bear fruit in southeast Michigan because our nature is human, our initial zeal may have faded over time.

This anniversary is an opportunity for us to rekindle our zeal for the Synod 16 foundational conviction, which guided the formulation and implementation of the guideposts and action steps found in Unleash the Gospel. It states: “The Synod’s foundational conviction is that the Church in the Archdiocese of Detroit is resolved to obey the Holy Spirit and be made by him a band of joyful missionary disciples.”

There are two key elements in this foundational conviction, which is the standard all Catholics in southeast Michigan are called to follow and live out. First, we are resolved to obey the Holy Spirit. Second, we want to allow the Lord Jesus, through the action of his Holy Spirit, to transform us into joyful missionary disciples. 

What does it mean to follow the Holy Spirit?

This resolution to follow the Holy Spirit means that we will follow wherever he leads us. Only through following the Holy Spirit can we be a Church on mission, responding to the needs and circumstances of our time, unafraid and without counting the cost, so that the saving message of Jesus Christ can be proclaimed. At times, our original plans are disrupted, but implementing the vision of Unleash the Gospel is bound to be messy sometimes. Why messy? Because we, as Catholics, are not always used to or comfortable with allowing the Holy Spirit to take over, making us the missionary disciples Jesus has called us to be. But occasional messiness is okay… remember that another of Scripture’s names for the Holy Spirit is “the Comforter.”

It is one thing to be resolved corporately or ecclesiastically but another to be resolved individually. To be resolved as the larger bodies of the Church of Detroit and as Families of Parishes, we must first each firmly pledge in our hearts to obey the Holy Spirit. This means we must understand how to hear and feel the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives. So, how do we do it? And what will this mean for our communities?

The Promise of the Spirit

In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells the apostles that he is leaving them to go back to his Father. The apostles, hearing these words from Jesus at the Last Supper, are deeply grieved. But Jesus reassures them, “…it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you” (John 16:7).

We, like the apostles, love Jesus. We, like the apostles, would not want him to leave us. And yet Jesus tells us that he will guide us into all truth when the Holy Spirit comes. It is ours to pray and read Scripture daily, to receive the sacraments regularly, and to stay close to God in every aspect of our lives. When we make Jesus and our Catholic faith the center of our lives, we can expect the Holy Spirit to show up! He will guide us, he will show us, he will fill us with joy, and he will pick us up to console us when we need consoling, helping us to get right back in the saddle of following the Lord through the Holy Spirit.

Becoming joyful missionary disciples

Once we, the individual building blocks, have committed to this life of relationship with Jesus and reliance on the Holy Spirit, it becomes much easier to move our Families of Parishes in the same direction. Like each of us, our communities need to commit to prayer, praying together as a community to seek the Lord’s guidance. 

Once many or most members of the larger community are seeking to follow Jesus and live in the love of the Holy Spirit, the “culture change” required to become Catholic missionary disciples can begin to move forward. The core of this change is the following commitment: we are focused on reaching out beyond the four walls of our church in order to seek those who are outside. We love them and desire to share Jesus and our Catholic faith with them, however long it might take, however difficult it might be and however many obstacles we may face. This cultural change helps parishes to grow into becoming truly outward-focused, evangelizing bodies. Our love of God and love for one another will help to build a culture that propels us outward because of our growing desire to share Jesus and the Catholic faith with Catholics who are sacramentalized but not evangelized (those who have received the sacraments of initiation but do not have a personal relationship with our Lord) as well as with those who do not even know Jesus and those who have rejected Jesus in the past.

No bystanders

Guidepost 5 of Unleash the Gospel is No Bystanders. This guidepost makes clear that every priest, deacon, religious and layperson in the Archdiocese of Detroit is called to embark on a life of unleashing the Gospel. Both individual Catholics, as well as parishes, need to protect against allowing Unleash the Gospel and our precious foundational conviction to become simply a slogan or “nice words” that we speak about periodically without having any deep commitment to the work the Lord has called us to do. 

Through Unleash the Gospel, the Holy Spirit spoke seven years ago to all of us. The Holy Spirit continues to speak to us today. 

Lord Jesus, help us to embrace a life of obedience to your Holy Spirit. Help us to continue to grow as your missionary disciples, on fire with our desire to share you and our Catholic faith with all of southeast Michigan. Amen.