The vast majority of our friends, neighbors and family may not be aware of
the meaning of the words “Renew My Church”. We have taken these words in the Archdiocese of Chicago as bold symbolic words that refer to our mission and task. The short story is that the resources of the parishes of the archdiocese are radically shifted from years ago. The Chicago Catholic Church has seen a drastic reduction in the numbers of people coming to church as well as the number of clergy. Some might shake their heads, give up and walk away. But, consider this, in every crisis there is opportunity. When I say crisis, I am not referring to a crisis of faith. Indeed, I see great faith every day in the people around the parish. I am referring to a crisis in the institutional aspects of the Church.
The Archdiocese of Chicago has taken the Cross of San Damiano as our unifying symbol for “Renew My Church”. As the story goes, St. Francis looked upon a cross one day and heard the call of Jesus saying: “Go repair my church, which, as you see, is falling completely into ruin.” Appropriate words for today, wouldn’t you say? Here is the point though. St. Francis originally thought these words meant that he should rebuild the church building.
We have all contributed a great deal to taking care of the buildings through generous contributions of time, talent and treasure. I can understand how we might think this is the extent of what God is asking of us. There is always more to learn however. Even St. Francis had a gradual awakening to learn that God was not talking about the buildings. God was talking about the spirit, the faith, the mission. When our focus is on the mission, on the Spirit, on faith in Jesus, the institutional things will take care of themselves.
Most parishes in the Archdiocese are experiencing transition and transformation as a result of “Renew My Church”. Sometime early in 2021, Cardinal Cupich will inform us of details of our future after significant consultation and prayerful discernment. As we have seen, most parishes have combined with neighbors, or formed other configurations. Cardinal Cupich will ask us to embrace a different reality in the hope of rebuilding the vitality of the church and we will faithfully embrace that transformation .
I suggest however that the reality of Renew My Church is never complete. Like St. Francis, our true mission is to be messengers of peace and healing in a world that is broken. Above all, we are invited to see our unity with all of creation, rather than remain divided and disintegrated from nature, from one another, from our very selves. We are told to bring pardon where there is injury, faith where there is doubt, hope where there is despair. The life and mission of St. Francis provides a vision of the true meaning of Renew My Church.
I must admit, in my entire lifetime, there have never been enough priests, they (and I) were always talking about repairing or building new buildings, there was always another fund-raising campaign, there has never been enough cash flow. More personally, I am always complaining to myself that I do not have enough time or energy to complete all that I want to. Not enough. St. Francis’ message tells us that these are not the essential meaning of church in the first place. He shifts our attention to focus on the true mission. Those other institutional realities will never go away. Our highest priority ought to be the mission. After that, the buildings and priestly personnel will fall into place. Mission first! As someone once said, the church ought to give people a mission worth living.
“Pour out the gift of your Holy Spirit upon us, enable us to hear you clearly” taken from Prayer for Renew My Church.
By the way, we congratulate our young people who finally celebrated Confirmation this past Friday. God bless them and their families. Thank you so much for your patience and presence. God bless you all.