For two days last week 500 people from around the country gathered in Denver’s Tech Center for the inaugural Amazing Parish conference. I attended the summit to experience this new movement firsthand, and I came away struck by how the future of every parish depends upon Catholics becoming mature, life-long disciples.
The importance of parishioners going beyond looking for the next formation program and becoming active, creative evangelizers was a theme that could be heard from attendees and speakers alike, reflecting the theme of the conference, “Go make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19).
St. Augustine, whose feast we celebrated on Aug. 28, experienced this crucial transformation while he was lamenting his weak will and inability to leave his sins. He famously said, “Grant me chastity, Lord, but not yet.”
In his book “Confessions,” St. Augustine recounts that, in the torment of his reflections, he went to a garden, where he suddenly heard a child chanting a rhyme: “Tolle, lege, tolle, lege,” “Pick up and read, pick up and read.”
And so he took up the Scriptures and opened to St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, which he had been reading recently. His eyes fell upon Romans 13:13-14, where St. Paul calls on people to abandon the works of the flesh and be clothed with Christ. At that moment, he understood that these words were directly addressed to him by God, showing him what he was supposed to do.
Reflecting in 2008 on St. Augustine’s conversion, Pope Benedict XVI said, “Thus, he felt the darkness of doubt clearing and he finally found himself free to give himself entirely to Christ: he described it as ‘your converting me to yourself.’”
Like us, St. Augustine’s journey of conversion did not end with his initial decision. As the Holy Father noted, it “humbly continued to the very end of his life.”
Our secular society offers all sorts of diversions from what will truly satisfy us, such as money, prestige, power and pleasure. But history shows us that these answers prove to be ultimately unsatisfying.
The only authentic and truly satisfying answer to the question of our meaning and purpose as human beings is found in our identity as a beloved son or daughter of the Father, who is destined to live in eternal union with him.
St. Augustine put it best when he said in his “Confessions,” “For you have formed us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.”
The future of our archdiocese and its parishes and missions, the future of our families, and most importantly, of our souls, depends upon this truth and our efforts to keep it at the center of our lives.
Looking back at his life, St. Augustine saw that there were distinct phases to his journey of conversion, and this is true for each of us as well.
Jeff Cavins, one of the speakers at the Amazing Parish conference, described the danger of devout Catholics reducing their faith to “the study of the faith.” This reduction can show up in the form of someone continually looking for the latest Catholic book, video or Bible study, but failing to seek a deeper relationship with Christ.
If we are to become mature disciples of Christ, then we must obey his call to “put out into the deep and let your nets down for a catch.” We must go beyond just receiving formation and ask the Holy Spirit how he is calling us to bring others to an encounter with Christ and his Church.
In the end, our faith is not about programs. It is about loving, knowing and following Christ and the Church he created for us. In a word, our faith is about becoming disciples, believers who are committed to seeking Jesus wherever he places us and inviting others to come to know Christ and his Church.
This means living a life of continual conversion and mission. Lisa Brenninkmeyer, another speaker at the conference, spoke about how her ministry to women teaches its members to always look for the woman who is “farthest away” and make a concerted effort to welcome her.
I pray that each and every person in our archdiocese will be transformed by continuously responding to the call of Jesus to “Come, follow me.” If we are open to the grace of conversion that Jesus wants to give us, and we do not tire of seeking him, then northern Colorado will be filled with truly amazing parishes.
I encourage our priests, deacons, and laity to learn more about the Amazing Parish initiative. As one priest from the archdiocese shared with me, “This is one of the most practical, faith-filled conferences I have experienced, and it has provided much hands-on information that will make our parish more dynamic in carrying out the mission of Christ.”
The Amazing Parish website can be found at: www.amazingparish.org.