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Clarity on mission: What’s next?

The fruits of the synodal process that began in October of last year and continues today are only beginning to be revealed. When the Holy Father called for this latest synod, his description of it was apt: it is to be nothing more than a collective listening to the Holy Spirit and a process of discernment. Locally, this process manifested itself in a series of parish prayer and listening sessions over several months, and culminated at a discernment event in March, which was dedicated to asking the Lord for clarity around our missions. 

Those who spent time in prayer asking the Lord for clarity around our missions received and shared beautiful insights in small group breakout sessions. The insights that were gained in prayer and the resulting small group conversations around them were rich and fruitful. Due to the restraints placed on the archdiocese regarding the length and content of the final synod report (which was requested by Rome and included specific stipulations about how long it could be and what content it should include), the Synod team was unable to exhaust all the specific nuances and clarities heard from the Lord on each of the four missions that were discerned — that is, the missions of the Disciple, Family, Parish and Archdiocese. 

What follows here is a deeper glimpse into the direction the Holy Spirit gave the Church in northern Colorado in these four areas of mission.

Mission of the Disciple

All of the other “missions” are dependent on this “mission.” Without taking to heart what the Lord has encouraged us to do to live out our individual missions, we won’t be able to truly live the mission in our family, parish or archdiocese.  Here are some of the insights received in prayer that give more clarity on what the Holy Spirit is asking each of us to do to better live our individual missions as missionary disciples:

Your first mission is to Divine intimacy which you experience in prayer. “Abide in me” (John 15:4)

Like Martha in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10, we can be anxious and worried about many things. Many of us in Denver uniquely feel the weight of “activity,” “doing mission work.” God is saying, “prioritize me first, come back to the ‘love we had at first’” (Rev 2:4). We must truly abide in Jesus like he invites us to do in John 15. We need to allow our relationship with Jesus to truly transform us before we will be able to share our faith fruitfully. Like St. John at the Last Supper, one specific way we “abide” in Jesus is by resting our head upon his heart in the Eucharist. 

Practical Suggestion: Take seriously God’s invitation to a habit of daily prayer. Spend time in Eucharistic Adoration, meditating on the daily readings, praying the rosary, etc. Ask your parish priest or deacon to host a workshop on how to “hear God’s voice” or how to form a habit of personal prayer.

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Take seriously that you are “the plan.” You have a personal responsibility for the mission to evangelize.

“I am my brother’s keeper”: in other words, the mission of evangelization has been given to me personally. I did not choose to take on this mission, Jesus was the one who “chose me and appointed me to go and bear fruit that would remain” (Jn 15:16). My mission to evangelize is specifically oriented towards my sphere of influence, those whom God has placed in my life. Our apostolic age needs lives characterized by public witness. We need to be intentional about sharing the fruits of “abiding” in the Lord, which are: love, joy, boldness, courage and conviction. Finally, if I am “God’s plan” for evangelization, then I know I need personal healing in order to fulfill that destiny.

We are not islands, not solely individual disciples but members of the Body of Christ. Our calling, our growth, does not happen in isolation, it happens in the communion of the Church.

“Christ called to himself twelve men” (Mk 3:13) and began his public ministry with a community. To be a disciple of Jesus has always implied being called into a community. We don’t get to choose the other disciples Jesus calls, he does. It’s your responsibility and mine to be the individuals working to bring true unity and communion at our parishes and in our families. The world desperately needs our parishes to be places of true communion and unity, a refuge from the isolation, separation, division and loneliness that is the experience of many of our neighbors.

Mission of the Family

Although the Mission of the Family was not one of the original “missions” that were selected to be prayed about, it was clear in the feedback from our parish gatherings that the Lord wanted to speak directly into the mission of our families. Much of the content was an echo of what was received in relation to our individual mission as disciples (families need to abide in prayer, witness to their faith, etc.). I’d like to share a few distinct themes that the Holy Spirit spoke regarding the mission of our families:

Embrace the messiness and suffering inherent in the mission of the family. 

Avoid the temptation to compare your family to the imaginary “ideal family.” The Holy Spirit highlighted the struggle of many of our families who experience a sense of shame based on their perception that their family has not lived up to the standard of an ideal family. He revealed that this sense of shame, embarrassment, resignation, etc. can often be a powerful barrier to opening ourselves to real community with other families and can give us the perception that we are not welcome in our parishes due to our perceived failings.

Identity is received, for good or bad, in the relationships that exist within families.

All of us, parents especially, need to take seriously the responsibility we have for helping our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, etc., receive a healthy and integrated identity. The Holy Spirit highlighted the need that all families have for healing and forgiveness. It’s your responsibility, my responsibility, to accompany our family members on their journey towards the Father, asking for and freely giving forgiveness as often as necessary.

Mission of the Parish

On the most basic level, the Holy Spirit reminded our parishes that they need to be places where you and I are equipped to live our mission as disciples and as a family. We need support, teaching, accompaniment, community, etc., and our parishes should be the places we find all of that and more. Given that point, there was some unique clarity the Holy Spirit gave to our parishes regarding what is most important right now and how they can better live their mission in this new apostolic age:

The Holy Spirit is asking our parishes to be more welcoming.

The scriptural image that was received with this theme was that of the father in the Prodigal Son parable (Lk 15). Our parishes need to be like the Father in that parable, looking for, seeking and welcoming all those who are returning to the Father’s house. Our parishes should be a home where people are expected and awaited, seen, known and loved. A key feature to this reflection was that you and I are responsible for making our parishes into homes like this. It’s no use expecting “those other people” in the parish to “do the work.” We are all jointly responsible for this, there is no hidden cavalry who will do it for us while we watch; you and I must be the cavalry. 

Knowing the current broad meaning to the word “welcoming,” the Holy Spirit was very clear to define what he meant by that term. Welcoming does not mean compromising on either loving the other or speaking the truth. Authentic welcome does both. Our parishes must be where people are loved unconditionally and also given the truth of the Gospel.

Our parishes need to be actively working towards a supernatural unity and healing between Catholics of different language/cultural backgrounds, liturgical expressions, political affiliations, etc.

We can’t pretend there have not been or are not wounds within the Church. We’ve inflicted wounds, been wounded ourselves, and are all in need of healing through reconciliation — reconciliation to Christ first (2 Cor 5:16-21) and then from that, with one another. Our parishes are not meant to be buildings in which many different communities simply cohabitate with one another. Rather, our parishes need to be places where all the diverse communities within them truly become “one body in Christ” (1 Cor 12). This is not a sociological project, but a supernatural one.

The parish does not exist for its own sake but is sent out for the sake of the broader community. We need to reach out with the Good News; the treasure we have needs to be shared.

Photo by Cari Ervin

Our parishes cannot be content looking after and serving only the needs of her current members. Our parishes need to have outreach to those who have fallen away, to the poor and to the broader community within her boundaries. We need to get to know the people, both in our pews and in the surrounding neighborhoods. Although we each have an individual responsibility to carry out the mission of evangelization, we aren’t meant to do that alone. The parish should be the place from which we can be sent out together.

Mission of the Archdiocese 

Finally, what was revealed in prayer about how the Archdiocese of Denver can better live its mission in this time is that it needs to come alongside and assist our parishes and our people as they strive to respond what the Lord said during this synodal experience. The archdiocese needs to work to be a minister of healing from the top down. The archdiocese needs to be a leader in our efforts towards unity. The archdiocese needs to come alongside our parishes to equip them to better serve and equip our parishioners. Finally, the archdiocese was called to proclaim the truth boldly and be a source of light for the broader world and particularly our youth.

How will we respond?

I’m aware that many of these “themes” or “clarities” that were received through the synodal process can feel a bit “recycled.” I would be shocked if you hadn’t come across the idea that all of us should be striving to abide more closely in God through prayer, or that we are called to share the faith to those around us. However, be careful not to write off these instructions and encouragements from the Holy Spirit. There is a real temptation to lust after novelty in the spiritual life — to reject something out of hand because it doesn’t sound “new” or “exciting.” Is there some rule that says God is never allowed to repeat himself?

We have to take seriously the possibility that the Holy Spirit is reminding us of things we already knew we should be doing because we just honestly haven’t done them yet. I know I would be uncomfortable standing before the judgment seat tomorrow, claiming that I’ve given my very best effort to share the faith or work towards unity in my parish. 

We’ve been given an incredible gift through the synod. The Holy Spirit has spoken! We don’t have to guess what’s most important right now or entrust our future to a strategic plan crafted by human effort alone. The real question is, “How will you and I respond”? 

Together, as we move forward, let us call on Our Blessed Mother to intercede for each of us and our entire archdiocese as we continue to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. May she ask God the Father on our behalf to give us the grace to “do what He has told us to do” (Jn 2:5). 

Andrew McGown
Andrew McGown
Andrew McGown is the Executive Director of Evangelization and Family Life Ministries for the Archdiocese of Denver.
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