By Father Tom Scherer and Alejandra Bravo
Did you know that God still speaks today? Have you ever asked yourself that question before? God, indeed, still speaks today! This conviction was fundamental to the whole archdiocesan discernment process. Throughout all the planning, the Synod Team never doubted that God would speak clearly to all of us, but the question was “What will he say?”
The parish phase of the discernment process took place in January and February and asked God to reveal his mission for the archdiocese, the parish and the individual disciple. After this, the synod team prayed through all the responses from the parishes and online submissions from people who were unable to attend a discernment session in person. Some responses were unique to a particular person or parochial situation. Some responses were common across many parishes, and common, clear themes emerged within the topic of each mission. Some responses, however, were nearly universal. Regardless of the specific topic for prayerful discernment and regardless of the geographic, cultural, or linguistic situation of the parish, key themes emerged. Even though these themes were not shared with the representatives at the Archdiocesan Discernment Event at the end of March, they also emerged in the prayer and discussions at that event, confirming that God is calling the archdiocese to work in these key areas.
One key theme surrounded the family, its formation, and its mission.
This was so common in the parish phase that the synod team included it as a separate topic for discernment during the Archdiocesan Discernment Event. One area for mission to families regards healing. We are called to embrace the messiness and suffering of family life. Many families experience shame because their situation does not live up to “the ideal” and need accompaniment and healing. No family is perfect, however, every family needs accompaniment. There was and continues to be a strong desire for the Church to lead families to a place of healing so that the family members themselves could work to restore strained or broken relationships.
Another area where we are called to minister to families regards formation. Parents are the primary formators and educators of their children, but many are lost and confused as to how to carry out this role. There is a desire, especially from parents, to receive formation and accompaniment, especially through “families mentoring families.” There was a call for ongoing formation for newlyweds and formation for parents to know what it means to be Father and Mother. The confusion of the world has resulted in a loss of a sense of the necessary complementarity of father and mother, man and woman, and the unique genius and gifts of each, all of which are critical for the family and the proper formation of children.
The second key theme was a call to remember your first love as Christ urged the Ephesians in the Book of Revelation.
Over the course of prayer and discussion at the parish level and the archdiocesan event, the Holy Spirit made it abundantly clear that our first mission is to divine intimacy with the Trinity, then to other missionary endeavors. However, as one representative noted, “Like Martha, we in Denver can be anxious about many things.” To remain rooted on the vine of Christ, we must pray to identify where we have prioritized the work of mission over living in a relationship of love with God and others.
The third key theme that emerged was healing.
Throughout the process, participants realized that they needed healing of their personal wounds in order freely to follow God as a disciple.
Healing, ultimately, begins at the top. We cannot lose sight of the wounds and sins of the faithful and the Church from the past and recognize that we are not above sinning even now, thus we must continue to seek repentance, healing, forgiveness and reconciliation. We must also work towards greater healing of communities of different races, cultures, ethnicities and nationalities that have been wounded by the Church and some of her members, including priests. The Church must name and claim the ways it has caused harm through the rejection and exclusion of individuals and groups alike. To help people encounter Christ the Divine Physician, our parishes, supported by the archdiocese, are being called to be centers of healing in order to reconcile people to Christ first, then to each other.
Lastly, there was a recognition that this approach of communal prayer and discernment has already proven to be healing and unifying. The process also made clear that the one who heals is Christ the Divine Physician. We are being called to seek him for our own healing, to ask forgiveness for the wounds we caused, and to lead others to him so that they can be healed.
The fourth key theme that emerged was accompaniment.
The parish is called to be a place of synodality, of journeying together with the people where the fire of faith is shared and becomes contagious. True accompaniment comes from walking with someone to know Jesus and the parish must be the source of accompanying, especially with those who are alone, wounded, rejected and broken.
The model of accompaniment came up in many contexts throughout our discernment. For instance, in order for parishes to be truly welcoming, it is not enough to have someone greet people at the door. Rather, people must take newcomers under their wing and help them find their home in the parish. Families also need accompanying, especially those who are in difficult circumstances. All families, however, need accompaniment, as a common desire was to have families mentor families. Finally, regarding equipping for mission, participants at both the parish gatherings and the Archdiocesan Discernment Event expressed a desire to know their gifts and charisms and how they can use them for mission. This is best discovered and taught through personal accompaniment.
The fifth key theme was the desire to be equipped for mission.
Parishes should be places where disciples are equipped to live their mission and vocation. In particular, the laity is called to be the protagonist for our Church today in the sanctification of the world in Christ Jesus. To prepare disciples for this, the clergy is called to help the laity know their gifts and charisms explicitly and find ways for their formation according to an apprenticeship model. Participants expressed desire for formation in the practical aspects of how to share the faith, joy and love of Christ with others.
The final key theme was a call for unity, community, and for the Church to become a place of welcome to all who seek Christ.
The broader culture fosters separation, isolation, and loneliness but we are called, instead, to live the reality of the Mystical Body of Christ where we are of one heart and one mind (Acts 4:32). This supernatural unity stems from our personal communion with the Trinity, thus we must abide in a relationship of love with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to truly be a community rooted in authentic charity.
Belonging to the parish also brings forth unity and thus, our parishes must forge unity within themselves. This unity must permeate all ministries and peoples of different races, ethnicities, languages and nationalities so that we live the reality of being under one roof. At the archdiocesan level, this includes bridging the cultural and linguistic divide between the English and Spanish-speaking communities. As one Spanish-speaking representative said at the Archdiocesan Discernment Event, this process of synodality, with everyone praying and discussing together in the same room, was a manifestation of the unity to which we are called.
Unity also manifests itself through welcoming, because Christ desires to “draw all men to himself” (Jn 12:32). However, to welcome does not mean to compromise. We must remain rooted in truth, in sound doctrine, and in revelation. We must avoid the two flawed sides — compromising truth or compromising love. Thus, our invitation must be to “come and see,” and it must be loving and for all. We are most comfortable welcoming those who look like us, but the Holy Spirit is inviting us to go out of the pews and beyond the parking lot of the parish to receive eyes to see those whom we are not currently welcoming.
In addition to the experience of unity across cultures, there was a call for the communion that is formed through consistency and clarity of experiences, formation and messaging. We need ongoing unity in prayer like the Advent preaching series, the Surrender novena, and the synodal experience, because through prayer we are united with God. God himself will give us the gift of unity. In many ways, this is the beginning.
We would like to invite you to reflect upon these themes and to ask yourself: “What do these themes mean to me? What key areas do I need to work as a parishioner and individual disciple? How is God calling me to live out healing, unity and accompaniment in my personal life and in my home parish?” Let us grasp what God is saying to us through these themes!