Archbishop Allen Vigneron gave the following remarks to open The Amazing Parish conference on Monday, April 18, 2016. More than 200 parishes from the Archdiocese of Detroit sent leadership teams to participate in the conference, which is meant to help reimagine and strengthen the mission-centered focus of the Catholic parish.
Father Pullis teases me from time to time and he suggested that I should begin tonight with my Pistons voice, so (in booming voice) “Welcome Everyone to The Amazing Parish!” (Applause.) That’s the end of that. (Laughter.) I’m very grateful for the kind words that Pat has offered and I have learned a great deal from him, and…one of the reasons I’m so convinced that the presence of all of the presenters in this conference is such an important event in the life of the diocese.
I’d like to begin — and I will use in several points in my remarks — I’d like to begin with the Word of God. “The Apostles Gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile.’ People were coming and going in great numbers. They had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place.”
I usually use this text from Sacred Scripture to begin a retreat, whether it’s one I’m giving or a retreat I’m making. But I also think this applies to our gathering here tonight. The way business uses the word “retreat” this counts as one — but I’m particularly thinking of the fact that all of you are very, very busy. And it is so frequent for us to be caught up in this or that, that we don’t have an opportunity to step back and think about the really important things that God wants us to accomplish. And so, whatever I say to you tonight, and whatever you think about these next days, I’d ask you to understand our time together, here in the Marriott, as an invitation from Jesus. He has invited us to come apart, all of us together, for these few days so that we can — not be busy by this or that, answering the mail or taking care of the phone messages — but can think about what He really wants us to accomplish and how we can go about serving the Gospel.
I’d like to offer a word of welcome to all you are here. Certainly welcome to my brother priests from the archdiocese and your staff leaders. Welcome to those from other parts of the country. And I think the people who get the award for coming from the farthest is the parish of St. Ignatius in the Cayman Islands. I’m really glad you’re here. Stand up. So I hope you come with great expectations. How can you not have wonderful, boundless expectations, if our being here is something that Christ is doing. Let us invite you right now to, as Father Solanus always said, thank God ahead of time. I thank God for what He will do in our midst, what Jesus will do in our midst on Tuesday and Wednesday.
I’d like to say a word about the New Evangelization itself. From St. Matthew’s Gospel. “After the Eleven arrived at the mountain in Galilee to which Jesus had directed them, he approached and said to them ‘All power in Heaven and on Earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always, until the end of the age.’”
You could recite that text by heart. It’s the great commission. But it’s important for us to have that Word from God precisely because this is not just an ordinary conference. Our being here for these days together, I believe, is something epical.
The Holy Fathers, the popes in line with the Second Vatican Council, have said we need to once again pick up the mission of the Church and do the work of Jesus. To be about the sharing the Good News. We need to be missionaries. It’s part of the DNA of the Church. Pope Francis says we need to be a joyful, missionary band. And it’s my contention, my confidence, my expectation that our being here will be a way for us to prepare to take up this mission, this challenge.
The New Evangelization is very, very important because especially in our parts of the world, people have been become bored. The Good News for so many people seems to be old news, dead news. We need to dispel that illusion. That’s our mission. That’s our ministry. And I believe that our being here at this conference together, this time away, this retreat, will help us take up the mission.
And I know there are many of you here who are not from the Archdiocese of Detroit. But if you will permit me to say a word about those of us who are the Church of southeast Michigan: It is imperative for us to make our commitment to our neighbors and our community by sharing this good news. Because there are so many challenges — but in the end it is the gift of Christ and His Good News that can lift up our community. There’s a lady who has her car parked on Arden Park, I see it every morning, “I lift up Detroit in Prayer.” She’s got the right idea. That’s what we’re here for, is to lift up our city, to lift of our community. And that’s true, I know, of people from Toledo, people from the U.P., people from Washington can lift up our communities so they can hear the Good News. And I believe that’s what this conference is about.
Here in the Archdiocese, we’ve focused our efforts in the New Evangelization under the tagline, “Unleash the Gospel.” I pray that our being here will help all of us take up that challenge of unleashing the Gospel. Jesus said, according to the report in the Acts of the Apostles, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria unto the ends of the earth. And he had said this as they were looking on, he was lifted up and a cloud took him from their sight.”
This is our responsibility, our response, our opportunity for us to say, “Yes, we are going to unleash the Gospel. We do believe the Gospel has power. And all that we do as leaders, pastors and those who work along with us is about considering how do we go about, together, unleashing this powerful, powerful message. Here in the Archdiocese, for over a year now we’ve been praying for a New Pentecost. I’ve said before I am convinced that God has heard our prayer. The new Pentecost has been unleashed, and our coming here for these days is an opportunity to consider, “How do we advance this unleashing? How do we work together to see, in this parish, in my community, that Good News can go forward.”
Here in the Archdiocese, we’re doing this on many fronts. This is the whole point of our Come, Encounter Christ sessions. Because conversion of us – we who are evangelizers — we always need to be evangelized. And then, with that force,
with that power, we can go about the tasks that God is calling us to take up.
This conference, to think about, to take us to St. Mark’s Gospel: “The disciples went forth and preached everywhere while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.”
As I’ve reflected on our efforts to unleash the Gospel, to engage in the New Evangelization, certainly everyone would have to admit that the parishes would have to be the centers for this great effort. Not the only place. Our hospitals. Our schools. Our works of mercy. The soup kitchens. We all need to be about unleashing the Gospel. But especially the parishes. And I believe that our conference in these days provides a wonderful, wonderful resource for us to consider how in my parish do I go about doing what we hear about in Mark. How do I go about presenting the Word and letting it be confirmed and having it accompanied by signs for the sake of bringing others to know Christ.
The Amazing Parish conference, I think, ought to be acknowledged as a response that I heard, and many of us who are leaders in the Archdiocese heard, at our convocation. You asked for tools to help engage in the new evangelization. We were saying at the table tonight that one of the indispensable ways to help priests accomplish this is for priests, along with their leadership teams, to be together, so that the priest doesn’t just come back to the parish and say, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea.” And everybody says, “I don’t get that.” One of the great things is about having the leadership team here together, so that everybody can live through whatever conversion is going on. Everybody can experience together a moment, an hour of inspiration to be able to work together then. And I know how important this
is for the priests. One of the things I’ve heard from the priests of the Archdiocese who have been at this conference in Denver is precisely to find an energy that is provoked by having their coworkers, having you, say “Yeah, we can do that!” “Sure Father, we ought to try that!” “Something new, that’s a great idea!” And that gives the priest a whole new energy. And I’m so, so glad that priests and leadership teams are here together.
And I would say something in particular to the priests. One of my concerns as a bishop is when I see a priest — and sometimes it’s not somebody who is middle-aged, it can be a priest who isn’t ordained all that long — to be kind of weary. To see, have a sense of, “Oh I’ve done this, done it.” After 5 or 10 times of being frustrated, not feeling like you’re making any progress, it can really wear down one’s enthusiasm. One of my great prayers, a prayer I offer to the Lord this morning, a prayer I brought with me here this evening is that we priests will be made young. One of the great powers of the Holy Spirit is that He can reverse the aging process — not like that wrinkle medicine that they offer at 2 o’clock in the morning on cable channel 185. But the Holy Spirit can make us young again. And we priests can think about the enthusiasm we had on the day of our ordination, how we were going to win the world for God, give God his world back. It’s easy to become weary and old in our spirits. And I think, in what I’ve been able to see, this is an opportunity for us to become young again, and not just by ourselves — but with you, who are our closest coworkers. And I hope that you who volunteer, who work for pay — not enough pay, I’ll readily admit that — I hope that your part in being involved in this great process will be a rejuvenation for you, and you’ll understand how important it is for all of us to go forward in this way together.
Again, if I might sort of talk to the home team about the Amazing parish conference and our own sense of it. This is meant to be part of a much larger strategy. We began two years ago, at least, with our Prayer for a New Pentecost, we’re having our Come, Encounter Christ! meetings, our focus through the whole initiative on Encounter Christ, Grow In Discipleship, and become better witnesses to Jesus. The Parish Dialogue Sessions that are going on. Soon the members of the Synod will be gathering in their regional meetings as the year unfolds. And then on the feast of Christ the King that weekend we’ll have our Synod. This is all meant to work together. To provide, to use the technical theological term, juice — to give juice to the whole effort. And I believe especially that our time here today will be a great help to the synod, because out of our experiences here we will be able to engage more fully in the Synod, and also what you experience here and the insights you have and the decisions you make about the kind of Amazing Parish you want to have — as I expect the Amazing Parish that’s right in North Branch might not be the way for a parish in Temperance to be amazing – but the kind of Amazing Parish God will help you fashion, all of that will be great, great fruit to be presented to the Synod and be part of our synod deliberations.
And so, I’d like to conclude — and I am going to end early which is one of my efforts — I’d like to conclude with a prayer. And I want to take the prayer from St. Paul and what he wrote to the Ephesians. “For this reason, I kneel before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on Earth is named, that He may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power through his spirit in the inner self. And that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Isn’t that a prayer that we should all hold in our hearts, each of us for herself, himself, and all of us for one another — that Christ be more fully formed in our hearts so that we can share his Good News and bring other people to know him.
Pope Francis frequently makes reference to what was said at the Aparecida, Brazil meeting where he was one of the leaders of the Latin American hierarchy: “Knowing Jesus is the best gift that any person can receive. That we have encountered him is the best thing that’s happened in our lives. And making him known by our words and deeds is our joy.”
That’s my aspiration for myself as a priest, as a Christian, as a disciple with you. And I invite you to renew your own prayer to the Holy Spirit, to make that your deepest and strongest aspiration. To say again there isn’t anything better than having Jesus, and I’d rather die than lose him. And my great joy is sharing the treasure of my heart with those who are important to me — with my neighbors, with my friends, my children, my nieces, my nephews, my grandchildren.
This is not a membership drive. This is not about simply maintaining the power of our community by having large numbers. I have absolutely no idea what fruit God will draw from our efforts. But we must make our commitment. Christ expects it of us. We make our commitment to share the Good News. Being here is part of that commitment, and I give God thanks that you have responded to his invitation to work here together in these days, to pray together, to sing together, to be in one another’s company along with the Lord who’s called us apart. My prayer is that God will give us new hearts. That we will accept in these days, once again, the renewal of heart that he offers us. By my light, one of the most important fruits of this renewal of heart is hope. That, while the world is weary and seems tired of the Good News, we are not. And we know that the world will be rejuvenated by knowing Jesus Christ, encountering him, growing in love of him, and then sharing in his witness. God expects his Church to be a sacrament of a new humanity, a renewed humanity. The world needs that, and Jesus expects it of Him. The mission that God the Father gave to his Son, Jesus, was to come down and be among us and give the world back to his Father. The Father wants his world back, and we’re the arms, we’re the instruments of Jesus Christ for him to accomplish what the Father has asked him to do – to reconcile this world back to him. This is our message. This is our service.
I hope we feel the urgency of it, because it’s urgent in the mind and heart of Jesus Christ. And I hope we take possession of the power of the Holy Spirit that belongs to us by baptism, by confirmation, by ordination for those of us who are deacons and priests, and that we trust in the power of the Holy Spirit. Because as St. Paul said, “Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.”
Immeasurably more than we ask or imagine. When you got to bed at night and you think “What’s my wildest expectation for the parish” It’s not enough. You haven’t dreamt enough, you haven’t expected enough. The question is, “What does God expect? What is his dream for the parish?” And that’s what the Holy Spirit can do for us.
Thank you all for coming.