From Detroit this Pentecost, a much-noticed pastoral letter, Unleash The Gospel. Archbishop Allen Vigneron zeroes in on the Church’s enormous need and challenge: evangelization.
I could go into detail on this document–and there are many excellent details to read and ponder. But it belongs to another diocese and their particular initiatives. I do recommend it as a starting point, if not for a parish or larger Catholic community, for personal reflection. I can hope that my diocese and others will find it within their plan to produce similar initiatives. These are about forty years overdue. Chalk up another bit of foresight to Pope Paul VI.
Limiting the scope of my commentary, I thought I’d look at how Archbishop Vigneron treats liturgy as an element of his desire to unleash the Gospel. We’ll divide this up into three separate posts. Family is one topic that touches on liturgy. The archbishop also has a section in which he addresses “Holy Eucharist.”
But in this post, I’d like to look at the importance of leading people to “life-changing encounters with Jesus,” Archbishop Vigneron offers a very concrete parallel anyone can understand, a person-to-person intimacy:
An encounter is a person-centered form of contemplation; it is two people being present to each other with no utilitarian purpose. For some people the encounter with Christ is a cataclysmic “Damascus road” kind of experience; for others it is more gradual. In either case, encountering Jesus is like meeting the person you are going to marry: you are overwhelmed by this encounter and cannot imagine going forward in life without that person. The Christian life becomes not just one but a series of encounters with Jesus, especially through prayer and the liturgy, which continually deepen our relationship with him.
With some interest, I clicked on one of those “offerings” I see on my facebook page, “23 ways in which you know you are in love.” I pondered how these might apply to the Christian disciple’s relationship with Jesus. Some were obvious–for human lovers: the beloved is all I can think about; I want merely to spend time with my beloved; my friends get tired of how much I speak of the beloved; sex is less important than the expression of intimacy; I notice gifts I can bring to my beloved; I find myself interested in things my beloved is interested in that perhaps in the past I didn’t care about.
How do we devote time to our Beloved? Prayer and liturgy are obvious times and places of encounter. Note that Archbishop Vigneron describes that liturgy and prayer are means of deepening an already-existing relationship. Prayer and liturgy are already important for the believer. Does the Roman Rite offer those opportunities for deeper relationship? Do our faith communities offer these opportunities?
Preaching and catechesis in our local Church must foster such encounters, especially by explaining our love relationship with Christ as the purpose of the liturgy. Whenever possible we should invite people to respond to Jesus by surrendering their lives to him, and give them concrete opportunities to do so.
“Preaching and catechesis” are largely “head” encounters. But intimacy is something of the whole person, not only the head but the heart as well. When a human being today seeks a partner, perhapsd the head is in the relationship somewhat. Will this person make a suitable partner? Do we think alike, share the same political preferences, or analyze the potential traits of our children? How will we manage our finances, our friends, our work? I suppose we treat Jesus in this way. Will I find a parish that aligns with my opinions and tastes? Will I get encouragement to live according to the values Iwith which I assent by my will?
The “textbook” definition of liturgy, according to Vatican II, is worship of God and sanctification of the faithful. How does this fit with the “love relationship with Christ”? I think it does. But I also think it must include something of the human affect. In our person-to-person relationships, it is easy to size up the other by the benefit they will give me (and perhaps the benefit I can give in return). But the Lord doesn’t work in those ways.
What do you see in this piece of Unleash The Gospel?