Animated by the Fire of the Spirit
Just over a year ago, at the Closing Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica for the Synod of the Universal Church on The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith, Pope Benedict XVI reflected on some aspects of the New Evangelization. One aspect, he said, “applies, in the first instance, to the ordinary pastoral ministry that must be more animated by the fire of the Spirit” so that we can inflame the hearts of others. The principal agent of evangelization is the Holy Spirit, who works through us, the Church.
The Church is not just one way among many to reach God, all of them equally valid. While the Lord does wish all to be saved, he specifically established the Church as the sign and instrument of salvation, to continue his living and saving presence in the world. And to guide the Church in this mission, many gifts of the Holy Spirit have been poured out upon us.
Our understanding of the nature and significance of the Church explains why her missionary activity is essential to her identity. The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity (Ad Gentes) and subsequent documents such as Evangelii Nuntiandi of Pope Paul VI and Redemptoris Missio of Blessed John Paul II all authoritatively teach that the Church would not be the Church if she did not go about the work of bringing to every individual an encounter with the saving love of Jesus Christ which leads to communion through baptism with the divine persons revealed by him.
It is with the grace of the Holy Spirit that the Church of Washington has sought to fulfill that solemn mission, including preparing for our own archdiocesan synod to determine how we might more effectively proclaim the Gospel in our ministries and parishes, especially as we look forward to the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the archdiocese in 2014.
This preparatory period has been an opportunity for all of us to examine the vitality of our parishes. Parishes, gathered in communion with the bishop, are natural centers of the New Evangelization because they “offer opportunities for dialogue among men, for listening to and announcing the Word of God, for organic catechesis, for training in charity, for prayer, adoration and joyous Eucharistic celebrations” (Synod on the New Evangelization, Prop. 26)
In listening sessions, parishioners examined strengths and identified opportunities for renewing our faith and helping to stir into flame the embers of the Holy Spirit that animates the Church. The fruits of these parish listening sessions have been gathered in a report that includes more than 15,000 recommendations! Over the past six months, the Synod delegates, numbering more than 200, have been studying the recommendations to identify those that are most common across the archdiocese and those that will best serve the ministry of the archdiocese in the years to come.
For sure the light of Christ already shines brightly in each parish. Yet all of us recognize there is more to be done. The pressing needs of our age call us to look deeper into the vitality of our faith as it is expressed and lived in our parishes and in the homes of the faithful.
So it is that the New Evangelization impels all of us to use the grace of the Holy Spirit to discover fresh resources, to open original avenues and to summon new strength to advance the Good News of the Lord. As we near the completion of this stage of preparation for the Synod, we can feel the presence of the Spirit at work. This is a new moment in the life of the Church, a new Pentecost.