To Be The Best Church We Can Be
This year, we have been celebrating a milestone – specifically, the 75 years that our family of faith has been manifesting the kingdom of God since the Archdiocese of Washington was established in 1939. Looking back at this heritage, and to the roots of our Catholic ancestors who arrived here in 1634, we also look to the future, and it has been appropriate during this time to engage in some introspection, to ask if we are the best Church we can be.
Given this historic moment, with all the challenges to our living fully our Catholic faith today, I thought it right to undertake this ecclesial self-examination and plan for the future in the form of an Archdiocesan Synod.
What followed over the next couple of years was a great deal of prayer, reflection, discussion and consensus among a representative cross-section of our faith family who shared their ideas about what we are doing well and how we might improve, particularly in the areas of worship, education, community, service, and stewardship and administration.
Concurrent with the culmination of our Synod on Pentecost, I published a pastoral letter, Manifesting the Kingdom, in which I explain how the Synod should be interpreted in the context of the recent teachings of the Church, particularly the call to the New Evangelization and life in the Spirit. This pastoral letter is intended to guide our local Church as we now implement the work of the Synod.
Once I visited a school on a cold and wet winter morning and asked the assembled students, “Why would we be here on such a miserable day?” One fourth-grader stood with great pride and answered, “I come to this school so that I can get a life.” His schoolmates nodded and applauded.
What this youngster said about his Catholic school should be true of all the ministries of the Church. They exist to give others a life through an encounter with the One who is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Are we doing that in our archdiocese? Do we reflect Christ’s light in the world? Are we the best Church we can be?
At 75 years, we are a young Church in many ways, but we are also a Church of achievement, accomplishment and experience. We praise God for these blessings. However, we know that we could do better. We dare not be complacent.
In the New Testament are many letters from Saint Paul to various churches where the seeds of the Gospel had been sown. The missionary Apostle gave thanks to God that the Church had taken root and sprouted, but many of these letters also dealt with difficulties and problems that had arisen. In chapter two of the Book of Revelation, the Lord himself addresses seven churches, giving praise for the good in them, but also advising them to do better and in some cases rebuking them. He concludes each assessment of the respective churches with the words, “Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Our Archdiocesan Synod was a time to listen to the Spirit and fully take stock, with honesty and humility, of the condition of our spiritual home. In this prayerful process, the spiritual and pastoral priorities of our local Church were examined to establish stable reference points for ecclesial life and practice, particularly so the New Evangelization might permeate every aspect of the life of our Church. Upon consideration of the recommendations of the Synod members, formal statutes have been enacted. In addition, existing policies have been reviewed and, where necessary, updated.
On Pentecost, at the conclusion of the Synod, we gave thanks for the outpouring of the Spirit. We now pray that God continue to bless our efforts as our family of faith implements the fruitful work of the Synod. May what we do now and in the future hasten the realization of our prayer, “Thy Kingdom come.”