At its core, Christianity is based on a personal relationship with God through Jesus, and during the opening night of the Synod 16 at the Westin Book Cadillac hotel, members from across the Archdiocese of Detroit discussed what it means to have a personal relationship with their Savior.
“Our group talked about being our own personal witness and what drew us close to Christ,” said Jim Tingay of Immaculate Conception Parish in Lapeer. “Often, we found how others said or did something in which they saw the Lord working through the Holy Spirit. You start with the individual, and then you have a good understanding of who you are yourself in a relationship with Christ.”
Most groups reported that conversion needs to start from within, that a personal relationship with Jesus, while different for everybody, is a prerequisite for evangelization.
“We discussed our personal conversion to Christ,” said Jackie Allor of SS. Cyril and Methodius Parish in Sterling Heights. “We all discovered Christ and live our Catholic lifestyle in different ways. But one part we all have in common is that we all have our own love story with Christ. So how do we show that love? We all encounter Christ differently, so we all need our own unique opportunities to live in Christ differently.”
Unlike the other synod themes, no voting took place on propositions. Rather, discussions served almost as an “icebreaker” to get synod members comfortable with confidently speaking about what the Holy Spirit is inspiring them to say in their groups, sharing what’s being done in the archdiocese, and what could still be accomplished.
“It’ refreshing to see this amount of investment Catholics are putting into their faith,” Nickolas Craanen, of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Newport, said an interview with The Michigan Catholic following the large group reflections. “This is an opportunity to look and see what things we have to strengthen, and what things we’re doing well. It’s nice to see things are working at parishes – there is activity all around us – but it seems there is a disconnect from parish to parish, things we all need to start doing.”
Beyond the personal experience people have had and continue to have with Christ, synod members shared in their groups practical ways to grow in faith on an individual level, creating that personal connecting with Jesus that is found in everyone.
“We talked about inviting people in our parishes to having a required radical commitment in discovering Jesus, in going out into the neighborhoods that aren’t like yours,” said Ray David of St. John the Baptist Parish in Dearborn Heights. “The path to holiness is how, for one example, you see someone who is homeless, taking the time to show them human dignity, to talk to them. It’s things like that which create a personal relationship with Christ and a personal relationship with others.”
Like all relationships, having a personal relationship with Jesus requires repeated effort in caring for the relationship, daily reminders of the path Jesus wants his followers to walk.
Fr. Steve Mateja, who served as the spokesman for his table during the large group reporting session, said Catholics need to get out of the habit of speaking only to those already within the four walls of their parish.
“In our group, we discussed living with Christ outside the box, living radically open,” said Fr. Mateja, administrator of Divine Grace Parish in Carleton. “We tend to preach only to our own people. We’re answering the questions nobody is asking, and we’re not answering the questions people are asking.”
Fr. John Fletcher, CC, of the Newman Center at Wayne State University, was the expert-adviser at his table, where he said synod members discussed the daily challenge a Catholic must face to be considered a disciple of Christ.
“The challenge for the individual is to be a faithful Catholic, a committed Catholic, to be something worth sharing,” Fr. Fletcher said. “If you’re not faithful, not committed, what are you sharing? We discussed the challenges in sharing the faith, and it means, simply, we’re sharing the experience of God’s love in our lives with another person. And if we know that love, than how could we not want to share that with others?”