It’s hard to capture the excitement that is going on in the archdiocesan curia right now, since way back in the beginning with the listening sessions before Synod 16 to now with Archbishop Allen Vigneron’s pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel.
For those of us who are coming into the stream at different times, like myself, I think it’s important to contextualize this pastoral letter. I’d like to say, first off, what it’s not. It’s not simply another bureaucratic document, the fruit of faceless clerks. It’s not, as the archbishop says, a “clever membership initiative.” It’s not an exhaustive “how-to” guide for the complete implementation of the new evangelization in the Archdiocese of Detroit — a program that answers every question with a step-by-step plan. It’s not one more Church document; another product from “downtown.”
What this document is, is something momentous. It’s hope. It’s a document expressing the faith, the soul and the heart of a particular people of God, a bishop and his people. It is, therefore, a sacred document — a charter of the heart, which is more than an intellectual enterprise, and thus it can really only be fully understood and implemented as a document of the Spirit, in the Spirit.
It’s an intensely collaborative work. It’s epic in that this collaborative work is actually what the fathers of the Second Vatican Council envisioned for the people of God. It is a work that is the fruit mined from the hearts and concerns of the laity, the religious, the clergy throughout the Archdiocese of Detroit; the fruit of their own listening to the spirit of Christ. It’s the fruit of Synod 16 and the prayerful listening of our chief shepherd to his flock and to the movement of the Holy Spirit, which he glimpsed in the stories and proposals offered at the synod. It’s the listening and pondering of the archbishop to the Holy Spirit in his own heart, discerning the direction God has laid out for the marshaling of every man and woman, of every parish, family and ecclesial institution in the archdiocese for the work of Jesus Christ — for the new evangelization, for the unleashing of the Gospel.
It is, in short, a charter for our family of faith, and a pledge among each of us, a personal familial and ecclesial docility to the Holy Spirit for years to come. It is all of our responsibility, as baptized men and women, to assist in the unleashing of the Gospel in this archdiocese.
This document is an earthquake. It challenges our way of life, our way of doing “religious business” in our archdiocese. It challenges our own personal witness to Jesus Christ. It challenges every branch of the archdiocese and calls every soul to bring Jesus in from the peripheries of our lives and our institutions into the central raison d’être of our existence. This is a prophetic document because it is the work of the incarnate Christ in the Church of Detroit. It’s a work of the Spirit among her people surrounding and through her bishop. It’s a spark that will, under the authority of her chief shepherd, ignite a fire in persons and priests, in families and parishes, in schools and institutions.
My brothers and sisters, it’s a document that implicitly challenges us, challenges our own cynicism, the accretions of unbelief and dryness that have crept into our own hearts. If we allow it, the spirit of it will change us. It will change us in Detroit, and as the archbishop has pointed out, that change has already begun.
Finally, my brothers and sisters, it’s a gift of the Holy Spirit to the Archdiocese of Detroit, whose effect and consequences are yet to be fully seen. It is a call to arms to become a “band of joyful missionary disciples,” to unleash the Gospel in southeast Michigan. It is a document of hope.
Reading the document in its full integrity is vital for understanding and assimilating its spirit. It will not, in a sense, be fully complete until it becomes incarnate through you and me, and through the people of our Church — until your prayerful listening unleashes its latent potential.
In the letter’s introduction, the archbishop declares that the Spirit is doing something new. The archbishop declares that there is neither limit to what God can do in our midst nor any lack on our part that can limit His power among us.
The pastoral letter is the charter for implementing Synod 16, and the archbishop affirms with apostolic authority that the synod is the “spark” which will radically transform the archdiocese from “maintenance to mission,” from which will set the Church ablaze and light the way forward for decades to come.
Bishop Gerard W. Battersby is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Detroit and chairs Archbishop Vigneron’s newly created New Evangelization Council.
Read the letter
Read Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron’s pastoral letter, “Unleash the Gospel,” on a special website, www.unleashthegospel.org.