Editor’s Note: Over 20 issues, The Michigan Catholic is bringing you, in bite-sized chunks, Archbishop Vigneron’s pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel. Below is the 10th of 20 excerpts, taken from the letter’s third guidepost, “The Word Made Flesh.” To read the whole letter — or to catch up on sections you’ve missed — visit www.unleashthegospel.org.
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).
By the Holy Spirit’s descent upon the Blessed Virgin Mary, the eternal Word has taken on flesh: the invisible God is now able to be seen with our eyes, heard with our ears, even touched with our hands (cf. 1 Jn 1:1). So in this age of the new covenant the Creator communicates himself to us through the created means he himself has chosen. In our efforts to unleash the Gospel, we proceed with the firm conviction that the Holy Spirit brings about life-changing encounters with the Lord Jesus in his Mystical Body the Church, particularly in fellowship with one another, in Sacred Scripture, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and most especially in the Holy Eucharist.
The Communion of the Church
The Church is the context given by God in which we encounter Jesus Christ. Although it is common for people today to say they are “spiritual but not religious,” or that they believe in Jesus but not in the Church, in truth there can be no relationship with Jesus that does not include his Church. God relates to his people not as isolated individuals but as a people, a family, united with one another in deep bonds of love (Eph 4:1-6). We learn to give and receive God’s love in and through our relationships with one another. As St. Augustine taught, when we say “amen” before receiving Holy Communion, we are saying “amen” not only to Christ the head, but to all the members of his body. So profound is this communion that it endures beyond death: we have fellowship not only with the members of the Church on earth but with the saints in heaven, who are cheering us on and helping us draw closer to Christ (cf. Heb 12:1).
Pastors and other leaders should reflect on how to deepen the experience of communion among their parishioners. Do some people attend Mass in isolation, not knowing or being known by others? Do some have the impression that relating to God is sufficient and relating to others in the parish is unnecessary? Are all aware of their responsibility to encourage and build up the faith of others? Do all recognize the need to forgive the offenses of others, to bear with their faults and failings, to avoid cliques and factions, to overcome social and cultural barriers, and to reach out to those who may feel lonely or neglected? Our parishes must be places where people’s “hearts may be encouraged as they are knit together in love” (Col 2:2).
One effective way to foster communion is to form well-planned small groups in which the members meet regularly for Bible study or faith formation as well as mutual support, encouragement, and growth in holiness. Social events can also go a long way toward building relationships. It is important to keep in mind that fellowship in the Church is not for its own sake, but is always centered on the Person of Christ.
Listening and responding to God’s word in the Sacred Scriptures must be at the heart of our efforts to unleash the Gospel. One who is in love desires to know more and more about the beloved. Since all Scripture speaks of Christ, immersing ourselves in the word is a way to deepen our initial encounter and grow in our relationship with him.
God’s word is “living and active” (Heb 4:12); it renews our minds and changes us. The more grounded we are in Scripture, the more we are able to understand God’s marvelous plan and to see the events in our lives with the eyes of faith. Through Scripture we learn to hear God speaking to us personally: “In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them.” As God’s word is dynamic, so must our response be: we take the word to heart and apply it to our lives.
An evangelizing parish is one in which parishioners continually study, talk about, and pray with the Scriptures. To this end, parishes must make Bible study resources available, particularly to put the Scriptures in context for those who know them only through the readings proclaimed at Sunday Mass. Parishioners also need to be taught how to do lectio divina, reading Scripture in prayerful conversation with God. As Pope Benedict XVI stated:
“Since ‘ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ,’ making the Bible the inspiration of every ordinary and extraordinary pastoral outreach will lead to a greater awareness of the person of Christ, who reveals the Father and is the fullness of divine revelation. For this reason I encourage pastors and the faithful to recognize the importance of this emphasis on the Bible.”
To read more of the archbishop’s letter, or to catch up on sections you’ve missed, visit www.unleashthegospel.org.
Is my parish a place where “hearts may be encouraged as they are knit together in love”? If not, what needs to change?