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 11th 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 Sacrament of Reconciliation was given to the Church by the Lord Jesus himself as the preeminent place for the baptized to respond anew to his call to repentance and to receive the Father’s mercy. The renewal of this sacrament in our local Church is an essential part of our efforts to unleash the Gospel.
In the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus reveals God’s joy over returning sinners. The younger son, who insulted his father and wasted his inheritance, is reduced to starvation and decides to come home, hoping to be hired as a servant in his father’s house. But “while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Lk 15:20). Before the young man even finishes his confession, the father commands that he be clothed in a robe, ring and sandals — signs of restoration to full sonship — and that a feast be held to celebrate. Such is God the Father’s heart toward his lost sons and daughters.
A sign of a thriving parish community is a culture of sharing in the “joy in heaven over one sinner who repents” (Lk 15:7). This entails both clear preaching about the consequences of sin and generous availability and use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. “[God’s] mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning” (Lam 3:22-23). For those who have fallen away from their faith and the Church, Reconciliation is an open doorway for return. No sin is unforgiveable, and through the sacrament the Father’s embrace and a fresh start await them. For those already practicing the faith, being cleansed of sin is crucial for opening themselves to the movement of the Holy Spirit. Just as the sins of each individual have a negative spiritual effect on the whole community, so even more the spiritual healing and forgiveness received through the sacrament cause grace to flow through the whole community.
The Holy Eucharist
In the Holy Eucharist we reach the summit of our participation in the victory of Christ over sin and death — the triumph we proclaim in the new evangelization. In this Most Blessed Sacrament we have the source of our zeal and strength to unleash the Gospel.
Evangelization leads to the Eucharist, since the Eucharist is the fullness of communion with Jesus and his whole Church. On the other hand, the Eucharist leads to evangelization, since our ability to announce the Gospel springs from the passion and resurrection of Christ which is made present anew in the Eucharist. This is why the Latin liturgy traditionally ends with the words Ite, missa est: “Go, she is sent.” At every Mass the Church — that is, all her members — are newly empowered and sent forth to bring Christ into the world. Through the Eucharist we become stamped with the pattern of Christ’s own self-giving love so that we can reproduce that pattern in our own lives. Thus the goal of the liturgy is never just to receive the sacrament and go home; it is to become a living tabernacle through which Christ is made present to others. As Pope Benedict XVI stated:
“The love that we celebrate in the sacrament is not something we can keep to ourselves. By its very nature it demands to be shared with all. What the world needs is God’s love; it needs to encounter Christ and to believe in him. The Eucharist is thus the source and summit not only of the Church’s life, but also of her mission: ‘an authentically eucharistic Church is a missionary Church.’ We too must be able to tell our brothers and sisters with conviction: ‘That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us’” (1 Jn 1:3).
The members of our local Church need to be regularly rekindled in “Eucharistic amazement” by preaching and catechesis that helps to deepen their understanding and faith in this immeasurable gift and moves them to make a gift of self in return. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, since it brings people directly into the presence of Jesus, is a powerful means of revitalizing a parish and equipping it to transform the culture.
Parishes must also focus sustained attention on the quality of the Sunday liturgy experience, especially from the perspective of newcomers and newly returning Catholics. Do people who show up for Mass enter into a friendly, hospitable environment where mutual love is evident? Does the music help them to lift up their minds and hearts in worship of God? Does the preaching break open the word of God and help them apply it to their lives? Is there an atmosphere of faith in which people’s attention is truly focused on the Lord? These qualities are not the responsibility of the pastor alone but of the entire congregation. If improvement is needed, let us strive for it with patience and perseverance.
To read more of the archbishop’s letter, or to catch up on sections you’ve missed, visit www.unleashthegospel.org.