Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
The All Things New pastoral planning process is going to bring historic change to the Archdiocese of St. Louis. As we start to look at potential plans for parish and school restructuring I’d like to reflect on change — because change is hard!
There are a lot of theological things that might be said about change: how the Ascension or the conversion of Gentiles changed things for the early Church; how the gradual codification of the seven sacraments across several centuries or the creation of the seminary system after the Reformation changed things for the Church.
But maybe the most helpful perspective on change comes from the experience of parents.
With each stage of a child’s growth — in the womb, infant, toddler, adolescent, teenager, young adult — parents constantly need to discover new ways of parenting.
With every transition, the temptation is to stay stuck in the previous mode of parenting. It’s tempting for parents to keep the child suspended — in their imagination — in some earlier phase of life and to fail to make the transition that growth requires. But we all know what happens when parents continue to treat their teenagers as toddlers or their young adults as teenagers!
Naturally, with every transition, there’s grieving. That’s legitimate. Something good happens in each stage of a child’s growth, and something is lost when the next phase comes. But parents can’t hold on to the earlier phases, no matter how golden they may have been while they lasted. Successful parenting requires accepting the changes, then investing time and energy in learning new ways of carrying out their mission.
The experience of parents contains important lessons for us as we face our own changes in the coming years.
The footprint of the archdiocese — in terms of parishes and schools — is about to change. We can and should grieve that change. Good things happened and some of them will be lost. But we can’t suspend the life of the archdiocese — in our imagination, and our way of operating — at a previous “golden age.” Like parents, we need to recognize the change that’s happened and invest our time and energy in a new way of carrying out our mission.
When Jesus ascended into heaven the disciples remained, for a time, gazing upward, locked in an old way of relating to his body. Then two angels said to them: “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?” The disciples needed to be spurred into the next phase of the Church’s life. They needed to go back to Jerusalem, to prepare to be anointed by the Holy Spirit and to enter into a new relationship with Jesus and the world. We stand in a similar position today.
We can and should celebrate all we’ve accomplished in the previous decades, even the previous 200 years. Great things have happened in the Archdiocese of St. Louis!
But we can’t simply keep gazing at those great things, expecting some previous mode of the Church’s life to continue. Change has come upon us, whether we want it to or not.
It’s time for us to go to the upper room, to pray for a new anointing by the Holy Spirit, and to enter into a new way of carrying out the mission of being Jesus’ Church.