Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Let’s imagine something together.
Imagine that we had just trained two missionaries. Imagine that we sent them off to one college campus to invite others to become disciples of the Lord. Imagine that the school was already Catholic. What kind of return would you expect on that missionary investment?
That’s the actual history of FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students: It began with two missionaries on the campus of Benedictine College in Kansas in 1998.
What happened across the next 25 years was something remarkable. Twenty-five years after its very modest beginning, FOCUS now has more than 800 missionaries, and those missionaries are now on the campuses of more than 200 schools — many of which are public universities. And, 25 years after its very modest beginning, we in St. Louis saw some of the fruit of that missionary work when 17,000 young adults came to St. Louis for SEEK ’23 — the annual FOCUS conference — to have an encounter with Jesus and to be sent out into the world to invite more people to become disciples.
That’s a stunning example of what we might call “the law of spiritual multiplication.”
My point here is not to sing the praises of FOCUS (although that would be a worthy point). My point is to place something in our imagination: a picture of what’s possible for the Archdiocese of St. Louis as we go through All Things New.
People have asked me: If All Things New is really about evangelization, then why is most of the talk about parish closures?
The answer is this: because this is a multi-step process. Yes, we have to close and merge parishes. That’s our first step. But if that’s all we do, we will have missed a great opportunity! As we make external changes to parishes, we also have an opportunity to re-focus ourselves internally, to learn how to follow the law of spiritual multiplication.
The simple fact of the matter is we haven’t followed that law. In fact, for decades we’ve been shrinking. But I don’t think it’s an accident that, as we talk about revitalizing our parishes through a renewed focus on evangelization, the SEEK conference is spending two consecutive years here in St. Louis. (Yes, it will be back in January 2024.) I think that’s God’s providence saying to us: Here, look at this, this is a way forward.
That’s why we are holding “Evangelization 101” workshops in every planning area of the archdiocese this spring. And that’s why I’m glad that our effort is bracketed by these two SEEK conference experiences — one behind us in January of 2023, another ahead of us in January 2024. I think we have something to learn about how to bring the Good News out to the world, how to be disciples who make disciples.
In 25 years, FOCUS went from two missionaries on one campus to more than 800 missionaries on more than 200 campuses, and 17,000 people showed up in St. Louis as a fruit of that missionary work. What can happen over the next 25 years if 450,000 Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Louis learn how to follow that pattern of spiritual multiplication?
That’s what I think can and should be in our imagination for All Things New.