Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
This week we begin to read Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse” from the Gospel of John. Jesus is preparing His disciples for the big changes that are coming for them. His words should be quite consoling for us as we prepare for our own big changes!
Everything Jesus told His disciples in His farewell discourse is a helpful message for All Things New. Things like: this is part of the plan; you need to be pruned in order to bear more fruit; and it may hurt for a while, but things will be better in the long run.
This week we also hear about an important event in the early Church: the Jerusalem Conference. It answered a key question about how to move forward on mission: whether the Gentile followers of Christ had to follow Jewish law. (The question made sense because the initial followers of Jesus were Jewish.)
How did the Church resolve this question? First, the apostles gathered together. Next, they listened to the experience and perspectives of people in the mission field. Then, they prayed together. Finally, they made a decision and formalized it with a public decree.
That process should sound familiar! That’s basically what we’ve been doing for the last two years. And as we reflect back, I want to pause on just one point that people wonder about: Did we really listen during that process?
Remember that we started All Things New with the question of what we should do with Catholic schools. As we leaned into that process, what we heard was: 1) We’re not ready for those changes quite yet, and 2) it would be better to settle the parish question first, and then come back to schools after. Some people might say that was a “false start.” I say it showed that we were really listening and willing to adjust our plans based on what we heard.
The parish planning phase went through a similar process. We asked the priests whether they would like to design things from scratch, or to see some models proposed and start the discussion from there. They asked us to propose models to help start the discussion and discernment, so we did. We designed 40 models simply to start the discussion. Then we brought those models out to parish listening sessions and took in-person and online feedback. As a result of the feedback, only two of those 40 models remained unchanged! Then we brought revised models back to the priests and parish leaders for further discussion.
In the end, a final decision has to be made, and that falls to me. But the final decision only comes after a long process of gathering, listening, praying and adjusting.
Finally, I want to remind us all about this one point: The whole process of realignment is meant to serve what St. John Paul II called the new evangelization, an evangelization that would be “new in ardor, new in method and new in expression.” That’s why, when I announce the final parish plans on Pentecost, I will simultaneously have some things to say about what it might mean for parishes to engage in a new evangelization.
I look forward to sharing all of that with you in a few weeks.