Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
When St. Paul first traveled to Ephesus, he asked the people there if they had received the Holy Spirit. They answered: “We have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” The reaction of many people to our recent Evangelization 101 workshops was similar: “We’ve never heard this before!”
Part of people’s surprise is rooted in disappointment: “This isn’t complicated. Why have we never heard it before?” Part of their surprise is rooted in delight: “We can do this!” Part of their surprise is rooted in hope: “This could be a game changer for parish life.”
That’s exactly my hope as we prepare to celebrate Pentecost: that this Pentecost — including the announcement of the parish plans for All Things New — will be the beginning of a renewal of parish life in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
Here’s another thing about Paul’s visit to Ephesus: The Acts of the Apostles tells us that, when Paul prayed for them and the Holy Spirit fell upon them, “altogether there were about 12 men.” In other words, it’s OK for things to start small! We held 18 Evangelization 101 workshops, which were attended by more than 2,000 people. I pray that this is just a small beginning to something that will blossom in the coming years — as it did for the early Church in Ephesus.
In addition to hearing about the beginning of Paul’s visit to Ephesus this week, we also hear about his departure three months later. He left Ephesus for Jerusalem and would eventually leave Jerusalem for Rome, where he would win the martyr’s crown.
Two features of Paul’s departure can be helpful for us this week as we prepare for the announcement of the final plan for parishes.
First is a simple human fact: Saying goodbye is a regular feature of our lives. People graduate. People come and go from work. People die. To grow in wisdom requires that we become skillful at saying goodbye. The Christian conviction that life doesn’t end with death, but changes, can help us acquire this wisdom — not only for individual life, but for parish life.
Second is the pattern of surrender. As St. Paul departed Ephesus for Jerusalem and Rome, he surrendered himself totally to God. He could move on with peace because he knew he was following the pattern of Jesus’ dying and rising.
Many of us, in our individual lives, know what that surrender is like. In one way or another, we’ve placed our lives totally in the hands of God and have experienced some dying and rising ourselves.
But, again, this pattern of surrender is just as applicable to parish life as it is to any individual life. It’s a beautiful thing to follow Jesus and surrender our parish life to God — not easy, but beautiful!
Can we learn to die and rise in parish life, just as many of us have learned to do in our individual lives? That will be a crucial question for us in the coming months.