Church’s mission guides planning process

| February 10, 2010
Archbishop Nienstedt

Archbishop John C. Nienstedt

I had the opportunity between Christmas and New Year’s to read, study and reflect upon the summary minutes of all the gatherings to date that have been sponsored by the Strategic Planning Task Force for parishes and schools.

Overall, I was very impressed by the comments that were made.  They reflect a vital archdiocesan community of faith, made up of believers who love their Catholic faith as well as their parish and Catholic school communities.

Many participants shared the hope that their faith and that of their loved ones would grow stronger in the future. In other words, there was an overall sense of hopefulness expressed that seemed very real, almost tangible.

Among the concerns raised, however, I found the most interesting one to be a statement that the archdiocese should clarify the mission of the church.  I found this intriguing because I always assumed that the mission of the church was clear to all her members.

Crucified Christ lives on

In my first year of theology, we read the scholarly text called “The Church” by Father Hans Kung (this was prior to his more controversial writings). In that work, the Swiss theologian centers the reason for the church’s existence on her belief in Christ’s resurrection:

“. . . without the raising of Jesus from the dead the community of believers, the Church, is meaningless. Only the certainty that the Crucified Christ lives on as the Risen Christ, glorified by God, gives us the solution to the riddle of Jesus as a person and makes the Church possible and real” (page 79).

“With this affirmation of faith, a new community is born. The scattered disciples congregated once more in Jerusalem, the focal point of the coming reign of God. The experience of this new community is a cause of joy and gratitude for the disciples; the sources nowhere suggest that there was any disappointment, as might be if this community were only a temporary solution in view of the postponed parousia.  The disciples celebrated their communal meal, their ‘breaking of the bread,’ with ‘glad hearts’  (Acts 2: 42-47), in eschatological joy” (page 80).

“Thus in many ways the new group of disciples may be seen as the eschatological community of salvation. More and more clearly and profoundly the coming of Jesus is recognized as the single decisive event, as the truly eschatological event.  The faith born of Easter overcomes the stumbling-block of the cross and renews its decision for Jesus by seeing His death as a death for sinners” (page 81).

This conviction of the Risen Christ being fully alive and present to the community of believers becomes the source of the church’s mission, as articulated so clearly at the beginning of St. Mark’s Gospel, where mission is seen as proclamation:

“After John had been arrested Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15).

From the end of the Gospel of St. Matthew, mission is given a missionary emphasis:

“The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.  When they saw Him, they worshiped, but they doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them: ‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, and  behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:16-20).

Finally, from the Gospel of St. John on that first Easter evening, we find mission as that which has been received from the Father:

“The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me so I send you.’  And when He had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them and whose sins you retain are retained’” (John 20:20-23).

The root of the word “mission” means being “sent.” Thus, the church is sent into the world to continue the works of Jesus Christ (i.e. preaching, teaching, healing, doing works of charity and justice).

Her members are able to do so because they have been empowered by Christ’s Holy Spirit. Convinced that the Risen Christ is alive and present in and to the church, her members gather in his name in order to be sent forth in his name.

This mission is so beautifully and so succinctly summarized in what Arch­bishop Flynn repeatedly told us, “To make the name of Jesus known and loved.”

I have made reference before to the two concepts that describe the mission of the church as set forth in the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution, “Lumen Gentium,” namely “communio” and “missio.”

The church is called to gather into “communio” where she celebrates the presence of the Risen Christ in word and sacrament in order to be sent forth in “missio,” as she bears witness to the faith by her teaching and works of charity.

This is the tug and pull of every Catholic life: We come to church to celebrate the Sunday liturgy as Christ’s Body to be sent forth into our weekday lives to be the Body of Christ to others. One cannot honestly say, “I am a Catholic,” unless he or she participates in both aspects of “communio” and “missio.”

Impact on planning

There are at least two important ways that the above description of the church’s mission impacts on the work of the Strategic Planning Task Force.

First of all, the archdiocese — not the parish — makes up the local church. Hence the mission of the church must be thought of in terms that transcend what goes on in any given parish. However, thinking of the church’s mission in this context is difficult because most Catholics quite naturally identify “church” with their own parish. The challenge in this process of planning for the future of our parishes and schools is to look beyond what, in many instances, may be more familiar.

Second, there are many dimensions to the building up and to the realization of both “communio” and “missio.” Think of all the programs and activities in a given parish that are associated with worship, education and catechesis, administration and social concerns. These activities need to be prioritized in order to be successfully accomplished.

This, too, is part of the process of our strategic planning: to evaluate our strengths and not duplicate our efforts. If a worship committee can plan for a baptismal preparation class in one parish, why not use the same plan for two or more parishes?  In planning for the RCIA, why can’t two or four parishes work together? Again, the challenge lies in being willing to organize our activities and ministries in ways we have not done before.

The Strategic Planning Task Force is concerned with analyzing our resources for church ministry in light of the “communio” to which we have been called as disciples. Hopefully, this will give us a framework in which to carry out more effectively the “missio” of this church in responding to the needs that we face.

Therefore, as part of its implementation, we will need to re-evaluate the best ways to carry out our various ministries in order to ensure that we are truly faithful to the church’s mission.

I believe that this effort is both challenging and promising. Doing it together for the common good of this archdiocesan community of faith will be, I am convinced, a great blessing for the future of our local church. May God bless you.

Category: Only Jesus

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