Renew My Church: Christ the King Calls Us

Jesus Christ is our King the “image of the invisible God,” who makes God’s presence visible to us while ruling the Catholic Church. Through our baptism and confirmation, we all share in Christ’s kingship, priesthood, and prophetic witness, but his sacred ministers do so in a special

Christ came to rule his church, which he governs visibly through the bishops, with his priests and deacons. Deacons have a special sharing in Christ’s prophetic role with God-given authority to visibly proclaim and explain God’s word. In addition, priests offer the visible sacrifice of the Holy Mass and apply this sin-offering in the sacrament of Reconciliation. The bishops do all that but also visibly rule and govern that portion of the Church entrusted to them.

Here in Chicago, Archbishop Cupich visibly re-presents to us Christ the King. Just as fathers and mothers share Christ’s kingship by ruling the family, making sure that their children get to Mass and Confession, and get their catechetical instruction, so too Archbishop Cupich governs the Church in Lake and Cook Counties to make sure all the Catholic faithful can receive the sacraments—the Mass, Reconciliation, Baptism, Marriage, the Anointing…—and the religious formation they need to fulfill their vocation to holiness. The bishop does this principally by ordaining priests and deacons, whom he assigns to parishes, schools, and hospitals.

In exercising his duties to care for the spiritual welfare of Chicago Catholics, Archbishop Cupich is leading us on a renewal—titled Renew My Church—to take up “that mission as disciples with fresh vigor and enthusiasm.” In doing so, he is reminding us that Christ reigns as king from the Cross, and that he calls us to share in this work—which is his work, not ours. To join Christ will involve “a dying, a leaving behind old patterns and pathways that have made us comfortable and even complacent.”

As a member of the College of Cardinals, Archbishop Cupich has taking on a greater share of the universal governance of the Roman Catholic Church. He is asking us too to become more “catholic” or universal, to “move beyond a view of Church that is defined only by “my parish,” or “my needs,” to one that includes the good of the entire Church of Chicagoland.” The first step, grouping parishes, is almost finished. Shortly we will come together to evaluate the needs of Catholics in the broader area of our group. The Archdiocese is putting together a team to facilitate this dialogue, giving us the demographic data and other “signs of the times” to aid in making recommendation for meeting the real spiritual needs with the limited resources now at our disposal.

Renew My Church involves some dying—some parishes will combine, as did those in the West Humboldt Park grouping or some may even closed—yet if each one of us, like the Good Thief, die alongside Christ we can hope for the Resurrection: “This day you will be with me in paradise.” Renew My Church has the “potential of having an historic and transformative impact on each of our lives and the entire Church.” Its success will be measured by “how it leaves us more united as a Church – united across racial, political, ethnic and social lines… to make sure that no one feels left behind but all are included.”

Pope Francis reminded us Catholics in the United States:

“One of the great challenges facing the Church in this generation is to foster in the faithful a sense of personal responsibility for the Church’s mission, and to enable them to fulfill that responsibility as missionary disciples, as a leaven of the Gospel in our world. This will require creativity in adapting to changed situations, carrying forward the legacy of the past not primarily by maintaining our structures and institutions, which have served us well, but above all by being open to the possibilities which the Spirit opens up to us and communicating the joy of the Gospel, daily and in every season of our life” (Homily, September 26, 2015).

With immense hope we pray that Christ will inflame Chicago Catholics with a greater love for him, for their Faith, and for the souls of their neighbor. St. Mary of the Angels, pray for us!

Fr. John R. Waiss


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Renew My Church: Building Community

Wrestling with declining church attendance and fewer vocations to the priesthood, we have been considering: What would Christ have us do? Change our liturgy and outreach to match the current or return to the ways that Christ used and transmitted to his disciples?

Cardinal Cupich has challenged Chicago Catholics to encounter and listen to Christ. A sincere encounter with the Risen Lord makes us into true disciples of Christ who then calls us to renew his Church by making Disciples of all nations, as we saw last week, which happens when we invite others to a true encounter and relationship with Jesus Christ.

But Jesus tells his disciples: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Being Christ’s disciples means loving one another, resulting in our Building Communities.

Many of our youth and young adults don’t see the Church as relevant to their lives: they can make friends, graduate from college, find a partner, have and mentor children (if they choose have them), and become prosperous in the culture in which they grew up… in a culture which they love… in a culture which is at odds with, and misunderstood by, the Church. They see the culture wars as a war on them and their peers. They don’t want to be called “Christian” or “Catholic” because they perceive those labels with judgmental, bullying, and condemnatory attitudes towards others.

Yet millennials—and all of us—long for love, they long for the source of love, and they long for the community and family, which true love creates.

So, the best way to evangelize millennials is for us to fall in love with Jesus Christ—to become one of his disciples—and then to love one another as Christ has loved us. We don’t appreciate how attractive this is, to build up a community of love. Loving and welcoming communities naturally invites others to come to share in that community. So many people today speak about how lonely they are and then try to fill that loneliness with computer games, social media, or anonymous encounters. We have so much to offer when we truly love another as disciples of Christ and then welcome others—through offering them an encounter with him—into this loving community of Christ’s disciples.

We don’t need to judge others for their lifestyle choices and failings—only God is the judge. We simply need to introduce them to Jesus Christ and he is the one to offer them his grace and forgiveness—as he did the woman caught in adultery (see John 8:2-11); he will welcome them back into his family, like the father of the prodigal son (see Luke 15:11-32). We just need to love one another, which will attract others to the Church, which will lead them to Christ.

This is how Catholic parishes and schools will grow in their mission vitality. This is how we will witness to others as true disciples of Christ, by the love we have for one another.

Fr. John R. Waiss


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Renew My Church: Making Disciples in Today’s World

Last week we did a little reality check, looking at the sad facts about how many of our young—and not so young—people have left the Faith. Renew My Church is the Archdiocese’s attempt at facing reality, considering the dwindling numbers, with fewer priests and financial resources throughout Chicago, and then ask: What shall we do?

Some try to make Mass more relevant, make it more entertaining, focusing on more modern music, engaging preaching, or on refreshments and socials after Mass. In other words, create an emotional experience that will attract people—especially young people—to church and make them feel good. But is this what Jesus would do, develop new programs and approaches? Is this what he commanded the apostles to do? Rather he said: “Go therefore and make disciples… teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

The Church is Christ’s bride, not a building, and it belongs to him, as he said: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). So, it is not up to us to determine how it should look or how to make it more relevant. Let us look to him for guidance about what we should do, to discern, rediscover, and refocus our efforts on what got us here in the first place: worshipping God as Christ’s disciples through a personal relationship with the Father, through Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit through prayer and Mass. Then we ought to go out and make disciples by sharing our faith with others. This may seem challenging today, but it was also a challenge 2000 years ago.

In the Book of Revelation Jesus told the Church at Ephesus:

“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance… But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first… repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent (Revelation 2:2,4,5).

Let us return to our first love, Jesus Christ, which moved Catholics to build up the Church in Chicago years ago. Let us cultivation our faith in Christ and share that faith with others, letting them know how Christ and his Sacraments have made a difference in our lives. Then we will see more vocations to the priesthood, marriage, and dedicated celibacy.

Don’t Just Blame the Culture

St. Josemaría reminded us that Christianity and the Christian struggle is a very positive, uplifting Gospel—“good news”—not a negative. We are not anti-anything, nor anti-anyone.

Many millennials and other disengaged Catholics are tired of hearing us blaming the culture, or the Internet, or what-have-you. I have to admit that it is easy to do, but it doesn’t get us anywhere. Pope Francis is constantly reminding us that our faith is an encounter, a positive and personal encounter with Jesus Christ who is the love of our lives.

When Jesus condemned the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders of his times he did so face-to-face with the perpetrators themselves—“you blind guides,” he would say—trying to call each one to a real conversion. To the masses Jesus kept his message positive, teaching them how to live lives that contrasted with the culture: “Blessed are the…”

Let’s follow our Lord’s example. This is what is going to help us go forth and make disciples… Do not be afraid!

Fr. John R. Waiss


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Renew My Church: Facing Reality

We need to face reality: the Catholic Church in Chicago has seen a 25 percent decline in its parishioner base over the last 20 years; even worse, the faith of our young people is waning: 50% of millennials—between 22 and 35 years old—who were raised Catholic no longer identify as Catholic and only 7% of them actively practice their faith by weekly Mass, prayer, or consider their faith important. Even here at St. Mary of the Angels, Mass attendance (in October) has gone down from over 1,700 persons each week in 2002 to about 1,200 each week in 2016. Certainly some have moved out of Chicago, but something else is going on: secularism, materialism, hedonism… selfish individualism. People—especially young people—are turning to anti-Christian sources for their belief-system.

Last week, we read the parable of God’s vineyard in both Isaiah and in the Gospel. In Isaiah we read:

“[God] had a vineyard… he spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines; within it he built a watchtower, and hewed out a wine press… but what it yielded was wild grapes… What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done? Why, when I looked for the crop of grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes? Now, I will let you know what I mean to do with my vineyard: take away its hedge, give it to grazing, break through its wall, let it be trampled! Yes, I will make it a ruin: it shall not be pruned or hoed, but overgrown with thorns and briers; I will command the clouds not to send rain upon it. The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel” (Isaiah 5:1-5).

We—the Catholics in Chicago—are God’s vineyard, but we must ask ourselves: Are we yielding wild grapes instead of choice grapes that God expects?

God is calling us to bear fruit of holiness, to build up his family, the Church. Nobody wants to see any churches close—nobody except the devil! Nobody wants to see the walls of the vineyard broken down, the vines trampled, and everything overgrown with thorns and briers. But if we don’t bear more fruit then it will happen.

What are we called to do? We are called to do exactly what the apostles were called to do after our Lord’s death and resurrection: “Go therefore and make disciples… teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). Make disciples means sharing our faith with others by introducing them to Jesus, cultivating each one’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Let others know what your faith means to you, how Christ, his Church, and his Sacraments has impacted you. This will lead to more vocations to the priesthood, marriage, and dedicated celibacy.

When the apostles made disciples they also built communities wherever they went. For us it means to cultivate bonds with one another in our friendship with Christ. As communities of believers we will support one another in carrying out Christ’s mission on earth, making sure that every part of Christ’s body has what it needs to prosper.

Finally, our personal witness will inspire witness in others, countering the anti-witness of secularism, materialism, hedonism… of selfish individualism.

So let us take Christ’s desire to Renew My Church, and our efforts to bring about those desires, and entrust them all to Our Lady, St. Mary of the Angels, the woman who will crush the head of the serpent with her heal.

Fr. John R. Waiss


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