As we have been considering ways to evangelize millennials and to respond to Renew My Church, instead of focusing on blame—blaming the culture—we have focused on the need to fall in love with Jesus Christ—to become one of his disciples—and then to build up a community of love. This will counteract their loneliness and draw them into the loving community of Christ’s disciples. In this women have a special role to play.
Women play a special role in building community due to their role in the primacy of love. Love is what attracted people to Christ. Christ called his disciples to “Love one another even as I have loved you… by this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Although all are called to witness to this, women have a special charism to do so, as Pope St. John Paul II says:
[There is] “a special kind of ‘prophetism’ that belongs to women in their femininity… [While] every human being—man and woman—is loved by God in Christ… it is precisely the woman—the bride—who manifests this truth to everyone. This ‘prophetic’ character of women in their femininity finds its highest expression in the Virgin Mother of God. She emphasizes… the intimate linking of the order of love” (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women—Mulieris Dignitatem 29).
The Church would be dead without love and it is women who have the mission to reveal the truth of love and to transmit it to every human being. Pope Francis puts it this way: “Without women, there is no harmony in the world… It is she who brings that harmony that teaches us to caress, to love with tenderness; and who makes the world a beautiful place… A woman is harmony, is poetry, is beauty. Without her the world would not be so beautiful, it would not be harmonious” (Homily at Mass in Santa Marta, February 9, 2017).
Everyone is called to sow love, harmony, and beauty in the world, but women are called to do so in a special way and with a special vocation. The world in which we live is too masculine, too harsh, too objectivizing—objectivizing women and children like it does things—ruling with the power of force and money. Instead, our world needs to rediscover the gentle strength of love, of harmony, of beauty. As St. Josemaría wrote: “The fraternity of the children of God… is the great solution for the world’s problems, to draw people out of their shell of selfishness” (Letter, March 11, 1940, 16).
It is not the power of force and money that will win over the disenchanted young and not so young adults, but the gentle strength of love, harmony, and beauty, and it is women in the Church who enable us to do so. It is not by women being “submissive” that will draw people to Christ—but nor is it by women being objects of masculine desires, nor by amassing masculine power, force, and wealth… No, it will be with their gentle strength of love, harmony, and beauty that will powerfully motivate true conversion of heart and discipleship to follow Christ wherever he goes.
So let’s prayerfully encourage women to exercise their charism, as John Paul II put it: “the dignity of women is measured by the order of love, which is essentially the order of justice and charity,” because “the woman is the one who receives love in order to love in return… within all the interpersonal relationships which, in the most varied ways, shape society and structure the interaction between all persons” (Mulieris Dignitatem 29).
Fr. John R. Waiss
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
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
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
To bring our history of St. Mary of the Angels up to date, let’s look at what has taken place in the last twelve years.
Restore God’s House Campaign
Fr. Joseph (Fr. Joe) Landauer joined Fr. Hilary and Fr. Charles on the Priests’ Council in 2005, replacing Fr. John Debicki. With Fr. Hilary as Moderator and Pastor, the three priests worked together to face the challenges of the parish. In 2006 they replaced the windows in the school and refinished pews in the church. That year the school began using computers in its curriculum.
In late 2007, leaks began to appear under the dome, as well as from the roofs or walls of the South Tower and other spots in the church. The South Tower restoration project was put on hold when they discovered the extent of the repairs to the dome, and the parish began setting aside Annual Catholic Appeal rebates for possible repairs. In 2009 water leakage was getting severe and various solutions were proposed, with an estimated cost ranging from 1.6 to 2.5 million dollars. Plastic sheets were installed between the outer and inner domes to collect the water and try to keep it from causing further damage until repairs could be made. The Restore God’s House campaign began at the end of 2009 to raise the necessary funds to begin construction.
Initially the Restore God’s House campaign sought to raise $2.5 million to repair the dome, restore the North and South Towers, and replace the parapet on the façade. Parishioners donated and pledged more than $1.5 million. Work began on the Dome in September 2010. When the scaffolding went up, so did a sign saying “Save the Dome.” This garnered additional donor interest. The Archdiocese gave us a loan for $1.67 million to help us finish the dome project.
When the dome was being repaired, additional damage to the cupola of the dome was discovered, raising the costs of the repair project to $3.17 million. This meant that the parapet and the North Tower had to wait.
But when Fr. Joe’s father died in November 2011, an additional $750,000 was bequeathed to the building fund. About the same time Cardinal George approved St. Mary of the Angels for a debt reduction program where the Archdiocese would match every dollar raised for the Annual Catholic Appeal if we applied it against our debt. The bequest enabled us to fully repair the South Tower and restore the interior of the church (damaged because of the water), while the parishioners raised more than $900,000 by January 2013 erasing our debt to the Archdiocese of over $1.8 million.
I came to the parish in the midst of that campaign, in 2012, replacing Fr. Joe. Cardinal George appointed me as moderator of the Priests’ Council and pastor on May 1, 2014. Most of the issues I had to address in my first year were ordinary repairs and services of the church, but in July 2015 a terracotta cornice came crashing down into the parking lot, shortly after everyone left the 5pm Saturday vigil Mass and the parking lot had cleared—“the angels held it in place until everyone was safe,” it seemed. Engineers surveyed the exterior and secured potential safety issues, using metal bars to secure similar cornices and outer tracery of the stained glass windows; metal mesh was put over beams, bricks, or terracotta on the façade and North Tower. All these were emergency repairs for safety purposes.
Now God calls us to move forward to face these current needs so we can share our faith and this beautiful legacy with future generations. Let us pray that we can continue that legacy with fidelity to Christ and his Church, while loving Our Blessed Mother and all her little children gathered at her feet.
Fr. John R. Waiss