By Deb Amato, Chief of Staff, Diocese of Lansing
Wednesday, May 12, 2021
Feast of Saint Leopold Mandic, Capuchin
There are many Christian beliefs that we presume to be self-evident and, thus, are often taken for granted. Indeed, as we cantor through our recitation of the Nicene Creed at Sunday Mass we often forget, or are even unaware, that this profound doctrinal manifesto emerges from the piety and learning of the early Church. In the face of heresy and hostility, those first bishops had to prayerfully discern and bravely define the truths of the Christian faith. They did so with the authority of Jesus Christ and, often, with the vocal encouragement of the lay faithful.
Take, for example, the Council of Ephesus in AD 431. It condemned the teachings of Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, who held that the Virgin Mary gave birth to Christ’s humanity but not his divinity and, therefore, should not carry the title of Theotokos or “God-bearer”. Here is how one historian recounts the reaction of the people to the council’s condemnation of Nestorius.
“Gathered outside the church doors, in enthusiastic anticipation of the assembly’s decision, was what seemed to be the entire population of Ephesus. As soon as the news of what was decided leaked through the portals, the rejoicing was so unparalleled that no historian has failed to report it. The whole city became as though sun-lit with torches, and devotional pageantry exploded in the streets.”
This sensus fidelium or “sense of the faithful” primarily applies to matters of faith and morals but it is also sensibly applied whenever a local Church is considering modifications to diocesan and parish structures borne of a concern for souls and motivated by the good of the faithful, clergy and laity. Indeed, Canon Law states that “before issuing a singular decree, an authority is to seek out the necessary information and proofs and, insofar as possible, to hear those whose rights can be injured” (Canon 50).
This is why, upon the establishment of the Diocese of Lansing’s Realign Resources for Mission process in the fall of 2019, Bishop Earl Boyea gave our steering committee a very clear, sevenfold instruction: “Consult, consult, consult, consult, consult, consult, consult.” This is also why, in the latter part of last year, our committee facilitated 67 parish meetings across our 10-county diocese. Some meetings were in-person. Many were virtual. All very lively and good-natured and insightful. Thank you to all who participated. We prayed, you spoke, and we listened. We heard you. Having now processed all 1700 survey responses and direct letters sent to our committee, here is what you had to say. Overwhelmingly, but with some exceptions:
- You love your parish;
- You love your priest;
- You are doing many good things with respect to works of mercy and service;
- You have dedicated staff that are committed and try hard to do the right thing;
- You would love to see more collaboration between parishes, sharing of parish resources, and other activities and partnerships that might enrich each individual community.
You also have concerns. Generally, but with some exceptions:
- You are concerned over the lack of participation by a wider body of laity;
- You are concerned over the role of deacons and senior priests and might like to see them more involved in sacramental life and ministries;
- You are concerned over the downward trend in youth activity and engagement;
- You are concerned with the downward trend in the presence of young(er) families;
- You are concerned about the aging population of parish communities;
- You are concerned about how performance is managed and how the Vision/Mission would be promoted and sustained in the future;
- You are concerned about change, resistance to change, and past wounds caused by change.
Please be assured that we have taken into consideration your feedback as we develop a recommendation to be given to Bishop Boyea. Draft proposals will come back to you for further comment later this year. We are all in this together. Next week, I will also take you through the results of your feedback specifically relating to the Realigned Resources for Mission process. It’s fascinating stuff. Stay tuned.
Of course, the church in our part of Michigan is always adapting to the challenges of each generation in order to better evangelize all peoples. This has been true since the arrival of first Jesuit priests from Quebec in the mid-17th century. It now falls to us to do the same.
If we continue to pray together at the foot of the Holy Cross, Juxta Crucem Jesu, and in the maternal arms of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I am certain we’ll get there and, crucially, we’ll get there together.
Yours in Christ,
P.S. Do also watch this week’s update video from Father Steve Mattson, Pastor of the Church of the Resurrection in Lansing and member of the Realign Resources for Mission committee, as he outlines some key dates and key meetings that are in the diary for the forthcoming days and weeks.