by Fr. Tom Hurley
Sunday, June 4
You may have heard by now a concept floating around the church world here in Chicago about “Renew My Church.” Cardinal Cupich coined the phrase for the purposes of looking at our present situation here in Chicago and trying to determine what direction we should go for the coming years. The idea of “Renew My Church” comes from the conversion experience of the beloved saint of the 13th century, Francis of Assisi. Sitting in the church of San Damiano one day, meditating on the mysteries of the cross, Francis heard the voice of God say to him “Renew my Church!” At first, Francis thought the Lord meant “fix” my church so he grabbed a hammer, nails, and other instruments to help literally fix a church that was falling down. Upon further review, Francis discovered that what the Lord really wanted was for Francis to help breathe some new life into, at that time, a tired lifeless experience of church! Thus began the ministry of Francis and his followers who helped to transform and renew the life of the Church during that medieval period in our history.
That of course is a nutshell version of the story of Francis and his mystical call to help foster the life and energy of the church. Putting aside all the inaccuracies of history that I more than likely just shared with you in the previous paragraph, one thing is clear, the church is always in need of renewal! And so are we!
I applaud Cardinal Cupich’s passionate desire to have us look critically and creatively at the life of the church here in Chicago. It’s long overdue. The tide of culture has shifted dramatically these past dozen years and it continues to shift each and every day. But as the culture has continued to move, I’m not convinced we as a church have been able to keep up by responding with more creative ways of proclaiming the Gospel in 2017. As a result (though there are many factors involved), we have witnessed a growing lethargy and likewise a softening in the numbers of people engaged in the life of the church. It’s time for renewal! No doubt about it!
Unfortunately, in the Archdiocese of Chicago, many people have misunderstood “Renew My Church” to solely mean ‘the closing of parishes’. Will so me parishes likely close in the coming years? Yes, but if closing and boarding up old church buildings, school, and convents is all that we mean, then we’ve lost touch with what “Renew My Church” is all about. God didn’t suggest to Francis that he should close down the church. God called upon Francis and his companions to renew themselves and likewise to renew the face of the church in the world in their day.
Today is Pentecost, which traditionally is our great feast day to celebrate the life of the Spirit who breathed life into the hearts and souls of the early church. What I would like to suggest to us today is that the Holy Spirit breathed life and called those early Christians to be the “first” expression of what church meant for them in their day. But that was just one expression of the church in a certain time period and in a certain culture, responding to a certain set of challenges. The church has changed over time and will continue to do so. The church today doesn’t look like the church of the first century, nor the church of Francis’ time, nor the church of my early childhood. So that means the church is constantly in need of renewing itself. That’s what today is all about.
I hope you will join me in renewing our experience of church here at Old St. Pat’s today and in the new year to come. I know that I’m feeling a need and an appetite to be renewed. I pray that God will help me and all of us to not only receive the breath of the Spirit in some new creative way, but I sure hope God will help me and all of us to figure out how to share that gift of the Spirit with this world around us.
Let’s all do our best to keep asking God to help renew our prayer life, renew our relationships, renew our commitment to the poor and justice, renew our commitment to hospitality and welcome, renew our dedication to diversity, renew of level of commitment to this community of faith. May God’s gentle, yet challenging Spirit, help us all to renew the face of the earth.
Happy Pentecost Day to all of you,
Father Tom Hurley