Saints ‘dared to dream’ of ‘vibrant missionary Church’
“I dream of a ‘missionary option,’ that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything. …”
It has been one year since the Diocesan Synod, the first Diocesan Synod in Vermont in more than 50 years. At the synod, the delegates from each parish in the Diocese of Burlington, with great enthusiasm and joy, expressed their hopes and dreams for the Church in Vermont.
Together, we dream and hope for a vibrant Church, a Church that is alive with the joy of the Gospel; a Church animated by young people and young families; a Church that is attentive to the marginalized; a Church that is eager about sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ in their communities, towns and state; a Church that is welcoming, with people happy to come together as the Body of Christ at the altar of the Lord; a Church that offers good teaching and provides a foundation to stand upon in a rapidly changing world.
The synod delegates dared to dream of that missionary option of which Pope Francis spoke, one “capable of transforming everything so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation” (Evangelii Gaudium, 27).
It has also been nine months since our parishes were surveyed by the Christian Leadership Institute using their Disciple Maker Index. Since that time, each parish was charged to establish a writing team whose job it is to dream and envision how the synod goals of evangelization, vibrant parishes and communication would take shape in their local communities. Having seen these writing teams in action, I am encouraged by their willingness to dream and work toward making those dreams a reality that is “capable of transforming everything.”
Pope Francis in his paradigmatic document, “The Joy of the Gospel” dared to dream and hope of a vibrant missionary Church that transforms the world for Christ. The pope dreams of a Church filled with missionary zeal, filled with men and women alive with the love of Christ who can’t help but joyfully share this with others. The whole document is infused with that hope and enthusiasm, putting forth this dream for the Church.
This is what the saints have done, isn’t it? Founded in Christ’s call to make disciples of all nations St. Francis dreamed of “rebuilding the Church.” St. Teresa of Calcutta dreamed of a world where every person was welcomed and cared for. St. Catherine of Siena dreamed of a united Christendom with the pope in Rome. St. Francis Xavier dreamed of taking the Gospel to Japan. St. Ignatius of Loyola dreamed that every person would have a life-changing encounter with God. St. Maximillian Kolbe dreamed of bringing every person to the Mother of God. St. John Paul II dreamed of all Christians being one. Our own Bishop Louis deGoesbriand [first bishop of Burlington] dreamed of building the Church in Vermont.
One final story as we enter spring, look toward the joy of Easter and a new baseball season:
I remember Easter Sunday 1987. I was 10 years old, living in Milwaukee. Our beloved Brewers had begun the season 11-0. I remember just arriving at my grandparents’ house on that gloriously warm Easter afternoon and Grandpa had the game on the radio listening along with the uncles sitting outside in the driveway. The team trailed 4-1 into the bottom of the 9th. And as we listened, the Brewers (“miraculously”) rallied behind two home runs, including a walk-off shot by Dale Sveum. The team made it to 12-0; anything seemed possible as we dreamed about the rest of the season ahead. In Wisconsin, it is still known as “the Easter Sunday miracle.” And 33 years later, I still can recall that afternoon.
When we dream about what is possible, it means we have hope, it means there is enthusiasm and excitement. Enthusiasm is contagious.
The day after that 12th win, the City of Milwaukee was caught up into the enthusiasm. There was even a local restaurant chain that had pledged years earlier to offer free hamburgers if the Brewers ever won 12 straight games. There were a lot of hamburgers made that week!
The excitement, joy and enthusiasm of the synod is a gift to our Diocese. Let’s continue to allow that excitement to spur on our hopes and dreams about what is possible through Jesus Christ, in our Diocese, in our churches, and filled with the enthusiasm that comes with those dreams, continue to work to make those a reality “..capable of transforming everything.”
—Deacon Phil Lawson is the executive director of evangelization, catechesis, divine worship, marriage and family and respect life for the Diocese of Burlington. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Originally published in the Spring 2020 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.