Cardinal Blase Cupich

Renew My Church, abridged version

Thursday, July 13, 2017

It’s always helpful to have a complex idea summarized in an easily digestible way. In my day, that meant reading the Cliffs Notes rather than the assigned novel (please don’t tell my teachers).

Renew My Church is a complex process, of course, but reduced to its simplest terms, it is about (1) disciples taking personal responsibility for the mission of Christ (2) by joining together to build a community of faith that nourishes, prepares and sustains one another (3) so that together as church we become, in the words of Pope Francis, “a field hospital in the world,” bringing healing and hope.

Of course, this three-fold agenda is hardly new to the church. Traditionally, it has been reflected in what we call the sacraments of initiation. One of the many great contributions of the Second Vatican Council was a retrieval of an original understanding that baptism, confirmation and Eucharist are not three separate sacraments, but that they belong to an integrated and ongoing process of initiation into the life and mission of the church for disciples of Jesus.

So let’s take a look at this connection between Renew My Church and the sacraments of initiation. In baptism we are immersed into a personal relationship with the Risen Lord through a conversion that reshapes our lives by joining us to his mission. This conversion is not just about the ideas to which we are committed. Rather, it requires a dying to ourselves, a sacrifice of our priorities, our will, our agenda.

St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, expressed this sense of conversion in his famous Suscipe prayer: “Take, Lord, receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, my entire will. You have given to me all that I have and possess; I return it to you. Give me only your love and your grace; that’s enough for me.”

From the baptismal font, we are then dismissed and sent into the community through a ritual that seals our baptism. We call that sealing confirmation. A seal is a sign of authentication and identification. Look at your driver’s license. What authenticates it is the seal of the state that’s stamped on it.

Our authentic identity as disciples is as members of a community. Imparting a seal of authenticity and identity in confirmation is done by the bishop when he smears oil in the form of a cross on the forehead of disciples. In fact, this sealing originally was a ritual of blessing, dismissing the newly baptized and confirmed and allowing them to enter into the community for the celebration of the Eucharist.

Finally, within this community of shared life and love, we deepen our initiation into the church through the only repeatable sacrament of initiation, the Eucharist. We share in the bread we break and the cup poured out. We call this our Communion, for it in fact provides a graced opportunity to put aside living for ourselves, allowing us to be broken and poured out for one another. We need to do this again and again, practicing our membership in the church. In doing so, we are nourished, prepared and sustained to be sent into the world to bring others the light and hope of the Gospel. In this way we become a “field hospital in the world.”

Renew My Church is simply placing the reality of the sacraments of initiation front and center as we chart a path forward in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Its starting point involves reinvigorating our relationship with Christ, coming to a deeper understanding of our baptism by taking up in a fresh way the work of evangelization and forming disciples.

The ongoing formation of our discipleship, begun at baptism, continues as we take another look at the meaning of our confirmation. It means participating anew in the work of building vibrant faith and worshipping communities. Renew My Church aims to foster such communities through leadership development, which of course means a strong emphasis on vocations. The process will also bring support for parish and school vitality and stability.

It is from the eucharistic assembly that members of the community are sent out to bring hope and light to the world. Renew My Church seeks to accomplish this by building solidarity with those who suffer injustice, and by reaching out to all our people through robust pastoral and communications efforts.

Cliffs Notes have their shortcomings, of course. In the end, you really ought to read the novel (please tell my teachers). Likewise, this summary of Renew My Church, while helping us see the significance of the sacraments of initiation for the life of the church, has its limitations. The success of Renew My Church will depend on our participation in the process.

True discipleship means taking personal responsibility for doing our part to further Christ’s mission. We must work together to build up communities of faith in order to nourish, prepare and sustain all members to be Christ’s field hospital in the world.


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