Q: Every Catholic is invited to a pretty special event next year. Tell us about the third assembly – Made for Happiness.
A: The third Diocesan Assembly is the signature event of Bishop Earl Boyea’s six-year initiative to introduce the diocese to the mission of the New Evangelization.
On Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018 at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Bishop Boyea invites every church-going Catholic to gather with him and 10,000 others from around our diocese for the largest Catholic gathering in the history of the Diocese of Lansing.
It will begin with a four-mile-long eucharistic procession from the cathedral to the Breslin Center. The hope is that thousands of Catholics will walk behind the Blessed Sacrament in a public witness of our faith. We’re hoping to have all the different groups from our parishes represented, such as the Knights of Columbus, Cursillo, 40 Days for Life, etc.
Those who don’t participate in the procession will be invited to “tailgate” before the event, where there will be activities for kids and families.
There will be a couple of engaging talks and the culmination of the event will be Mass with Bishop Boyea, along with all his priests, deacons and 10,000 lay faithful. I really do believe this will be one of the most historic events of our diocese.
Q: What has gotten us to this point?
A: Sadly, it’s no secret that Mass attendance has been going down for decades. Statistics show that only about 34 percent of registered Catholics in our diocese actually attend weekly Mass. But I don’t want to bog us down with the seemingly countless negative statistics out there. I like to focus on the positive, like the fact that surveys also indicate that around 8 million fallen-away Catholics in the U.S. are open to returning! That’s one of the reasons why Bishop Boyea is so confident our efforts will bear fruit.
It all began with his pastoral letter in 2012, Go and Announce the Gospel of the Lord, which set the vision for what we’re doing and where we’re going. Then our diocese engaged in a year of prayer together, asking God to show us the way. Bishop Boyea and I firmly believe this year of prayer was quite possibly the main contributor to our relative success thus far. We believe it was the grace from all the prayers of faithful Catholics around the diocese that opened up a new grace for us. In 2014, Bishop Boyea called the first of the three diocesan assemblies, Go and Announce the Gospel, and about 850 of our clergy, religious, parish/diocesan staff and active parishioners attended. At this conference, they received their marching orders to use the next two years to prepare their parishes for welcoming people who are currently separated from the Church, and to create cultures of conversion and discipleship in their parishes.
Last year, nearly 2,000 people gathered for the second assembly, Called by Name. This event was focused entirely on how we Catholics can reach out to and invite back those who were baptized in the Church, but have since fallen away. We still have many years of practice ahead of us, but this was a great start for our diocese.
Q: What is being planned to reach out to those who no longer go to church and those unaffiliated with any religion?
A: First of all, it’s important to note that the foundation of all this is prayer – prayer from the hearts of all believers that anyone separated from Christ and his Church would be fully incorporated into the family of God. The second thing is that this work is not a program, but is an effort originating from the living Holy Spirit of God and flowing through his vessels of grace, particularly you, me and all those disposed to God’s will. Therefore, it’s not so much about “planning” as it is about openness – openness to how God wants to use us in any given situation.
That being said, we are planning some big things in hopes that we can cooperate in what God is doing.
- From Dec. 6, 2017, to Jan. 7, 2018, we will be running a Catholics Come Home broadcast campaign. This campaign uses beautiful television commercials to invite fallen-away Catholics back to church. You can go to their website to watch these inspiring commercials.
- Many parishes in our diocese will be participating in the New Evangelization Plan. This is a thorough and broad-scope plan that will use Facebook, Google ads, posters, pew cards, door hangers, direct mailings and more to invite non-practicing Catholics to give their local parish a second look.
- And, of course, we will continue to hold trainings and seminars focused on evangelization in an effort to help everyday Catholics engage in conversations with others about Christ and his promises.
Q: What is it that the average Catholic is being asked to do?
A: The average Catholic is simply being asked to GROW and GO. That’s the catchy new terminology we’re using, though it makes it sound a little easier than it really is. Growing begins by yielding all of our life to Jesus Christ – by making him the center of all of our decisions and handing over lordship of everything to him. This can only happen through grace. Therefore, we should all pause on a regular basis to ask God to help us give him everything. Once we have sincerely converted and opened ourselves to the activity of the Holy Spirit, then we are really ready to begin maturing and growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Throughout all the centuries of Christianity, there have been four basic nonnegotiable tenets of the Christian life (GROW):
- Prayer. Personal and corporate. Every Christian is called to the sacraments and to daily personal prayer.
- Study of the faith. From the very inception of the Christian community, we see that they devoted themselves to the “teachings of the apostles.” (Acts 2:42) We, too, need to continually grow in our knowledge and understanding of God’s word.
- Engage in parish life. There’s no such thing as a lone Christian. We need each other. Christian companionship and accountability is a requirement of discipleship.
- Serve others' needs. In order to grow as a disciple of Jesus, we must always be aware of the physical and spiritual needs of those around us and be disposed to filling those needs.
The “GO” part comes from Jesus’ great commission to all of us … yep, all of us! “Go therefore and make disciple of all nations.” – a.k.a. evangelize. I should be clear that the “GO” part is inextricably connected to the “GROW” part because one cannot give what one does not have. Therefore, we must all be “intentional disciples” if we hope to be successful “missionary disciples.”
To help people understand how they can go evangelize, we’ve broken it down into four parts: pray, witness, invite and accompany. As stated before, prayer precedes and covers all of our work. When it comes to evangelizing, we must first lovingly pray for those who we want to bring into the family of God. Then we might find that God has opened a door for us to witness to Jesus in our lives and to his saving Gospel. Then, it only follows that at some point we will want to invite them to our Christian community and hopefully into full communion with us. The fourth principle is accompany. This one happens in countless ways, but the importance of it can’t be overstated. Accompanying is how we meet people where they are and patiently insist on their greatest good, Jesus.
On Nov. 26, at all the Masses, Bishop Boyea is asking pastors to walk their parishioners through a personal evangelization plan. This plan is an exercise to help average Catholics dip their toes into the waters of discipleship and evangelization. Hopefully, though, this little exercise will result in the eternal destinies of countless souls being forever changed!