Witness is an essential part of fulfilling Christ's mandate to 'go and make disciples of all nations,' chief shepherd says in virtual message
DETROIT — Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron told attendees of the fourth annual Parish Day of Renewal on Nov. 19 that “witness” is an essential element of the Church's identity as joyful missionary disciples. He asked parish leaders to reflect on what it means to witness, which is the third and final part of the local Church's “Encounter, Grow, Witness” paradigm.
“(Witness) completes the cycle: the cycle that began in meeting Christ; the cycle that moved forward in growth in the life of Christ, and the cycle that finds its fruit in its fulfillment in sharing Christ with others,” the archbishop said in a recorded talk to pastors, parish staff and volunteers watching via livestream.
“By being here today, you have demonstrated that you have received this gift of knowing Jesus. You have encountered him and you have grown in the life of Christ, and now you are ready to witness to him,” Archbishop Vigneron said.
The focus on "Witness" follows events in 2019 and 2020 that explored the themes of "Encounter" and "Grow." The first Parish Day of Renewal was held in 2018.
For the second year in a row, the conference was held virtually because of COVID-19 concerns. Mary Healy, STL, STD, professor of Scripture at Sacred Heart Major Seminary and a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, served as the keynote speaker, tapping into her expertise to discuss how the Holy Spirit activated the first disciples and caused the explosion of Christianity in the ancient world through their witness.
Healy said Christ’s missionary mandate, to "go out and make disciples of all nations" (Matt 28:19), was not just for the first disciples.
“Each one of you, in the place where the Lord has placed you, in the sphere of influence the Lord has given you, you are an ambassador of the kingdom, and you are meant to bring the kingdom into that place where you are,” Healy said.
As such, one of the goals for the Parish Day of Renewal is to consider ways in which archdiocesan parish staff can go out into the world and witness Christ, Archbishop Vigneron said.
The first dimension is that of “conversion,” the archbishop said. Christ commanded his disciples to "go" and make disciples, not to wait for others to come to them. This commandment is not just for his original followers, but also for Christians today, he said.
“Jesus is speaking to us today, saying to us, 'Go out and witness to me,'” Archbishop Vigneron said. “We are here today in this Parish Day of Renewal to explore how we are called to go out into the highways and the hedgerows in order to invite people to the marriage feast of the Lamb.”
What’s at stake, he said, is the happiness of everyone the Church encounters, and quenching Christ’s thirst for each person's love.
The second dimension, which Archbishop Vigneron pointed out is a particular favorite of Pope Francis, is that of “accompaniment.”
“Our witness to Christ needs to be built on this steady foundation of person-to-person engagement, of connecting with people and of being patient and compassionate with them,” Archbishop Vigneron said. The archbishop urged parish staff to consider how they can build a foundation of accompaniment in their parish communities, homes and throughout the whole archdiocese.
He urged them to ask, “How can we meet people where they are in their faith?” regardless of their faith affiliation or familiarity with the Catholic Church.
This leads to the next essential way to witness to Christ, Archbishop Vigneron said: “healing,” which is an intrinsic part of accompaniment. Christ healed people wherever he went, and he instructed his disciples to imitate him.
This healing is offered first and foremost through the Eucharist and through the sacraments of reconciliation and anointing of the sick.
“Even today, people are wounded physically by illness or perhaps spiritually by some contemporary social ill or hurt, and so there is a great scope, a great need for healing,” the archbishop said. “It is incumbent on us that these great moments of healing are readily available and easily open to the faithful, and that they feel invited to receive there the gift that Christ is eager to give them.”
The fourth dimension to consider is the use of media, Archbishop Vigneron said. In every age, God has provided some medium through which his disciples could share the good news. While that once was in the form of the Roman road system and later in the printing press, it is now through digital media.
“As we think about using digital media in our parishes, we need to think about using it appropriately and effectively,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “We need to share the Gospel with enthusiasm, of course, which also avoids anything that is problematic and anything that causes harm to the good of the truth and the good of the human soul. Proper use of digital media is an essential part of the pastoral care that we can give.”
In the final dimension, he underscored the idea of “watchfulness” as an element of witness.
“It is the will of God the Father that all be saved,” Archbishop Vigneron said. God gives his Holy Spirit anew every day so that the Church may recognize those who need witness.
“We need to be ready; we need to be on watch for who that person is, so that when in God’s providence that person comes into our lives, we will be ready to respond, prayerfully, respectfully, with accompaniment, helping them know that we know that life in Christ is life indeed,” Archbishop Vigneron said.
The archbishop ended with a call to action to go out and share the gift of Christ with others.
“Jesus is the best gift that any person can receive," he said. "That we have encountered him is the best thing that has happened in our lives. And making him known by our word and deed is our joy: Encounter, grow and witness.”