Monday, March 1, 2010

What is the Church’s Mission and How Are We Doing As Missionaries?

By the Editorial Team

We want to thank Archbishop John C. Nienstedt for addressing the question of the Church’s mission in his column of February 10, 2010, in The Catholic Spirit.

He is writing in response to comments on the Archdiocesan strategic planning submitted by the people of the Archdiocese.

Among the concerns raised . . . I found the most interesting one to be a statement that the archdiocese should clarify the mission of the church. I found this intriguing because I always assumed that the mission of the church was clear to all her members.

In most organizations it is quite important for everyone to be on the same page as to the mission in order to get the job done, even when the mission is as obvious as pleasing customers in order to sell widgets. The theology of Church requires some work of explaining and, above all, of modeling. What is the institutional church supposed to be doing? We want very much to be on the same page as the Archbishop since we are working at the mission together.

He has given us some starting points for conversation toward understanding. He summarizes:

The root of the word “mission” means being “sent.” Thus, the church is sent into the world to continue the works of Jesus Christ (i.e. preaching, teaching, healing, doing works of charity and justice.)

Her members are able to do so because they have been empowered by Christ’s Holy Spirit. Convinced that the Risen Christ is alive and present in and to the church, her members gather in his name in order to be sent forth in his name.

…The church is called to gather into “communio” where she celebrates the presence of the Risen Christ in word and sacrament in order to be sent forth in “missio,” as she bears witness to the faith by her teaching and works of charity.

The Progressive Catholic Voice has joined a coalition of other Catholic organizations in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to form the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform. Together we are discussing the Church’s mission and how our Roman Catholic practices help us create the kind of community that can fulfill the mission.

We’ve been thinking about the idea of “community” in the Church’s mission. Think along with us here and tell us how you see it.

We are sent into the world as a community. What does this mean? Does it mean we gather in a parish community on Sunday for individual strength to face the world during the week to live the Christ life in our family and workplaces? That’s one way to look at it. It might be what the Archbishop means by “her members gather in his name in order to be sent forth in his name.”

Another way to look at it is that since the whole human race is called together into the reign of God, the best sign or sacrament of what that should look like is the Christian community as a whole. The community manifests the reign of God that Jesus proclaimed. The way we live as Christians, our culture manifesting love, wisdom, peace, and goodness -- fruits of the Holy Spirit, shows the world around us what the kingdom of God, the reign of God, looks like. It proclaims and at the same time models a people who believe what Jesus proclaimed and manifested -- that humanity is beloved of God. We are beloved sons and daughters of God and the Spirit of the Risen Christ dwells within us.

In this view, “salvation” isn’t about individuals being good persons and going to heaven when they die. It’s about the whole human race evolving to its loving Creator in glory. The church as a whole is to live in such a way that the world can say, See how these Christians love one another! Christ draws the world to God through the modeling of the Christian community. We are co-creating the kingdom of God, here and now, toward an end-time [eschaton] when all will be one in union with God.

As we all know from experience, making a harmonious, mutually loving and cooperative family is a daunting task. It takes the Holy Spirit working in us, grace, and the whole of our minds and hearts to work at it. And we Christians are called to make a community with the whole human family! We have to be fully developed individuals to create a community that models the love of God for humanity. But this is the mission of the Church.

This description of the mission of the church is for the whole Christian Church, is it not? The Christian Church includes all the denominations who have faith in the Risen Christ and who bear witness to the reign of God Jesus proclaimed. There are thousands of Christian communities within the Christian Church, organized differently, maybe with different articulations of the mission. Some may do a better job than others of manifesting the Holy Spirit to the world. We may humbly have to admit that some non-Christian religions do a better job of manifesting God’s love for the world than we do. It may be their mission too, but here we are focusing on our own mission as Christians.

Those of us baptized into the Roman Catholic Church have first of all the mission of the Christian Church to proclaim and manifest God’s love for the world. The Roman Catholic Church is structured in “local churches,” as the Archbishop points out. They are dioceses headed by bishops, all in union with each other and in union with the diocese of Rome with its bishop, the pope. The union of all these local communities stands for the belief in the future unity of all Christianity and all humankind. The church exists in each of these communities and each has the mission of the church to make the reign of God a reality here and now and for the end time, which is present in sacramental meaning/mystery.

We can ask ourselves: How has Christianity throughout its history manifested the Holy Spirit to the world? Lots of positives and lots of negatives. Without going into that wonderful/woeful history, we can agree that we as a global Christian community are a work in progress.. How about our global Roman Catholic community in its history? Also wonderful/woeful, a work in progress.

But to get down to where the rubber meets the road, what about our own local church, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA? Our place to start is at home. Do we as a community, in 2010, manifest the love, joy, peace, justice, and wisdom that will draw the world to the Risen Christ through us? We believe that is our responsibility as baptized Roman Catholic Christians.

Archbishop Nienstedt is currently in the process of reorganizing parish resources to make sure we each as individuals have the sacramental means to grow in the life of Christ. He speaks of more efficiently carrying out ministries, but he does not speak of the kind of culture the ministries are aimed at developing. Reorganization by itself will not create a community to fulfill the mission of the church. To grow, we need cultural change. We want to become a local church community in which the members, ordained and lay,

• value growth in moral sensitivity and spiritual consciousness

• value individual development in thinking and self direction as adults

• value the lived experience of each person and the findings of science about revelation in creation to grow as a community in wisdom

• reverence each other, instead of polarizing around labels of disrespect

• treat each other as equals, not as members of a clerical caste and a lay caste

• seek wisdom and understanding by discussing all questions reasonably

• express joy and unity in our sacramental celebrations, possible only when all feel respected

• work wholeheartedly together for peace and justice

In short, we see ways we can improve in becoming the kind of Christians that the mission of the church calls for. We need discussion about this within our families and parishes. Cultural change happens when each of us practices behaviors that make us more and more conscious of the reign of God. Grace supports our practices, but it is up to us to think and act.

Given this understanding of the mission of the Church to create loving community in order to manifest God’s love for us, CCCR should be working to be the kind of community we are advocating. How are we doing? We can’t say we are all on the same page, and we can’t say we have that kind of community, but we are working in that direction.

To learn more about the Coalition’s efforts and plans for a Synod of the Baptized on September 18, 2010, go to

Paula Ruddy
Mary Beckfeld
David McCaffrey
Michael Bayly


  1. I don't understand at all why this "synod" is being undertaken. The Church is indeed all the faithful which enjoy full communion with her, but not just those living. The Church is all the Catholics who have ever lived. She is also the Bride of Christ, and Christ entrusted Saint Peter, as Vicar of Christ, and all his successors, the Popes, to care for the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit in a special way.
    Authority over the Church rests with those to whom Christ grants it, which is the Pope and all the bishops in full communion with him, not with the laity. The sheep are to follow the shepherds Christ has given them, not the other way around.
    I'm 23 years old, and I'm saddened to see the crisis of disobedience that has plagued the Church ever since the Second Vatican Council. The Second Vatican Council was never a departure from the teachings of the Church prior to the Council. It was a renewal within the tradition of the Church. The Church after Vatican II was the same Catholic Church that has been around for two milennia. Nothing doctrinal changed after the Second Vatican Council, but what did change was how that doctrine was presented to a changed world. The Second Vatican Council did not call for modernizing Catholicism, but for Catholicising modernity, the New Evangelization that Venerable Pope John Paul II called for. What was implemented after the Second Vatican Council was not what was called for in the Documents of Vatican II. The true fruits of the council have not been implemented, because renegade theologians like Charles Curran, using the Spirit of Vatican II as their justification, brought chaos and confusion into the Church, and caused a "crisis of disobedience" that has caused much scandal in the Church.
    Pope John Paul II, and now Pope Benedict XVI, are in the process of implementing the true fruits of Vatican II, and we are starting to see a renewal of Catholicism in the world. Vocations to the priesthood and religious life are going up, and I believe that my generation, the John Paul II/Benedict XVI generation, guided by our Holy Father, will bring renewal to the Church in the United States and the world.
    Mr. Bayly, I don't understand why you're disobeying the Holy Father and our Archbishop, but I sincerely hope you reconsider. Read the Documents of Vatican II, and you'll see that the council was not a departure from what the Church taught in the past, but a continuation of what the Church has always taught rearticulated to speak to a changed world. The Council Fathers called for dialogue with the modern world and engaging the modern world, not succombing to its demands.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to share your perspective.

    Two points:

    1) CCCR's Synod of the Baptized ("Claiming Our Place at the Table") is being undertaken in response to the disconnects that many Catholics discern and experience between certain church practices and the Gospel message of love. We want to talk about these disconnects and possible alternative practices. Last I heard, there is no prohibition against Catholics gathering to discuss matters that are important to them and, from their perspective, to the church.

    2) Your remarks remind me of Tom Robert's insightful article, "The New Spin on Vatican II." You may find it of interest, and so I recommend it to you.