Before the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII said that it was time to “open the windows [of the Church] and let in some fresh air.”
In the last 55 years since Vatican II, there have been many theories proposed about what the now Saint Pope John XXIII meant by his comment, but as the Catholic Church continues to struggle to to effectively evangelize people, especially young adults, in this post modern world, one thing is abundantly clear, some more “fresh air” is desperately needed if people are to come to know and experience what it means to belong and be a part of God’s people today.
The need for “fresh air” has never been more apparent this last year in the wake of the seemingly never ending revelations of sexual abuse scandals, the inability of the US bishops to provide clear direction and leadership to the American church, and finally, the reality that for every one person who joins the Church, six are leaving (thereby making “former Catholics” the second largest denomination in the United States), so it is wonderfully encouraging to see signs of a strong wind (the Holy Spirit) at work renewing and redirecting His Church.
What might these encouraging signs be? One of the most consistent has been how the Holy Spirit has been stirring hearts and minds amongst lay ministry leaders during the last several years to pursue authentic and holistic formation of others through authentically witnessing the truth of God’s love and mercy within small groups.
Numerous initiatives, programs and publishers–the National Encuentro process, FOCUS, YDisciple, Evangelical Catholic, Alpha, Dynamic Catholic, Ascension, and Augustine Institute (just to name a few as there are WAY too many to list here)–all focus upon the importance of holistic formation to help people grow in their knowledge and experience the reality of God’s love and mercy for them individually.
In the midst of small groups–just like how Jesus spent time with His disciples–people are able to be known and understood by others, share transparently, engage in critical thinking about deep and serious issues of faith and life, while being challenged and held accountable for how they are walking the journey of faith.
Story upon story from across the country is emerging that it is in the midst of these small groups that intimate relationships–authentic, real friendships–are being created where more and more people are encountering the love of Jesus and finding purpose and peace and experiencing abundance in their lives as they embrace their identities as sons and daughters of God within their faith communities and living it out in their daily lives.
In fact, in a recent article in Christianity Today, Sharon Galgay Ketchum writes:
“…the vital ecclesiology of early believers offers a model for what the church needs to be—a community that calls our young adults into the body, not as passive recipients, but as active members.” (emphases mine)
And this is happening through the building of relationships–where people become “bridge builders” and invite people into relationship with one another, but even more importantly, with Christ.
For me, this is one of the most hopeful signs of how the Spirit is moving and stirring the hearts and minds of His people in the Church today.
So for those of you in a small group, keep going deeper as you also look to invite others into experiencing this beautiful blessing for themselves. Or for those of you who do not have a small group of friends who are calling you to become what Matthew Kelly calls your “best version of yourself”, then do yourself a favor, look around and find one, and then GO.
I can guarantee you won’t regret it.
So go open that window and let in some fresh air. The Holy Spirit is a blowin’…