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Church renewal begins with each of us

Deacon Phil Lawson is the executive director of evangelization, catechesis, divine worship, marriage and family and respect life for the Diocese of Burlington. (Vermont Catholic/Cori Fugere Urban) Deacon Phil Lawson is the executive director of evangelization, catechesis, divine worship, marriage and family and respect life for the Diocese of Burlington.
“Bad times! Troublesome times! This is what people are saying.”
 
The lead from today’s top story?  It certainly could be.
 
Yet, this was the beginning of a reflection some 1,600 years ago from St. Augustine (354-430) as the Roman Empire was starting to collapse amidst numerous invasions and interior decay.  
 
As Jesus tells us, the “times” will always have trouble (Jn 16:33). Trouble has plagued us since the fall of Adam and Eve. The history of the world is full of the rising and the falling of peoples and civilizations. It’s why this world is sometimes referred to in prayer as “this valley of tears.” 
 
We are a pilgrim people, in this world, but not of this world. This is illustrated at every Mass as the priest and servers lead the congregation in procession towar the cross. We look toward the Cross, toward our salvation and our heavenly home.
 
How does the Lord concretely respond to our “troublesome times?” First, by sending His Son Jesus Christ (Jn 3:16).  And secondly, in each generation, raising up men and women as His disciples to share the Good News with the world.
 
Move forward some 1,500 years after St. Augustine, and Bishop Louis deGoesbriand, another man of faith, raised up by the Lord, is trying to establish the Church in Vermont.  In a letter trying to recruit missionaries to work in Vermont in the 1800’s, he describes the difficult conditions: “…telling you of a mission where the harvest is great, for the Diocese counts 300,000 inhabitants, but where the laborers are not many. Until now I have had only five priests. … It would also be well to explain to you the spiritual needs of my flock, as well as the poverty of the mission, for what can five missionaries do…over a vast territory.  Moreover the children of the Church are poor, so that our most common temples are their tiny cabins, our usual altars the table at which they sit” (“Vermont’s First Catholic Bishop,” Father Lance W. Harlow pp. 66-67).
 
Bishop deGoesbriand would go on to successfully build, recruit and nurture the beautiful foundation of the Church in Vermont. In fact, by the end of his time shepherding the diocese the number of churches had risen from 7 to 71; the number of priests from 5 to 50 (Harlow p. 97). 
 
That foundation has carried us till today.
 
St. Augustine continues his short reflection by offering this sage counsel, which was reflected in Bishop deGoesbriand’s life: “Let our lives be good and the times will be good.  For we make our own times.  Such as we are, such are the times.”  
 
The times will always change, but Christ does not; “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb 13:8).  And the mission Christ gives us is the same, yesterday, today and forever.  That mission is no less than to go out to all the world proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ (Mt 28:19-20). 
 
The New Evangelization, the seeds of renewal of the Church and our culture begin with each of us, right here, today, in Vermont in 2017. 
 
What does that look like today?  Pope Francis maps out a path forward for us as disciples of Jesus Christ: “An evangelizing community is always concerned with fruit, because the Lord wants her to be fruitful. … He or she finds a way to let the word take flesh in a particular situation and bear fruits of new life, however imperfect or incomplete these may appear”  (Joy of the Gospel #24). 
 
We have the privilege and responsibility to do just this in our present “times.”
 
St. Augustine concludes: “What can we do?  Maybe we cannot convert masses of people to a good life. But let the few who do hear live well” (Sermon 30, 8). We are called to be those men and women of faith today, transforming our own times with the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  May God bless and guide our efforts to do just that in Vermont in 2017.
 
Interested in hearing more signs of hope both locally and around the world in the area of the New Evangelization?  Deacon Lawson sends a “New Evangelization Update” email each month. Write to him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to receive these.
 
Deacon Phil Lawson is the executive director of evangelization, catechesis, divine worship, marriage and family and respect life for the Diocese of Burlington. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
 
 
 
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