This article originally appeared in Renewal Ministries’ September 2019 newsletter.
In our July newsletter, we published Cardinal Mueller’s “Manifesto,” which so clearly reaffirmed important truths of our faith that have been surrounded with fog and confusion, even in Rome. As I meditated on his thoughts, I felt inspired to write a Manifesto for Renewal Ministries that clearly states where we stand in the ongoing spiritual battle, who we are, and what we are planning. I hope you find the below informative and inspiring. I do!
What are we facing?
We’re facing a very grave decline in the life of the Catholic Church. And if the body that is supposed to be salt and light to the world, loses its savor . . . the consequences for the Church and the world will not be good.
The statistics are not improving! Years ago, I used to make use of statistics to try to wake people up to the seriousness of our situation and to elicit a greater generosity and clarity of response to Jesus. But after a certain point, I stopped using statistics because almost everybody knew the situation was bad and didn’t need any more convincing. But because this is an attempt to lay out our vision for the future of Renewal Ministries, I want to review the current situation once more. The headline on the front page of our local Sunday newspaper recently read: “Catholics struggles as numbers fall.” Embarrassing, but true.
And what are the current numbers? Not pretty. These numbers are for the State of Michigan but would be very similar for most states, other than the Sunbelt states that benefit from migration from the north and immigration of Hispanics, who are traditionally Catholic.
In the state of Michigan from 2000 to 2018, there was a forty-nine percent decline in infant baptisms; a fifty-four percent decline in Catholic marriages, a forty-six percent decline in First Communions, a forty-nine percent decline in enrollment in Catholic grades schools, and a forty-eight percent decline in K-12 religious education classes. During this time, the state’s population stayed relatively stable; in fact, it recently peaked at about ten million, which was similar to population numbers before the 2008 economic downturn.
While these statistics are bad in themselves, what they portend for the future is worse. Out of the approximately twenty-one percent of those nominally Catholic who still attend Mass somewhat regularly, the number of people who attend drops as the ages drop, with young people especially absent from many churches. Nationwide, for every person who enters the Catholic Church, six people leave.
Some Michigan Catholic dioceses are national leaders in the seriousness with which they’ve attempted to “change the culture of the Church” to one of evangelization. I’ve participated in these efforts myself as director of Graduate Theology Programs in the New Evangelization at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in the Archdiocese of Detroit, a very good seminary. But despite massive investments of time and money, the statistics are not yet improving. It is very likely that societal trends are so strong and years of negligence in teaching and preaching the truth in parishes and schools so great, that many Catholics who still attend Church have gone over to the “world” in terms of what they really believe, how they live, and how they are raising their children, guaranteeing that further erosion of attendance and numbers is extremely likely, no matter what efforts are currently being made. We will almost certainly be reduced to a remnant, perhaps a despised remnant, by those who form part of an apostate church and a society that is hostile to true faith and morality. So what shall we do? What is Renewal Ministries going to do in response to this?
We must consider: What are we called to do?
We firmly believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and that He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. We firmly believe that God has permitted all the negligence, cowardice, complicity in evil, and lack of a clear sound from the trumpet, for many years now, and that He has a plan to bring good out of this horrific evil. Negligence and infidelity are being exposed. Corruption and cowardice are being unveiled. Either we will turn to the Lord in humble repentance and ask Him to have mercy on us or the unraveling will continue. We may indeed be reduced to a remnant. In any case, in God’s perfect time, the unrepentant wicked will be judged, and those suffering for righteousness’ sake will be vindicated.
But God has often allowed His people to be purified and pruned in this way, and He has begun again with a faithful remnant, out of which powerful renewal comes. Out of Noah, He gave a new beginning to the human race that had fallen into wickedness. Out of Gideon and his littleness, the Lord brought victory over His peoples’ enemies. And Jesus Himself started with a small number; out of their radical love, faith, and willingness to give their own lives even to the death, the Church grew. It can happen again. It is happening again where people give their lives to the Lord with generosity and bear the fruit that Jesus asked us all to bear. It may not show up in the statistics for a long time, but under the surface, the Lord is powerfully working, drawing people into deep relationship with Himself and one another.
Isn’t this unraveling what Pope Benedict XVI foresaw many years ago?
“From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge—a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. . . .
“But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize her true center and experience the sacraments again as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.
“The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystalization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek.
“The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism of the eve of the French Revolution—when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain—to the renewal of the nineteenth century.
“But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church.
“Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.
“And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already . . . but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.” (Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. Faith and the Future. E-book. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010. 116-118.)
A New Springtime Arises
It is out of decisions like this, of renewed loyalty to Jesus Christ and His Church, to His whole teaching, that the “new springtime” prophesied by St. John Paul II will arise. As some have pointed out, the “first springtime” of the Church came through hostility, persecution, and martyrdom, and so may also the “new springtime.”
It is with joy and confidence that I write these difficult words. Jesus indeed is the Lord, and always will be. He has a plan. That plan includes all of us! Let’s all continue to give ourselves to the Lord in all the everyday ways that present themselves, and persevere to the end! He is with us, and He will give us everything we need. He who did not spare His own Son—will He not also give us all that we need (Rom 8:32)?
I also write this with a sense of great gratitude. Those of us associated with Renewal Ministries have been given the great privilege of being used by the Lord to help many, many people come to the Lord and continue to follow Him. He has “appointed us to bear fruit” (Jn 15:16), and by His great grace and mercy, we are!
Thanks for all you do to further the kingdom in your daily lives and in your support of Renewal Ministries.
What will Renewal Ministries Do?
We will continue as best we can to obey Paul’s advice to Timothy:
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2Tm 4:1-5)
- We are interested not in promoting a particular movement or experience, but in promoting the integral Catholic faith as it comes to us through the apostles and as it is articulated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In particular, we are interested in including in our teaching and preaching those aspects of the Gospel that are often being ignored or denied today, such as the reality of heaven and hell; the eternal consequences of refusing to believe and repent; and the full truth about God’s mercy, that it must be responded to in faith and repentance in order to be effectively applied.
- We want to be clear on the truly good news that God’s plan for human sexuality involves marriage between one man and one woman, and that sexual activity outside of godly marriage will exclude us from the kingdom of God unless we repent.
- We want to draw from the depth of the Catholic Tradition the profound truths about growing in holiness, how we are all called to holiness, and that holiness is possible—and necessary!
- We want to embody in our ministry, teaching, and preaching the truth of the powerful work of the Holy Spirit, and how He gives gifts to all the faithful that we must use for the building up of the Church and the extension of the kingdom.
- We affirm with St. John Paul II that the charismatic dimension of the Church, along with its institutional dimension, are both “co-essential” for its very constitution.
- We want to not just preach and teach but pray with people for them to encounter the Lord in a deeper way. We want to live and communicate the truth of the Lord’s body and blood given to us in the Eucharist, and we want to honor Mary and benefit from her prophetic and evangelistic missions that continue today.
- We want to continue to be inspired by the witness of Sts. Jacinta and Francisco and “become like children” in our whole-hearted response to Mary’s request to pray and sacrifice for the salvation of souls and reparation for sin.
- We want to continue to do what God has asked us to do; we want to fulfill the ministry He has given us.
- We want to continue—through television, radio, social media, books, booklets, CDs, DVDs, YouTube and Vimeo channels, and more—to speak the word of truth and love, and of salvation, in season and out of season.
Commitment to Missions
We want to continue to help strengthen the Church by our various missions to more than forty countries. Once we get involved in a country, we stay with them as long as we can help. For some countries, like Lithuania, we have been helping for almost thirty years. We want to continue to work with dedicated brothers and sisters throughout the world, our country coordinators, and others, who so generously give of their time in working side-by-side with us in our international missions.
While the main focus of our mission is evangelization, we also help with people’s physical needs whenever possible. We do so regularly in our four annual mission trips to Mexico, in which we focus on meeting peoples’ needs for food and medicine, clothing, and shoes. In other countries, particularly in Africa, we also are often able to assist people who attend our events with meals, toiletries, transportation, and lodging. One of the members of our Tanzania mission teams has even played a significant role in bringing much-needed wells and clean drinking water to the country!
We also, through the gifted people the Lord has joined to us, are able to do really important and ground-breaking “pro-life” education in many African countries that are being bullied by Western secular government to introduce abortion into their cultures.
Salvation of Souls
We want to continue to do all we can to strengthen seminarians, deacons, priests, and bishops by responding to requests to do clergy study days and convocations, deacon retreats, and Life in the Spirit Seminars for seminarians. We have conducted these sessions in more than thirty dioceses in the US and Canada, and in many overseas dioceses as well. As I write this, I’ve just received a report on the recent retreat for seminarians that we made possible in Uganda; eighty-nine seminarians from across the country attended and experienced a real deepening in their spiritual lives, as well as the Holy Spirit and the urgency of evangelization.
We want to continue to write and publish books, booklets, and scholarly and popular articles that advance the cause of the Gospel. A number of our books are being used in universities, colleges, seminaries, high schools, and study groups, and by hundreds of thousands of individuals. We are concerned with the salvation of souls, and all we do has that as its main focus.
We want to be a truly cross-generational ministry involving fellow disciples from each of the generations—from the Greatest Generation, to Baby Boomers, to Generation X, to Millennials, to Generation Z, and to whatever else they name the next group of young people. We want to work side-by-side with old and young, to witness to and extend the love of the body of Christ in our relationships and in our ministry.
We are significantly investing in reaching younger generations through i.d.9:16, which now has eighteen chapters in the US and Canada. We want to be a voice for truly solid young adult ministry, and we are given many opportunities to do this through invitations to conferences, diocesan and parish training retreats, Bishops’ Advisory Councils, and even an international consultation on young adult ministry in Rome.
As the world targets younger and younger children, we are grateful that our ministry has extended to younger groupings of middle-school and high-school-aged boys and girls, and young men and women, through the boys and girls camps that Pete Burak and Debbie Herbeck have led for many years—which bring hundreds of young people to an encounter with Christ—that we have supported and been actively involved with for about three decades now! In fact, this outreach has been actively growing through the Be Love Revolution ministry for girls and a similar group, called Zion, that we are beginning for boys. These ministries currently are mainly incubating here in Ann Arbor, but this is often the seedbed out of which things develop that we can share with wider groups, as was the case with i.d.9:16. In fact, new Be Love Revolution chapters have already begun in Maryland and Lansing, Michigan. One of the reasons we have been able to expand our work with young people so rapidly is that many of those on staff with us now have been able to raise a good part of their salaries from friends, relatives, and fellow parishioners, which we are able to supplement with health insurance coverage.
We are seeing in all this the outlines of the Lord’s “succession plan” for Renewal Ministries. I continue to be in good health and have seen no diminishment of energy, and I feel very confident if anything happened to me, Peter Herbeck would be able to step into overall leadership—which he already shares with me—without missing a beat. And as you know, we have other promising young people, like Pete Burak, coming up behind Peter, as well as an excellent board that will continue to care for the ministry during whatever may come.
We are acutely aware that so many of our fellow Catholics, our fellow human beings, are suffering from wounds of the past, abuse, rejection, isolation, sins they have committed and sins committed against them, trauma, disappointment, and evils beyond mentioning. We have been grateful for some time now for the simple method of biblically based prayer that the “Unbound” ministry has developed. We have recommended this simple method to those working with us and are happy recently to have received as part of the Renewal Ministries’ family the Live Free Unbound Ministry, which has helped thousands of people throughout the state of Michigan and elsewhere at home and abroad. Inspired by the work of our good friend Neal Lozano and his international ministry, “Heart of the Father,” John and Michelle Kazanjian have conducted conferences and trained many teams who are able to pray responsibly with people to help them get free from the various bondages that sometimes beset us all. A number of us have gone through their training program and benefitted from it quite a bit.
We have known John and Michelle for years, and they have served with us in many ways. John is one of our country coordinators, and both of them have helped train people who work with us in missions. Their ministry has reached a point where they can benefit from the administrative and legal structure that Renewal Ministries can provide, as well as the closer spiritual fellowship and discernment that is available to those serving with us. They maintain a cooperative relationship with the Lozanos and Heart of the Father as they move forward into a more intentionally Catholic mission, situated within the context of the New Evangelization. We look forward to the new opportunities that will open up as a result of us serving together more closely in the broader work of Renewal Ministries, now very much enriched by adding John and Michelle and the many they have trained to our team.
Co-Workers for the Harvest
We also want to acknowledge our fellow ministries, which inspire and teach us, and with which we are blessed to be engaged in the same battle for holiness and evangelization. I am thinking of ministries like ChristLife, led for many years by our good friend Dave Nodar; and Divine Renovation, led by our friend and Canadian Board Member Fr. James Mallon; the Companions of the Cross and their bishop “graduates,” such as Bishop Scott McCaig, who is one of our Canadian Board members and a frequent mission team member; Neal Lozano and the truly amazing national and international “Heart of the Father” Unbound ministry that is helping so many get free of various bondages; and the great work of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, where a number of us continue to participate in many conferences, and which is now led by their new president, Fr. Dave Pivonka, one of our American board members. I also am thinking of the great Bible studies that are emerging everywhere and helping so many people know the Word of God, including those developed by our American Board Members Lori Manhardt (Come and See Catholic Bible Study) and Sharon Doran (Seeking Truth Catholic Bible Study) and our mission teacher Lavinia Spirito (Catholic Way Bible Study). I think also of the great work being done by Scott Hahn and the St. Paul Center for Biblical Studies, Curtis Martin and the great work being done by FOCUS, the Summers family and the great work being done by Family Mission Company, and so many more—including our longstanding relationship with the amazing work of EWTN, and locally, with Al Kresta and Ave Maria Radio. There’s a lot happening, and there are many signs of hope.
Gratitude and Prayer
Your support makes the work of Renewal Ministries possible, and we thank you for it. In a time of confusion and discouragement, we want to continue to be a voice of truth and a reason for hope, a light in the darkness. You have made it possible. We commit ourselves as we approach our fortieth anniversary to continue the mission, even more so, as the Lord adds to our numbers and continues to open doors.
Let’s pray that all of us in the Church today are able to make the courageous decisions needed in the face of great pressure to the contrary to remain faithful to Jesus Christ and not deny him before men! How prescient the words of the great Dominican moral theologian Servais Pinckaers, who died a few years ago, were in pinpointing the important decisions now facing the Church—and every Christian!
“The Church in its turn must pass through the testing of faith, must stand alone before God far from the world, in order to be rooted in Christ, in God. These are the questions asked: will the Church dare to believe in the Word of God, even when it seems to be a folly, a scandal, the stupidity of a prescientific age in the eyes of the world’s learned ones? Will it have the courage to hope in God when human hope is gone, and renounce human support if need be? Can it love God more than the world and all it offers, more than itself . . . The crucial point in the encounter between Christianity and the modern world is found in the affirmation and audacious preaching of the supernatural, other-worldly character of faith in Jesus Christ. . . . In the measure in which it avoids detachment and the transcendence of human values in order to remain bonded to the world . . . Whatever upheaval illusions, books it may produce, it is self-condemned to spiritual sterility. It recoils before the cross of Christ.” (Servais Pinckaers, OP, The Sources of Christian Ethics, [Washington DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1995], 313-315)