After careful and prayerful consultation with Catholics throughout the sixty-nine counties of our Archdiocese, I am pleased to share my vision of the Pastoral Plan to guide our Archdiocese over the next five years. The Plan is designed for you. Yes, You are in there!
Knowing Our Faith
Studies clearly show the best way to pass faith to the next generation is through the parent(s). The parents’ practice of the faith is the single best indicator of whether or not a child practices the faith into adulthood. Helping parents to become comfortable in modeling a life lived in relationship with Jesus is the goal of faith formation.
Catechesis (teaching the faith) at any age is secondary to an encounter with Jesus. A focus on the teachings of our faith outside of a relationship with Jesus is like providing a road map to someone who has no idea why he would want to go on the trip in the first place (Bonacci). Evangelize first, catechize second. The primary opportunity to facilitate an encounter with Jesus and to catechize adults is the homily – a natural place to connect their everyday lives with the truth of the Gospel.
Building parents’ confidence in modeling a relationship with Christ is the task of the parish community. This involves facilitating opportunities for the parents and their children to encounter Jesus and to learn to see where Jesus is at work in their daily lives. Above all, the family friendly parish insists on a spirit of hospitality, welcome and joy offered to all – to the family of 1 to the family numbering 101!
Living Our Faith
Archbishop Fulton Sheen said, “There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing.” (Foreword to Radio Replies Vol. 1, (1938) page ix). The myths about our Faith are plentiful. Responding to the “why” of Church teachings calls for authenticity and humility; myths de-bunked or not, they shall know we are Christians first by our love.
St. John Paul the Great spoke often of the call of the baptized to live counter-culturally in an increasingly secular world. Our faith is known by the way we live. Charity and service are about giving of one’s self in response to the needs of others – with shocking generosity!
Prayer is lifting one’s heart and mind to God. Very often it is in the midst of suffering that we reach out to God in prayer. Whether out of struggles or in happiness, we pray to get close to God. Intimacy with God is possible and Real. The Mass is the greatest prayer and the Eucharist the way we are physically united with God who loves us deeply.
The development of a sense of belonging precedes believing. A parish that seeks to build upon its sense of unity and create a parish environment that welcomes, loves, and nurtures people is a parish ready to facilitate encounters with Jesus, conversion, transformation, and intentional discipleship.
Sharing Our Faith
In the rush of the modern world, opportunities to form meaningful relationships in the context of faith are too few. Parishioners may live great distances from the local parish and one another. Small faith communities nurture relationships, facilitate encounters with Jesus, and foster discipleship.
Jesus said the greatest commandments are: to love the Lord your God and to love your neighbor as yourself (Mtt. 22:36-39). As the greatest commandments, our greatest concern must be for those who do not feel the Church cares about them, who do not feel welcome or accepted in our parish(es).
Modern technology erases distance and other barriers to our common goal of sharing the message of Jesus. Social media can connect communities and allow for all kinds of exchange – creating a digital excitement capable of spiritual growth and renewal that’s accessible to everyone everywhere.
Family life is dynamic, complex, changing, and very diverse. Consider the family of one as well as the family that includes grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. Helping to form families that are parish-focused first requires listening to them, loving them, and discerning their needs.
Evolution of Our Parishes
Most of our parishes are already trying to serve the spiritual and temporal needs of multiple cultures. In time, all parishes will face the challenges of building ecclesial unity in diversity and of learning to run smoothly in a “coalition environment”. This will require flexibility, open minds and new parish models.
As our parishes and missions continue to grow they place increasing demands on our priests’ time. Everyone would agree that the most important uses of a priest’s time is celebrating Mass and making the sacraments available to all. However, the administrative duties of a parish absorb a large portion of a pastor’s time each day. We need new approaches to sharing the administrative responsibilities of a parish to free up more time for priests to be priests.
The resources available to meet pastoral needs can vary significantly from one parish to another. Sometimes the best way to begin or enhance a ministry or program may not be to go it alone. The best approach could be to combine resources with neighboring parishes that leverage the talents, enthusiasm and finances of several parishes.