Every January, the clergy of the Diocese of Cheyenne gather for a few days of continuing formation, prayer, and fraternal support. This year Fr. Ed Foley came to town to give a workshop on presiding. Before the official program begins, we gather for an opportunity to cover some business items.
This year, I took the opportunity to draw the attention of our priests and deacons to some of the insights gleaned from the recent survey conducted on family in light of the new evangelization. These topics line up nicely with the challenges proposed by out Holy Father, Pope Francis in his recent exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel.
Here are some of the topics brought to the attention of our priests and deacons:
- When preaching, we have to be very careful and more deliberate to express a clear love for every member of God’s family
- We must be very clear that we only judge behaviors, while at the same time making it crystal clear that we are here to accompany every member of the church in their faith-journey. We seek Christ and His truth together. We also accept that none of us are perfect, but we are called to be perfect as our heavenly Father.
- As our Holy Father, Pope Francis has said and challenged numerous times, our preaching is to ‘warm hearts.’ Our ministry and faith-witness is the primary means by which we are to ‘attract’ others. Preaching necessarily is to be positive and continually focused on the core Gospel message of love, redemption, salvation and mercy.
- We are to reverence every human person. Here is where our teaching on the dignity of the human person is to be lived out in every pastoral encounter we have with God’s people.
- For example, someone with cancer cannot be overlooked or abandoned while they are in the hospital or during the long period of chemo treatments.
- On a similar note, priests are to cooperate with requests to anoint the sick and the dying. I know personally what an inconvenience it is to get called in the middle of the night to go anoint someone, either at the home or in the hospital, but we are in the business of saving souls, and this particular ministry of the priest deserves our attention, as the dying deserve our respect, availability and service.
- We need to be sensitive as church that not all families look like the ‘traditional ‘family’, namely single parent families, same sex couples, remarried couples.
- The elderly easily become isolated, and we need to continually be aware of our presence to them, either personally, or through volunteers. The homebound are to be identified and regularly visited.
- Women: Some women do feel very frustrated by a male, celibate hierarchy. The makeup of the priesthood is not going to change, but we give ourselves a black eye when we come across as arrogant and or dismissive of women. We must do better in acknowledging the role of women in the Church and the many gifts they have to offer the Church and society in general.
- We as Church have a beautiful body of teaching which represents the Divine inspiration of the Scriptures and the living tradition. I believe our teaching on the dignity of the human person, human sexuality, and the life of the domestic church are accurate and beneficial for those who truly seek the truth. One clear need is for us to become more comfortable and courageous in speaking this truth in love.
- Our people, the Body of Christ, also carry within them a sense of faith which is also to be respected.
- The challenge here is that so many people today do not fully appreciate the wisdom of the Church’s teaching. People today are easily caught up in the shallow thinking of tolerance and moral relativism. Here is perhaps one of the most important areas we are called to accompany the flock.
- It is important to first have a relationship with people (in the model of Jesus). They must know that we acknowledge them as a person and we respect and honor their life journey and experience.
- It is also important for them to know us on a personal basis. Then we gain more of a ‘hearing’ when it comes to teaching. If our only classroom is the pulpit, we will continue to be easily dismissed by those who hear us, and not even get a hearing from the majority of our faith-family (who no longer faithfully receive the sacraments.) We have to get into the lives of our people.
- When we walk with our people, even when they do not accept all of the Church’s teachings, even when they fail to live the fullness of the faith, we are showing them respect. When we callously dismiss their approach and concerns, we turn them away, and lose any chance of helping them grow and live the faith more fully. We do not dismiss or diminish our teachings, but we do our best to explain it in all its beauty, while at the same time acknowledging that God is present to and walking with each person in their lived experience, inviting them to the fullness of truth and the freedom it offers.
Here, my remarks begin to quote directly from Evangelii Gaudium; The Joy of the Gospel:
- Respect For The Laity; Room For Their Greater Involvement:
- EG #102: “Lay people are, put simply, the vast majority of the People of God. The minority – ordained ministers – are at their service.”
- Need for more formation programs for our laity
- Provide forums for seeking their input
- Necessity of Pastoral Councils and Finance Councils
- Greater encouragement for the laity’s influence and involvement in the social, economic and political arenas –
- “The formation of the laity and the evangelization of professional and intellectual life represent a significant pastoral challenge.”
- Evangelii Gaudium: The Joy of the Gospel: This document, complimented by our pastoral plan and priorities, should be a regular companion and guide in our efforts to renew the Church in this Diocese.
- “Quoting Pope Benedict: It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but ‘by attraction.’ #14
- Quoting the Latin American Bishops: we cannot passively and calmly wait in our church buildings; we need to move from a pastoral ministry of mere conservation to a decidedly missionary pastoral ministry.” #15
- “An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives daily lives” #24
- An evangelizing community is also supportive, standing by people at every step of the way, no matter how difficult…
- Evangelization consists mostly of patience and disregard for constraints of time…is always concerned with fruit, because the Lord wants her to be fruitful.
- …finds a way to let the word take flesh in a particular situation and bear fruits of new life
- An evangelizing community is filled with joy
Pastoral Activity and Conversion:
- “I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. “Mere administration” can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be permanently in a state of mission.” #25
- “I dream of a ‘missionary option’ that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with him. As John Paul II once said to the Bishops of Oceania: “All renewal in the Church must have mission as its goal if it is not to fall prey to a kind of ecclesial introversion.” #27
- The parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community. (Read #28 in its entirety)
- “I encourage each particular Church to undertake a resolute process of discernment, purification and reform.” #30
- “I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities.” #33
- A Word on Vocations from The Joy of the Gospel:
- “The dearth of vocations is often due to a lack of contagious apostolic fervor in communities which results in a cooling of enthusiasm and attractiveness. Wherever there is life, fervor and a desire to bring Christ to others, genuine vocations will arise. Even in parishes where priests are not particularly committed or joyful, the fraternal life and fervor of the community can awaken in the young a desire to consecrate themselves completely to God and to the preaching of the Gospel.” #107