An Agenda for the Church in Gaylord
The First Sunday of Advent opens the liturgical year. The scriptural readings of the first two weeks of the season focus on the second coming of Christ. Each of us will render an account of our life. The liturgy portrays this accounting as not so much a trial with verdict but as a gift offered by one who loves the Lord.
Advent, therefore, provides us with an opportunity to ask two important questions: Who are we? What should we be doing?
We profess to be people gifted by God through Jesus in the power of the Spirit with the wonderful gift of faith. This we proclaim each time we celebrate the sacraments of initiation (baptism, confirmation and first Eucharist). This we reaffirm each time we participate in the Sunday Eucharist. We are believers. We know that by the gift of faith we are united to the triune life of God. We are actually drawn into intimate union within the one divine life that flows between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Simply stated we share God's life. This union is what is most true about us. Consequently, this is what our life ought to reflect. This we do when our intense commitment to God shapes how we think, how we speak and how we act.
Through this union with God we are interconnected, joined, united with all men and women so gifted by God. "We, though many, are one body in Christ and individually members one of another." (Romans 12:5) This is Church. This unity arising out of our common union with the triune God is what is most true about us as Church. Consequently, this unity is what our life as Church ought to reflect. We do this when this intense communal life shapes how we think as Church, how we speak as Church, how we act as Church. The words of the dogmatic Constitution of Vatican II (Lumen Gentium) become actual "... by her relationship with Christ, the Church is a kind of sacrament or sign or intimate union with God and the unity of all mankind. She is also an instrument for the achievement of such union and unity."
This is who we profess to be. It is wonderful and exciting. Individually we are called to communicate visibly our joy, our excitement and our pride in declaring for the Lord.
This is who we profess to be as the Church in the Diocese of Gaylord. As Church we are called to communicate visibly our unity with each other in and through our unity with the Lord.
An Agenda for the Church in Gaylord
Worship the Almighty, Cherish and Share His Word, Co-Build His Kingdom
The Church in the Diocese of Gaylord, besides living its union with Christ, does have an agenda common to all the Catholic dioceses of the world who together are the one Catholic Church. This agenda has three goals: to worship the Almighty, to cherish and share His word, to co-build with the Lord His kingdom by changing this world and by bringing wholeness to all who are broken.
Worship the Almighty
The worship of God in intimately bound up with the Church's liturgy, which is comprised of the seven sacraments and the Daily Prayer of the Church. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy describes liturgy in these words:
... the liturgy is thus the outstanding means by which the faithful can express in their lives and manifest to others the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church. --Paragraph 2
From this it follows that every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the Priest and of His body which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others. No other action of the Church can match its claim to efficacy, nor equal the degree of it. -- Paragraph 7
Nevertheless, the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the fount from which all her power flows. -- Paragraph 10
Within the liturgical action God is saving and the Church in, with and through Jesus, the Christ, is praising, thanking and worshiping. This is the Church living to her full potential. In each of the sacraments the Church experiences God's saving mercy and in response celebrates this wonderful work with praise, thanksgiving and worship. In Eucharist, through the ministry of the Church, the community experiences Jesus' death, resurrection and glorification and is simultaneously invited into that Paschal mystery and thus joins Jesus, the Christ, in His act of praise, thanksgiving and worship. In truth, this is salvation.
These are vibrant, life-giving and exciting moments in the life of the community. They ought to be celebrated as such. To make them so must always be the goal of parish leadership.
The following excerpt from the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy gives us much to think about and to act upon:
In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit. Therefore, through the needed program of instruction, pastors of souls must zealously strive to achieve it in all their pastoral work. -- Paragraph 14
More specifically, I urge pastoral leadership to the following:
- Since our liturgy is now clearly multi-ministered, each and every ministry ought to be developed to be activated in each sacramental celebration.
- Since music is integral to any celebration, special care and emphasis ought to be placed on the development of the liturgical roles of choir. Parishes should always strive for congregational singing.
- Since the liturgy now permits various options, these ought to be offered to the faithful. Communion under both species should be offered at all Eucharistic liturgies.
- Since "a good celebration of liturgy enhances faith and a poor celebration of liturgy destroys faith," special diligence should be taken to make sure that each liturgical minister is well prepared so that all roles will be fulfilled with excellence.
- The Order of Christian Initiation is of the utmost importance in the life of the Church. Pastoral leaders should continue to work on the initiatory processes keeping in mind the American directive to separate the true catechumen (non-baptized or equal to non-baptized), the person seeking full communion (baptized), into their own respective process.
Obviously, much talent, time and financial resources will be needed for such an ongoing development of our liturgical celebrations. Yet the very nature of liturgy calls for it. "The sacred liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church." (Paragraph 9) Nor is the spiritual life confined to participation in the liturgy. Accordingly, pastoral leadership is also urged to provide opportunities for enabling private prayer as well as non-liturgical community prayer.
Cherish and Share His Word
Preaching, teaching, counseling, and spiritual direction are all ways that can be used to encourage personal and group prayer. Personal modeling must never be overlooked. What might be needed most of all is a clear understanding of the meaning of the call to holiness, the sanctity of our daily living, and the support and strength received in our prayer dialogue with the Almighty. People are hungry for assistance. They do want to be holy in the best sense of the word. Parish leadership would do well to respond in the variety of ways that seem successful. Events like Eucharistic devotion days, parish missions and a parish retreat might assist the total development of the parish's spiritual life.
The next goal of the parish is to cherish and share the word of God. This involves proclaiming the word, preaching and teaching the faith embodied in both the word and the historic traditions arising within the Church.
It should go without saying that anyone who is designated to proclaim the word in a liturgy or prayer service should take the responsibility very seriously. For their part, they should study what they are to proclaim. They should practice it and then proclaim it with understanding and faith so that the congregation will be enriched. The parish leadership for its part ought to designate only people with the talent and gift for proclaiming, provide them with appropriate formation and knowledge, and give them the tools needed for excellent fulfillment of their important role.
What then ought to be said about the one who preaches? Historically, the Church has treasured those who preach. She has provided special formation and the anointing of the ordination for those she calls to fulfill this role. She expects her preachers to break open the word of God in a manner that is sensitive to the meaning of the texts, the needs of the Church, and in the needs of the faithful. It must contribute to the building up of the Church, the Body of Christ, so that the mission of Christ will be fulfilled. It demands all the preacher can give, but then no one would expect less.
From experience we know that the proclamation of the word and preaching must be augmented by reflections and teachings on the holy mysteries. This phase of our formation into the Lord is a life-long effort. Therefore, it presents a double responsibility. One is for all of us who are the faithful to participate in opportunities to deepen our understanding for the holy mysteries so that we will worship and live more intensely and completely. The second is for the parish leadership to provide opportunities along the whole of life's cycle so that the faithful might grow.
In the not too distant past we interpreted the mission to teach simply as a command to share facts about Jesus and His Church with each other or with those outside the Church. More recently the Church has seen this mission in a richer way. Today the teaching is connected with faith as a base and with conversion as a result. The three components go together and form the teaching mission of the Church.
From a different perspective, there are another three components in the process of the ministry of teaching.
There is the person who shares faith. This person is chosen because he or she is a believer who has successfully reflected upon his or her relationship with God and consequently can speak skillfully in terms and ideas that are consistent with the terms and ideas that the Church uses. This person shares with such conviction that what comes forth can aptly be called witnessing as well as teaching.
Then there is the faith that is shared. This is more than dogmatic statements or facts about God and His Church. It is also a relationship with God that is first discovered and lived and then of communicating and sharing.
Finally, there is the person with whom the teaching takes place. Most frequently this person has already been initiated and thus has this gift of faith, which is a real special participation in God's life and membership in the Church. This person remains human with the human dynamic developmental process. He or she experiences God's presence but seeks ways of knowing how to express it and then to share it. In dialogue with the teacher he or she experiences God's presence but seeks ways of knowing how to express it and then to share it. In dialogue with the teacher he or she finds the common experience and then finds how the traditional language helps give expression to the experience. It is as Saint Augustine said, "Faith seeking understanding." In this exchange, the faith of both the teacher and the listener is intensified and the need for conversion grows clearer and clearer. Since God can never be understood because the reality of God is simply too much for our intellect -- like trying to pour Lake Michigan into an eight-ounce glass -- this process will always be there.
This teaching ministry is a very important component of parish life. Due to our historic moment we are privileged to understand certain realities about this work:
- Since conversion is a life-long activity, the interaction with the teaching, which stimulates this desire for conversion is also a life-long activity.
- Since the gift of faith does not do away with the humanness of the person, all teaching/sharing must be accommodated to the changing life conditions of the person. It is not a change in content but in methodology.
- Teaching and witnessing are closely interwoven. Parish leaders recognize the primacy of the faith example in this ministry. All those in this ministry -- parents, catechists, parish leaders, indeed all the faithful -- impact by their example. At the same time parish leaders must be alert to the damage that the witnessing of those who do not live the commitment can do. Discerning what ought to be done in such cases will be difficult, but must be faced.
- There are moments that are especially open to faith development efforts in the life of the community. Such moments should be seized.
- We are fortunate to have vibrant, active catechetical programs available in each of our parishes. These efforts have been and will continue to be essential to the mission of the parishes.
- We are fortunate to have inherited and maintained twenty-two Catholic schools, which are located throughout the diocese. We can be proud of their accomplishments both in the area of development and the area of scholarship.
The ministry of cherishing and sharing the word will always be seeking a better understanding of the message, new horizons in which to share it and improved methods to communicate it. Within this scope, I urge parishes to:
- Be sensitive to the family perspective that should be operative in all parish activities.
- Highlight adult education. These are the parishioners who are very much the hope of the now and of the future.
- Continue to reestablish among parents that they are essential in the religious formation of their children. Continue to seek new ways to support parents in this effort.
- Preach the homily with the understanding that it is still the prime role in the teaching ministry.
- Continue to widen their horizon of parish needs that might call for different faith development and/or enrichment programs. Ideally every parishioner should be touched.
- Continue to promote or where needed (or possible) to improve the effective catechetical programs currently operative.
- Continue efforts not only to maintain but also improve and expand our Catholic schools.
The demands of this ministry are great. Perhaps a creative response would be found in collaborative or shared efforts among several different parishes. It has always been interesting to me that a regular counsel given in the ordination rites to the ordained and thus to the Church is to teach. It behooves all of us to do our best.
Co-Build His Kingdom
The third goal is the building of the kingdom of God. God has gifted us and made us "new people" through His spirit and His word. Jesus modeled and taught what the kingdom is and what "kingdom life" is like. We are challenged to make the effort to convert our world into that vision. To do this we are to be convinced about the Lord and to change our political, economic, and cultural worlds into the kingdom of God. The task will not be finished until the end of time. We are challenged to continue putting the building blocks in place.
The vision is that governments exist to establish structures that will enable all citizens to share in a peaceful and productive life. The results will be tranquility and wholeness. The vision is that economic structures will be such as to enable a just sharing in the riches of the world. The vision is that culture will promote what is good for the true well-being of the citizens.
The challenge is immense. At the center of this vision is the individual, the creature of God who is gifted with a life that is intended to grow through stages until s/he enters eternal life. The individual is a person created in and for community and thereby is intended to be both dependent on others and also to contribute to others -- to be responsible and needy.
The community is to be supportive of the individual and needs to receive from the individual in order to be. This balance is like a wonderful symphony in which many individuals contribute yet each needs everyone else. It is a harmony certainly desired but, unfortunately, not practiced. The truth quite simply is that if you are lowly -- in all the ways that are applied -- you don't count at all. We are challenged to change that.
The challenge is presented in the Gospel of Matthew 25:34-40:Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison and visit you?' And the King will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you. Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did it for me.'
Jesus is very persuasive.
The above description of the Church and her goals is very traditional and ongoing. Yet it does present us with a challenge to be faithful to our call. We are a communion of the initiated, joined to both the triune God through Jesus and to one another. We are called and challenged to be a visible community which worships God, cherishes His words, and co-creates with Him the Kingdom.
As individuals we must face up to the opportunities that we have and the resources available to us. Sometimes it really will come down to a decision. What must I give up that this person might eat, be clothed, be sheltered, et cetera? We must pray that we will answer as the Lord would have us.
As a Church community we must also face the question of some needs being better handled by a joint effort. Sometimes programs can be initiated and maintained by a community that will not be done by any individual. We will have to answer the same question. What time, energy or money must this community give up so that these hungry can be fed, clothed, sheltered?
In our day there is another important arena. It is clear that in some instances our society is so structured that some people don't have a chance. This brings a rather new perception of the command to love -- advocacy for those who have no one to speak for them. Appropriately it is called the work of justice. I commend it to all parishes, institutions, organizations, and movements that call themselves Catholic.
A second need has also become very clear. In the field of both charity work and justice work we have to accept the need to join with others of like mind and to form coalitions. The task is great and it takes great effort.
At the diocesan level we are now beginning to gather information about the needs of the four hundred thousand-plus people who live within our diocesan area. The intention is to learn the needs, to learn the resources currently available, to see what we can do, and then to write such efforts into our diocesan goals and objectives.
Nothing is presumed to be impossible... it might just take longer. Our forebearers in faith have shown us the way.
In this pastoral letter I have intentionally refrained from charging priests with specific responsibilities. I did that because we know that all of us are responsible for the sustenance of the unity of the Church and for its work of liturgy, teaching and service. Certainly the pastors and pastoral administrators have leadership roles that are important. We, however, remember that the nature of leadership is to discern the work of the Spirit, to enable a faithfulness to that Spirit and to serve the community in its effort to move in the way of the Gospel. Others also are partners in this work. Parish staff, paid or volunteer, full time or part time, pastoral councils, finance councils, commissions, organizations participate in leadership. Finally, all the faithful are to be involved. The concept is not new but it does take Church seriously. It calls us to put aside any dysfunctional activities and work together as a mature church.
I applaud the efforts already so visibly carried on by priests, deacons, women and men religious, lay women and men.
In this letter I have rarely mentioned the role of the bishop, yet there is a role to be fulfilled. First, I will continue to announce these goals of the Church in everything that I personally do. Through encouragement and affirmation I will attempt to enable all the wonderful ministers of our Diocese in their collaborative roles so that together we (clergy, religious, lay) move forward.
Secondly, I have brought together a resource staff who are dedicated to support the parish activities of the diocese. For my own purpose I think of this staff -- really an extension of the bishop -- in two ways: There are those offices that are charged with enabling and aiding in parish life. Specifically for me, parish life is liturgy, faith education and service. Accordingly, the Offices of Liturgy, Catechesis, Catholic Schools, Family Life and the Institute for Ministry have as their prime responsibilities, being resource to parish leadership in enabling their communities. The diocesan Tribunal will also help, but in the very specific manner of marriage annulments. CFCS -- Catholic Charities will continue to be involved with some direct services that cannot easily be done at the parishes and also will participate in efforts in the area of advocacy.
There are also important areas of ministry that can be described as supportive of parish life. These deal with finance, communication and maintenance. Accordingly, the Offices of Diocesan Finance and Administration, Communication, and Financial Development will endeavor to offer ongoing help to those at the parish who are charged with those responsibilities.
In drawing this letter to a conclusion, I thank you for the time you have expended in reading and reflecting upon it. Certainly this is not the whole story nor was it intended to be.
I am very excited about our Church here in the Diocese of Gaylord. Somewhat like a child wanting the world, I want the best for all of us. You, the faithful, are God's people. You deserve the best. You, the religious priests and brothers, the women religious and deacons, are a gift from the Lord to this Church. You deserve to labor in a vibrant Church. You, my brother diocesan priests, have pledged your life to this Church. You deserve a Church that is worthy of your love. Let's remember that with God and with each other we will make our dreams a reality.