I ’d like to go back prior to the Synod, prior to the Eucharistic Revival, and prior to the pandemic, to that time when I shared with everyone the statistics for our diocese regarding the decline in sacramental practice. Although there were some bright spots, one of my major concerns was the decline in baptisms and the consequences that would have down the road for the diocese. The other major concern was the drastic decline in couples entering into the sacrament of Marriage. In the midst of the Eucharistic Revival and discerning the local parish concerns we learned from the Synod results, we must continue to discover how we, as a diocese, can reverse these trends.
In one sense, we are fighting the culture. More and more people are disaffiliating with organizations, whether it be the Church, the government, or educational institutions. At the same time, we still combat the rise of the “none generation,” those who claim no religious affiliation at all. Add to that the scandal and other factors and you can see how these issues have all come together to create the perfect storm. In the meantime, we have continued our day-to-day life in the parish and the diocese without seeing the larger picture. Amid all this change and in large part, we remain “business as usual,” which is not moving us from “maintenance to mission.”
I came across a little 90-page paperback book, From Christendom to Apostolic Mission, Pastoral Strategies for an Apostolic Age, University of Mary Press, 2020, by Msgr. James P. Shea. In my mind, this is the best articulation of what has transpired in our culture over the last couple of decades, and I recommend everyone to read it. The basic premise of his writing is that the Church that we grew up in and what the Church stood for and wanted to accomplish was often complemented and supported by the culture or governments. That is what Monsignor Shea refers to as “Christendom.” The culture of today has pretty much rejected Christianity and the Church now finds herself alone, without support, and oftentimes directly attacked as she tries to proclaim the Gospel. In a sense, we find ourselves in a situation similar to the early Church. And if the Church is going to grow, it must be fully, actively embracing its “Apostolic Mission.”
Some quotes for your consideration:
“In an age of change, the Church needs to pay attention to the modes by which she carries on her graced battle to be sure that she is not ‘fighting yesterday’s war,’ using strategies that for whatever reason are outmoded and have become ineffective.”
“We are dealing with the first culture and history that was once deeply Christian but that, by a slow and thorough process, has been consciously ridding itself of its Christian basis.”
These two quotes highlight the call of Pope St. John Paul II when he wrote in his document on evangelization, “The mission of evangelization today calls for a new program which can be defined overall as a new evangelization.” I think it is our task, in our day, to discover what new modes and new programs are needed in light of our current culture. In one sense it can be overwhelming. However, in another sense: it can be very exciting, which brings me to another point. Our priests are hard workers! But, we should also ask ourselves if what we are doing is effective for the local church and her apostolic mission? This also applies to those involved in our PSR programs, our Catholic schools, RCIA, adult faith formation, youth ministry, and sacramental preparation. Are there best practices that we could incorporate? Can religious formation be more effective? How enriching are our small group gatherings?
To that end, some 20 of the clergy of our diocese will be attending a conference Jan. 24-26 entitled, “Priests for an Apostolic Age,” with the keynote speaker being the author I mentioned above, Msgr. Shea. Please pray that the Holy Spirit will show us the way to move forward in our ministry! In future columns, I will continue to highlight some of the principles outlined in the book so that all of us can be pondering how our diocese can grow in the years to come.