May the Lord give you peace!
This weekend we announce the 2019 Stewardship Renewal Theme: Fully Alive as Missionary Disciples. This year’s stewardship theme is revealing of the direction that stewardship is going in our parish and diocese. It also closely connects with Pope Francis’ pastoral plan for the universal Catholic Church, Bishop Kemme’s pastoral plan which was just announced for the Diocese of Wichita and my pastoral vision for the Church of the Magdalen.
Pope Francis’ pastoral plan for the Catholic Church is laid out in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. The document is dedicated to the New Evangelization and its implementation into the life of the Church.
The term “New Evangelization” was introduced by St. John Paul II, furthered by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and continues with the pontificate of Pope Francis. St. John Paul II wrote that the New Evangelization is not new in content. In other words, it’s always about Jesus. It’s always about how God so loved the world... (John 3:16). St. John Paul II states that its newness consists in its “ardor, method, and expression.”
Ardor refers to the spirit in which evangelization and sharing the faith is carried out. It’s about being on fire with love for God and sharing the fire with others. The saying, “the faith is more caught than taught” applies here. It’s about living the faith with passion. Pope Francis is relating to ardor when he writes, “I dream of a ‘missionary option,’ that is a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything. ” The “impulse” is the spirit in which we live our faith. It’s hard to define it but you know it when you see it. Bishop Kemme’s recently announced Pastoral Plan for the Diocese of Wichita uses the term “fully alive” to capture ardor in what’s new about the New Evangelization. The Bishop wrote that the inspiration for “fully alive” comes from John 10:10, “I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
During my 8 months as pastor of the Church of the Magdalen, I have used the word “passion” to capture the ardor our parish seeks in the “new” of the New Evangelization. A passionate faith is a faith that is caught. I have also spoken on shifting from duty driven stewardship to a passion driven stewardship. Really, it comes down to being Holy Spirit led vs. self-led. We know that the most effective and prominent symbol for the Holy Spirit is fire. Tongues of fire fell on the Apostles and Mary at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13). The English word ardor comes from the Latin ardere, which literally means: to burn.
Expression refers to how we express ourselves. Of course, we express ourselves through words. However, as St. Ignatius of Loyola states, love expresses itself “more by deeds than words.” Expression in the New Evangelization is communicated through both words and actions. The “new” in the expression of the New Evangelization is really a shift from legal language and action to personalistic language and action. For example, legal language and action focuses on requirements, duties, responsibilities, punishments and rewards. Personalistic language and action reects relationships, the heart, devotion, love and personal fulfillment.
Pope Emeritus Benedict emphasized this “new” way of expressing our Catholic faith on numerous occasions. My favorite line of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and the new, personalistic way of speaking of the faith is from his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (DCE, 1). Pope Francis frequently uses personalistic language in speaking about the faith. In Evangelii Gaudium, the third paragraph of the pastoral plan for his pontificate, “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them” (EG, 3).
The personalistic expression of the New Evangelization includes the whole pastoral approach of priests and the faithful i.e., the parish family. Pope Francis highlights this requirement in his pastoral plan for the Church, “An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice” (EG, 24).
It has been exciting for me to foster this more personalistic vs. legalistic expression to evangelization, ministry and the stewardship way of life. The first avenue for fostering this personalistic expression in a practical way has been through preaching. Preaching is my favorite priestly activity. Preaching in a more personalistic way is to speak “heart to heart” with the people. Pope Francis states that “the homily is the touchstone for judging a pastor’s closeness and ability to communicate to his people.” Other avenues for cultivating the more personalistic expression of our Catholic faith are our push to make “Perpetual Adoration Perpetual Again.” It is so exciting to see so many of you face-to-face with the Lord in our Adoration chapel 24 hours a day. We had over 250 parishioners sign-up and actually commit to a specific hour. Also connected with the more personalistic expression of the faith is the sacrament of confession. Pope Francis identifies the sacrament of confession as the sacrament of the New Evangelization. With three priests assigned to the parish we have been free to introduce four additional hours of confessions each weekend. We are hearing 3-4 times as many confessions each week with the additional confession opportunities.
Method refers to the processes and procedures for accomplishing a goal. It often includes systems and structures. In other words, in the New Evangelization we are speaking of the structures, processes and systems to create room for the Holy Spirit to make disciples and then to share that faith, live that faith, and be a church. Pope Francis is speaking of method in the New Evangelization when he states that “I want to emphasize that what I am trying to express here has programmatic significance and important consequences... Mere administration can no longer be enough.” He continues, “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.”
As part of this new method in evangelization Bishop Kemme has introduced a pastoral plan for the Diocese. The Bishop’s pastoral plan is directing some reorganization of the chancery along with pastoral priorities for each parish. His vision is “that all God’s children will respond to Christ’s call to become fully alive as missionary disciples.” A missionary disciple is not someone who goes overseas to announce Jesus to people who have never heard of Jesus. His use of missionary disciple means a disciple who makes disciples. His method to implement this vision of missionary discipleship is first through the establishment of an Office of Evangelization within the organizational structure of the Diocese. This office will be headed up by a Director of Evangelization. Bishop Kemme states, “We have also set aside additional resources in our diocesan budget to help us move from the prevailing mindset of maintenance to a dynamic mindset of mission.”
At the Church of the Magdalen, natural attrition of staff who have moved on to other pursuits, has allowed for the restructuring of the parish office to focus on creating, serving and sustaining a mission-driven culture within the parish. Accordingly, after the departure of several former staff members, I worked with an ad hoc Pastor’s Leadership Team and the Pastoral Council to create several new positions that will include the work of previous staff positions while committing to the primary work of the New Evangelization at the Church of the Magdalen. These positions include: Parish Life Coordinator, Stewardship Coordinator and Parish Missionary.