This past Monday, December 5, about 400 priests gathered to discuss the plans for a new approach to parish pastoral planning and parish structure in the Boston Archdiocese. BCI will share some of the publicly available information in various posts. The first of these is the address by Cardinal O’Malley to the presbyterate. The video and a transcript of his address can be found below. BCI will let his address stand on its own with no BCI commentary today.
12/05/2011 Strengthening Parishes – Cardinal Seán O’Malley from Archdiocese of Boston on Vimeo.
Archdiocese of Boston Presbyteral Convocation
December 5, 2011
Children often ask me if I am Santa Claus. Of course I am not Santa Claus, but once I was. In 1966 on this very day I was chosen to be Santa Claus. I put on a miter for the first time in my life and my classmates painted my beard white – in those days my beard was red. You see, I was Santa Claus, Heilger Klaus, for our St. Nicholas day celebration which consisted of a play in German about the fourth century bishop. We sang carols and it was the day we gave the Christmas presents to the German nuns and one hundred Christmas tress went up in every nook and cranny of St. Fidelis of Simaringen Seminary. I must confess I never imagined that one day I would have to wear a miter again or that I would live long enough to have a white beard as I do. After the celebration the Guardian of the seminary said “We have never had an Irish St. Nicholas before.” I did not know whether that was a compliment, an indictment or simply a statement of historical interest.
Pope Benedict, a Bavarian, like my seminary professors, has written much about St. Nicholas. One of the most interesting things about this saint is that he is the first saint to be so designated who was not a martyr. The first generations of Christians venerated only Biblical figures or those who died as martyrs to witness to the faith.
St. Nicholas the Bishop participated in the Council of Nicea and contributed to the writing of the Profession of Faith we pray each Sunday. Even though Nicholas did not shed his blood for the faith, he lived his faith in the Incarnation of Christ intensely and that allowed him to serve God’s people with such priestly pastoral charity that everyone intuitively knew that he was a saint just like the martyrs.
We are still the Church of the martyrs. In addition to my friend Archbishop Romero I think of a Guatemalan bishop who told me that in one diocese the catechists went to the bishop and said, “We come to you for protection, our lives are in danger”. The bishop told them, “The only thing I can do for you is accept your resignation. Then they will leave you alone, you will be safe.” Not one catechist resigned, but over a hundred of them were murdered. The bishop who told me that was murdered a couple of months later. We had stayed together at the Bishops Conference in Guatemala City. He was Bishop Gerardi. He was brutally murdered that day after presenting a human rights report to the government.
Yes, we are still the Church of the martyrs. We will probably never suffer the same violence as our brothers and sisters in the faith in Central America but we are called to bear the cross. Discipleship and ministry are never pain free.
Our modern culture has a huge aversion to pain and gives us the assurance that we are all entitled to a pain free existence. The Gospel of suffering teaches something different. In doing difficult things out of love we come to reflect the pastoral love of the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his flock.
I want to thank you for coming to this gathering in such great numbers. Your presence here today is important – and a grace – for at least two reasons. First, today begins a months-long consultation on a proposal to strengthen our parishes for generations to come. I need to hear what you, our priests and pastors, have to say about this proposal. Second, our presence together in dialogue and in service to the Archdiocese is a beautiful manifestation of the sacramental bond we share in the sacred ministry of priesthood through Holy Orders. I pray that our work together today will strengthen that bond between us.
I am grateful for the presence of our seminarians at this convocation. I invited you here, because you will minister as priests in an Archdiocese that is very much formed by the things we discuss here today. It is only appropriate that you be witnesses to our conversation. As I look out at you, I must confess that it is very nice to see how your presence among us brings down our average age. We very much look forward to the day when the Lord and the Church will call you to partake of the ministerial priesthood. May God bless your seminary days richly.
On the day of our ordination to the diaconate, the bishop handed each of us the Book of the Gospels and said very simply, “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.” With that mandate, the ”Evangelium” – the “Good News” of Jesus Christ – became the center and the work of our lives. As the Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests puts it:
Since no one can be saved who has not first believed, priests, as co-workers with their bishops, have as their primary duty the proclamation of the gospel of God to all. In this way they fulfill the Lord’s command: “Go into the whole world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15). Thus they establish and build up the people of God. (PO 4)
Each of us knows someone, perhaps even a good number of people, whose lives are empty of meaning, because of a tragic failure in a human relationship or a deep sense of abandonment by God or the Church. Their outward appearance may look healthy and normal, but they are broken and alone. They don’t feel Christ in their lives. A large group of folks do have jobs and their lives show a growing measure of success after success. But because the happiness they are seeking is rooted exclusively in the gifts of this world and not in Christ, in the end the satisfaction they experience is ephemeral and disappointing. It is only in Christ that one can truly know life and live it abundantly.
We need a New Evangelization and it must be focused on Christ. As Pope Paul VI told us almost a half-century ago in Evangelii Nuntiandi, “There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the Kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed” (EN 22). We need to bring the life-giving truth and person of Jesus Christ to the men and woman of our own day, especially those who have known Christ and his Church but have grown cool in their relationship with him and with her.
Our evangelization efforts in the Archdiocese of Boston will be rooted in and accomplished through five “mission initiatives” to which I commit the Archdiocese and myself today. The first initiative is becoming a Church that more readily and actively welcomes every man, woman and child to conversion of life in Christ Jesus. Everyone is welcome in the Church, because the Lord offers his gift of salvation to all. Let us each accept and help others to accept the radical and transformative call to conversion of life that is offered to us by Jesus Christ.
The second mission initiative is strengthening our parishes as primary communities of faith, communities that have the worthy celebration of the Eucharist as the “source and summit” of parochial life.
The third mission initiative is growing the Church through this work of evangelization. Currently less than 20% of our baptized Catholics are attending Mass each Sunday. We need to change this in a dramatic way and we need to begin doing it now.
The fourth mission initiative is developing excellence in faith formation for Catholics of all ages. Our people thirst for greater catechesis in the faith. We need to marshal, strengthen and make more available the great resources we have to satisfy that thirst.
The fifth mission initiative is re-energizing pastoral leadership. I am deeply aware of how challenging these past ten years have been for you, my brother priests, and how thin you have been stretched. I hope that our work together today indicates clearly to you that I am very much aware of the burden that you carry, committed to discovering ways to lessen the load, and very desirous of supporting and strengthening your love of the priesthood.
Where do we begin in our work of evangelization? I think the answer to that is clear. As I said at Pentecost in my Pastoral Letter on Evangelization (NP 6,7):
If the Church exists to evangelize, the parish is the chief venue where that activity must take place. Our parishes must be true centers of evangelization…
Many parishes are truly mission-based today and they have fervor for this outreach. Others are maintenance-oriented because their parishioners often have a consumer culture mentality. They come to Church to get something, and they expect the leadership to provide it. All the energy and resources of the parish are oriented to serving the people who are present, rather than reaching out to those who are absent.
We must work to help our parishioners to move beyond being consumers to being disciples who share actively in the mission and the ministry of Jesus. We are called to evangelize out of love for Jesus Christ and of the people who will be graced by what His Kingdom of love, peace and justice will bring to their lives.
In placing before you this vision for a New Evangelization before you, I am keenly aware of the challenges facing our parishes today. In fact, it is for that reason that we have gathered here this afternoon. In a little while, Bill Fay and Jack Ahern will lay out for you a proposal from the Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Commission to strengthen our parishes as primary communities of faith and mission. Without getting into the detail of the proposal, I want to say four things about it and your ministry as parish priests.
First, the proposal does not present a plan for the global closure or merging of parishes. This is not 2004. I am very happy about that. The closing of a parish, however necessary, always involves heartbreak. In the proposal before us, any discussion about the closure or merging of parishes will be initiated at the local level, in the pastoral collaborative. Moreover, by stepping away from closure and merging, the proposal puts the brakes on the large-scale downsizing of the Archdiocese that we have been engaged in since the early nineties – and well it should.
A Church that is committed to a New Evangelization and to re-energizing its clergy, lay faithful and parishes is looking at life and not death, growth and not decline.
Second, the success of this proposal turns on the success of the PST, the Parish Service Team. While every PST will have a pastor who is ultimately responsible for the spiritual and material good of a pastoral collaborative, the success of the ministry that takes place within a collaborative will be effected and measured by the respectful and enthusiastic collaboration of every member of the PST. I encourage you as clergy to call forth the religious and the lay faithful of the Archdiocese to the highest level of collaboration in your ministry that the Church recommends.
Third, with the possible introduction of approximately 125 pastoral collaboratives in this proposal, we face a new reality. Priests who have been living alone in a single-parish ministry would have the opportunity to live together. I want to encourage that. I say this not because I am a religious and consider community life normative. I say it, because my twenty-seven years as a diocesan bishop has taught me that the life of the parish priest can be a very lonely thing. You know that better than I do. By sacred ordination, you belong to “an intimate sacramental brotherhood” (PO 8). I exhort you to use the new opportunities provided by this proposal to choose ways to strengthen and reinvigorate the holy brotherhood that is yours in Christ.
Fourth, the biggest question I have heard raised about this proposal is: “There’s a lot involved in this. What kind of support can we expect from the Archbishop and the Pastoral Center?” I want to go on record today as saying to you that I and the staff of the Archdiocese will do whatever it takes to make this work. No doubt, there will be anticipated and unanticipated challenges. We will meet them, one by one, as they arise and try to do this in an organic way, taking the time needed to do this well. Implementation must be slow, deliberate and mission driven.
What you are being presented with is a proposal, a plan that has been developed to respond to the needs of our faith community. Central to all of this is our vocation to be pastors, to be spiritual fathers to God’s people. The great crisis of modern life is the diminishment of fatherhood and the dire consequences on the modern family. Some men put their work, their finances, their hobbies, their vices, drink, gambling, sexual pleasure, ahead of their obligations to their wives and children. We too are called to be spiritual fathers and we must be willing to put the needs of our family ahead of our convenience, comfort, plans and ambitions. We must never reduce what we do to techniques, organizational process of personal charisma. It is about vocation, identity, relationship with Christ, with the bishop, with our fellow priests and especially with the people we serve. Jesus said, “I have come to serve, not to be served.”
The temptation is to do things that are self serving, that make our life easier and more comfortable, that make us more popular. But being a father is always about making sacrifices for the sake of our family, it is our own kenosis.
A Protestant minister told me recently that he loved the concept of the Catholic parish, that the priest was the pastor of every person living within the parish boundaries whether they were Catholic or not. Ironically we Catholics often forget that concept of Pastor and seem to absolve ourselves of any responsibility for are not using the envelopes. As I like to say, we stand guard over the one faithful sheep and let the ninety nine drift away. Our ministry begins with our own personal ongoing conversion.
That will prepare us to be prophets to our own people and challenge them to an ever deeper commitment to the faith and to make more sacrifices to advance the mission that Christ has entrusted us, to make disciples of all nations. Our task is to make Jesus known and loved. Our task is to evangelize. All of our planning s to do just that and to allow our priests to be spiritual fathers to our people.
Our pastoral love for our people and our devotion to Christ must be very strong incentives to work for vocations, especially vocations to the priesthood. The present proposal of having a pastoral team serving a number of parishes is very flexible. If we continue to grow our seminary we will be able to have more collaborative, each made up of fewer parishes.
It is my stated intention that every parish in the Archdiocese will have a priest a pastor. This is the ideal presented by the Church and we enthusiastically embrace it. Other diocese with greater distances and fewer clergy might opt for something different, but in Boston we will have a priest as pastor in all parishes by having pastoral teams serving more than one parish when necessary.
Allow me to reiterate that pastoral love for our people should impel us to work and pray for priestly vocations. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to say, “We must not be a barren fig tree.” The vocations we encourage will allow our Catholic people to have the benefits of the Sacraments and pastoral care in the future. If we drink the Kool Aid of cynicism and negativity we will poison ourselves and the negativity will infect our Catholic people. To do the task of evangelization we need a regimen of vitamins, the vitamins of prayer and priestly fraternity.
We must not look upon ministry as being separate from our interior life. The best service we can give is that of striving to be holy. As Mother Theresa said, we are not called to be successful but to be faithful. And if we are faithful, then we are being successful.
The pastoral needs of the Archdiocese can only be met by a united presbyterate, an intentional presbyterate as Fr. Ron Knott speaks of. Our ongoing formation and priestly support groups, spiritual direction, fidelity to prayer, fraternal correction, time for retreats, days of recollection and priestly friendships are all part of the course in moving forward to meet the challenge of evangelizing. The spiritual vitamins of prayer and priestly fraternity will give us the energy we need to bring the Gospel to God’s people.
Thank you for your presence here today. Know that you are loved by the Catholic people. As your Bishop, I thank you for your faithful response to follow Christ as his priest. Thank you for being a spiritual father to God’s faithful and for being brothers to each other.
Please reflect carefully on what you hear today and prayerfully consider the proposals. Remember that business as usual is not an option. It is not enough to keep trying to do everything as we have in the past. The Church is calling us to a new evangelization. St. Paul in his powerful letter to Timothy on ministry provides a stunning exhortation which the Church today could easily direct to all of us who have been ordained to serve God’s people through the Sacrament of Holy Orders:
For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to the Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake, but bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God. (2 Tim. 1:6-7)
I firmly believe that if we stir into flame the grace of our ordination, especially through fidelity to prayer and priestly fraternity, God will give us the strength to bear our share of hardship for the Gospel. Today we come together like the apostles of old to repair nets, to plan for the future, so that moved by the love of Christ and His people we might cast out into the deep, confident that the Divine Shepherd will bless our efforts.