Feast of Pentecost, Pastoral Letter on Evangelization

June 12, 2011

Today we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. Christ promised the Apostles that He would sent His Holy Spirit, and, on Pentecost, they were granted the gifts of the Spirit. This feast day has great meaning for us here at BCI, and we often pray that the Holy Spirit inspire and guide our work.

On Friday, Cardinal Sean published a 5,100+ word Pastoral Letter on Evangelization in The Boston Pilot.  The Cardinal obviously spent a lot of time working on this.  BCI has read it a few times and thought it was quite good. We have asked for more teaching from the Archbishop of Boston, and this certainly fits the bill well. In a way, it is unfortunate that a letter on this topic which is so important for every Catholic does not get more attention and visibility.

You can read the entire letter here.  We are taking today off from blogging to share excepts from the letter below:

A New Pentecost: Inviting All to Follow Jesus

Pastoral Letter on Evangelization
Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, OFM Cap.
June 12, 2011 – Pentecost Sunday

Dearly beloved in Christ,

Pentecost is often called the birthday of the Church because it is the day the members of Christ’s Church were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to boldly proclaim the Gospel, which means Good News. Three thousand were baptized on Pentecost. From that day forward, the followers of Jesus began to fulfill the command to make disciples of all nations, through baptism and apostolic work. Without Pentecost, the Christ event would have remained imprisoned in history. Pentecost is the moment of empowering. The disciples are called to live in Christ’s Spirit and do His works. We are called to do so ourselves today.

1. Pentecost: The Beginning of the Church’s Evangelization Outreach

Pentecost is born out of an intense experience of prayer in union with Mary and with Peter. The experience of Pentecost is one of unity and joy that transcends all ethnic and linguistic differences and is an expression of God’s universal love.

We remember particularly how the disciples were gathered in fear and confusion as they hid in the Upper Room. At that moment, they lacked a sense of outward mission and purpose. Christ then sent the Holy Spirit to them and a great transformation occurred.

The disciples were transformed. Courage replaced fear, as eleven of the twelve Apostles would ultimately die a martyr’s death. Understanding replaced confusion, and they gained a deep sense of purpose: they realized their experience of Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection was truly Good News and it needed to be shared. Their focus turned outward toward all those they were called to evangelize. They never returned to the Upper Room again!

2. The New Evangelization & Our Catholics Come Home Initiative

We are conscious of the fact that many Catholics here in the Archdiocese of Boston do not join us regularly for the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist. Much like the disciples on that first Pentecost, we see friends and relatives who are not deeply connected with our Church family. For that reason, I initiated the Catholics Come Home outreach effort this past Lent. The central element of this initiative was the broadcasting of inspiring television messages about the roots of our faith, the power of Christ’s forgiveness and the peace and joy that comes from a return to worshipping together. Pastors are reporting that individuals are returning to Mass and the sacraments after seeing these commercials. We are encouraged by pastors who have been sharing that many people are inquiring about entering the Church through RCIA or returning to the Church. God’s grace is allowing our initiative to bear fruit.

We are now in the post-television phase of this campaign, but we cannot relax our efforts to invite and welcome people back. In the same spirit of confidence and optimism that characterized this Lenten initiative, I ask you to continue to pray for those who are away from the Church, that their hearts may be opened to respond positively to our invitation. Continue to invite them to return home, reminding them that God has placed a longing for Him in their hearts and explaining that the community of faith suffers from their absence. Through one-on-one and parish-based initiatives, continue to listen to their questions and concerns and to ease their feeling of estrangement, born of years, maybe even decades, away from the life of the Church. Please share with them your own story of living the faith.

3. Evangelization Starts with Each Catholic’s Ongoing Conversion

We can only share what we have received. In preparing to evangelize, we are called to conversion, which means continually to receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ individually and as a Church. The Good News nurtures us, makes us grow, and renews us in holiness as God’s people.

Conversion is ongoing in the hearts of believers and it consists in knowing not just about Jesus, but in actually knowing Jesus. It comes about through the power of the Holy Spirit who gives us the grace to invite Jesus into our lives, to put on the mind of Christ by rejecting sin, and to accept the call to be ever more faithful disciples of Christ in the Church. It is a fruit that comes from prayerful dialogue with Christ our Redeemer. Unless we undergo such a conversion, we have not truly accepted the Gospel.

One college student who entered the Church this Easter gave a beautiful testimony of her own conversion. “I have grown to recognize God’s presence in all people and all things, and I consistently find myself joyfully surprised by the action of His grace in my life and in the larger world. God’s light has infused and informed my perspective so deeply that I cannot fathom a life without it, and through my entrance into the Catholic Church, I hope to live my life as one unbroken gaze upon the face of God, and respond to our universal call to holiness.” This young woman’s encounter with the Gospel left her with a different vision of what life is and a new paradigm for how to live it. Her faith, well-nurtured, lively and deep, will make her a great witness to the truth of the Gospel. By her testimony, she is already a great evangelizer!

4. The Primary Mission of Our Church

Evangelization must be the first focus of our Church. I pray that each of us in our Catholic community will also practice the spiritual works of mercy (those that care for the soul) with as much fervor. Together as one Catholic family, we can do more to teach the uninformed, counsel the doubtful, help people turn from sinful to virtuous behavior, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offenses willingly, comfort the afflicted and pray for the living and the dead. Evangelization is a central way we incorporate the spiritual works of mercy into our lives and the activities of our parishes.

5. The Meaning of Evangelization

Evangelization involves handing on the faith to our own families; in other words, becoming mentors in this way of life to a new generation of disciples. As Saint Paul reminds us with passion, we are all called to be “ambassadors of Christ.”

I hope, through our efforts, that together we will restore the word “evangelization” to its proper meaning. It means simply to share the Gospel, the Good News, through word and deed. That is why the four Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, are called “Evangelists.”

The Church exists to evangelize, to share the Good News with all people. We are called to do many things in the Church, but our primary mandate given by Jesus and powered by the Holy Spirit is to evangelize. Correspondingly, every Catholic is asked to make it his or her own responsibility to reach out and encourage others to join with us in Christ’s family, the Church.

There are three ways to evangelize. We witness, which is the simple living of our faith through our good actions and virtuous deeds. We share our faith in an explicit way, typically by describing how God is working in our lives. We invite others to experience Christ’s saving love by walking with us in our Catholic Church.

6. Parishes: Centers of Evangelization

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.

An evangelizing spirit must touch every dimension of Catholic parish life. Welcome, acceptance, the invitation to conversion and renewal, reconciliation and peace must characterize the whole tenor of parish life — beginning with Sunday worship. Every element of the parish should respond to the evangelical imperative–priests and religious, lay  persons, staff, ministers, organizations, social clubs, parochial schools, and parish religious education programs. Otherwise, evangelization is reduced to something a few people do as their particular ministry–rather than the reason for the parish’s existence and the objective of its apostolic work. The spirit of conversion, highlighted in the liturgy and particularly in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, should radiate through all the ministries so that the call to conversion is experienced and celebrated as part of each parishioner’s life of faith.

At this time, I ask that pastors, parish pastoral councils and parish evangelization teams re-commit themselves to advancing their understanding of their parish’s mission in a way that develops concrete evangelizing activities. In this effort, the Parish Evangelization Guide recently issued by the Secretariat for Faith Formation and Evangelization, will be a useful beginning. I know that you will continue to rely on the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults in order to respond more effectively to Catholics returning to the
faith. As you know, continued emphasis on receiving the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist, Bible study, the study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and encouraging ecclesial movements are a few proven ways in which you can continue to foster conversion and renewal of the faith among adults.

It is critical to emphasize that the work of evangelization cannot succeed if it is seen as the work of clergy and parish staff alone. Every one of us by our baptism and confirmation is called by Jesus to participation in this mission. Jesus is waiting for us to be willing to serve as an instrument to help Him lead others to joy, peace and love in this life and the next.

7. Pastoral Planning and Evangelization

Since evangelization is a central activity of our parishes, it will be a critical component in pastoral planning in our archdiocese.

There are many ways to identify a healthy, vibrant parish. A reverent and active sacramental life, strong and healthy programs of religious instruction and faith formation for young people and adults, vibrant apostolic and charitable activities rooted in Catholic social teaching, and a culture promoting vocations are some of those signs. However, one of the most important manifestations of vibrant parish life is having the resources and the spirit to evangelize, and particularly to reach out to those who have left the Church. I have asked our Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Commission and our Pastoral Planning Office to propose strategies to improve the capabilities and resources for parish-centered evangelization activities as we look to strengthen and renew our parishes and archdiocesan outreach ministries.

Evangelization challenges all baptized Catholics to a conversion to Christ, by living their faith fully, inviting others to faith, and living these Gospel values in the world. It gives us a new lens through which we can view our Catholic faith. This lens is threefold: spiritual renewal, missionary activity, and action for justice in the world.

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.

Our task in our parishes is to foster ongoing conversion, turning consumers into disciples and disciple-makers. We need to prepare men and women who witness to the faith and not send people into the witness protection program. Every Catholic can be a minister of welcome, reconciliation, and understanding to those who have stopped practicing the faith.

8. The New Roman Missal: An Opportunity for Evangelization

The changes to the Roman Missal that will be implemented this coming Advent should be seen as an opportunity to refocus our entire Catholic community on the centrality of the Sunday Eucharist. It is an opportune moment to study the liturgy and grow in our understanding of the central mysteries of the faith, making use of Teaching Masses and Family Masses.

It also provides an occasion for parishes to evaluate their current liturgies to make them even more beautiful and meaningful experiences. Our modern culture, so addicted to entertainment, can make it difficult to celebrate the Eucharist in a way that engages modern people. We must first teach people how to pray and encourage them to prepare for the Sunday Mass so that its mysteries will open up to them. The more people realize that Christ is truly present in the Holy Eucharist and speaks to us in the Word of God proclaimed, the more faithfully and fervently people will participate in Sunday Mass. In the Eucharist, the love of Christ gathers and builds us as living stones into the Church. Without the Eucharist, we remain as pebbles strewn on the beach. Saint Peter described this in his First Letter: “Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Good work is already being done. Study of the Roman Missal and the changes in liturgical responses is leading to more careful liturgical planning and reverent liturgical practice in many parishes and chaplaincies; these revisions will bring about a renewed sense of the sacred.

9. New Church Movements and Communities

After the Second Vatican Council, the Church has witnessed an outpouring of the  Holy Spirit through the blossoming of new movements and ecclesial communities. They bring great vitality to the life of the Church. They are a sign of great hope for the Church in the new millennium.

10. Immediate Steps

Pastors, in consultation with their parish pastoral councils and staffs, will need to strategize on how best to evangelize in their local circumstances. Like  Pentecost, the process must be steeped in prayer and the desire to be led by the Holy Spirit. The outreach that needs to be done will require planning and training. Some parishes may want to establish evangelization teams and pastoral zones within the parish for the purpose of outreach. Those involved would benefit from reading Go and Make Disciples, a document from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has recommended goals, strategies and tactics for the work of evangelization.

Faith formation is central to the task of evangelization. Training evangelizers to visit homes, to contact the families of children in religious education programs and youth ministry, and to be involved in outreach and welcoming must be part of the process. The RCIA programs are ways of helping the entire parish have a sense of mission and welcoming.

I encourage all Catholic families to develop a spirituality of the home that renews the practice of regular family prayer. Spouses: pray with one another; parents: pray with your children. Reach out to extended family members and Catholic friends and neighbors, and invite them to attend Mass with you. What a stronger Church we would be if every family was able to help just one other family return to the practice of our faith.

I ask all Catholics to pray to the Holy Spirit this Pentecost and to ask for the wisdom to understand the particular gifts God has given you for building up the Church. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you to recognize those people for whom  God would like you to be the face of His Church. At the proper moment you can  then invite them to return home to our blessed Catholic family.

11. That All May Know Jesus

Blessed Pope John Paul II traveled to the ends of the earth to share the Good News so that the world could come to know Christ Jesus. Like the late Holy Father, we must be convinced that the Kingdom of God is spread by word of mouth. Jesus says: “He who hears you, hears me.”

In Blessed John Paul II’s letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, he challenged us with the words of the Gospel, “Duc in Altum,” to “cast our nets into the deep.” He wrote: “We must rekindle in ourselves the impetus of the beginnings of the Church and allow ourselves to be filled with the ardor of the apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost. We must revive in ourselves the burning conviction of Paul who cried out: ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.'” Let us repair and strengthen our nets together so that we might better carry out the mission that the Lord has given us, to be his ambassadors. “Faith is strengthened when it is given to others.”

A missionary spirit can unite and energize our Church. Christ is the missionary of the Father, and we are Christ’s missionaries; we are fishers of men and women, not keepers of the aquarium. As Blessed John Paul II reminds us, we do not evangelize alone: “The risen Jesus accompanies us on our way and enables us to recognize Him as the disciples of Emmaus did in the breaking of the bread.(22) May He find us watchful ready to recognize His face and to run to our brothers and sisters with the good news: ‘We have seen the Lord.'”

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