Part 17 of a weekly series.
God gives each of us certain gifts and talents. These gifts and talents, many of which help to define us outwardly, are a reflection of what is within us — our soul, heart and mind, our very idea of self.
One of the gifts God has not given me is an athletic ability. I recognized that at a very early age. That is virtually true in almost every sport: football, baseball, basketball, tennis, swimming. Save for one — running.
Since my earliest days in the seminary, I have enjoyed running. And while I wouldn’t be a candidate for a 26.2-mile run, I have been good at it. In my younger days, I would run outdoors, despite the elements. I would run faithfully every day. As a young priest — winter, spring, summer, fall; snow, ice, heat, humidity — I would be there, pounding the pavement from Sacred Heart Church to Highland Park via North Highland Avenue. Before the crack of dawn, I was there.
But as I got older and the pavement became "unkinder" to me, I resorted to running on a treadmill. Over the last 30 years, I have gone through five treadmills and I am on my sixth.
Whether I ran on a sidewalk in my "younger" days or on a trusty treadmill, there is both a sense of accomplishment and a sense of relief when the workout’s done. Well deserved and well needed. "A Pause that Refreshes!"
The business of saving souls
It’s been a tough month!
Over the last few weeks, we’ve examined some hard facts in our On Mission for The Church Alive! columns. We looked at the statistics on our aging clergy, our parish finances, our school enrollments and our declining Catholic population. Much of it hasn’t been easy reading.
Now we need "A Pause that Refreshes." We need to put all of the recent information in perspective. We need to prayerfully and honestly study the current parameters of the Church of Pittsburgh, especially our resources of clergy, facilities and finances, so that we can move forward.
And why? One simple reason. So that we can best help each other get to heaven. So that we are all engaged in the work of salvation. So that we all seek to build the kingdom of God.
In other words, we need to be about the business of saving souls. We can and should talk about everything — finances and buildings, statistics on marriages and baptisms, demographics and vocations. But our bottom line is what it has been since the days of the apostles — saving souls. Everything we do faithfully as clergy, religious and laity together is to save souls.
We are trying to save souls in an omnipresent culture that "evangelizes" its own message every second of the day. It tells us that there is no God, at least no God who is involved with humanity. It tells us instead to create our own little gods, gods of stuff and sex, gods of power and greed. And it aims that message to the most vulnerable part of our humanity, yours and mine.
One of the key statistics discussed in last week’s On Mission column is that 79 percent of the baptized Catholics who leave the church do so by the age of 24. While all of us are the objects of the seductive "evangelization" by our secular culture, it is our young who are most being cultivated to non-belief and to the wreckage it can mean to their spirit for the rest of their lives.
As Pope Francis so vividly put it in a recent interview, "humanity is wounded, deeply wounded. Either it does not know how to cure its wounds or it believes that it’s not possible to cure them."
The symptoms of non-belief? Loss and confusion. The result of non-belief? The inability to find the cure for those symptoms.
We will succeed
In order to save souls, our task today is twofold: to evangelize each other every day, drawing each other closer to Jesus, helping each other to grow the gifts of faith, hope and love in our lives; and reaching out to the wounded among us, particularly those who abandoned their faith when young and now find themselves lost and confused.
We need to be bringing each other either back to God or closer to him and to his infinite mercy. We need to explain that turning to God is not just a good way to live, but the way every human being is meant to live. And we need to be confident that we can do this together.
In this "pause" between the hard facts of being On Mission for The Church Alive! — I suggest that we take "A Pause that Refreshes!" A "pause" that reminds us what we need to "be about" as current-day disciples of Jesus.
As you already know, my episcopal motto from Scripture is "Nothing is Impossible with God." No matter the statistics, no matter the lure of the culture, we are going to succeed. We are going to be successful evangelizers. We are going to save souls. And as we do so, from time to time, we need to take "A Pause that Refreshes."
So, join me now as we take that pause and pray our prayer for "On Mission for the Church Alive!"
Father of Mercy,
as we journey On Mission for The Church Alive!, endow us with your gifts of collaboration, courage and compassion.
Help us to fulfill the mission of Jesus and his church through vibrant parishes and effective ministries.
Raise up selfless, energetic leaders to serve the church in fidelity and with care.
May we, the Church of Pittsburgh in Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Greene, Lawrence and Washington counties, be sustained and strengthened by your grace.
Help us to learn Jesus, to love Jesus and to live Jesus.
Hear this prayer and grant it through Jesus Christ our Lord, with the help of our dear Blessed Mother, under the mantle of her love,