Friday, October 02, 2015 - Updated: 7:00 am
A funny thing happened to me in Philly. Oh, I don’t mean funny in the “Ha-ha” sense. But funny in the sense of inexplicable joy.
On the very first eve of the visit of Pope Francis to Philadelphia, I joined more than a half-million people in what was billed as the Festival for Families. We were on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in the very same spot where Pope Francis would celebrate Mass the next day. We were there to be with Pope Francis. And people like celebrities Mark Wahlberg, Aretha Franklin and Sister Sledge were there, too.
I was dressed in my black cassock and fuchsia sash and skull cap and pectoral cross. This is the proper attire we bishops wear in the presence of and out of respect for the pope.
As I was trying to make my way through the massive crowds, someone approached me and said: “Excuse me, would you please bless me. Since I can’t get to the pope, you’re the next best thing.” I kid you not. That first request was followed up by clearly hundreds of people with the same request. “Pardon me â » would you â »” Each was asking for a blessing — some to restore hope, some to recapture faith, many to return to God. Almost all told me their reason for the ask.
And, boy, was I honored and humbled at the same time. My outfit attracted and invited the ask. And with every person’s ask, I was reminded that my “inside” heart and soul must match the message of my outer garments.
Who knows where it might begin! What might be that first moment of grace? Maybe it can be a good word. Or a gracious invitation. Maybe it can be something great — seeing and hearing the humility and faith of our Holy Father as he addresses Congress. Maybe it can be something so incidental, even accidental — a church door open on a quiet afternoon, or a simple kindness to a passing stranger.
Whatever it is, it is the beginning! When the gift of faith begins to take hold, when belief is jump started.
Be that moment of grace for someone
You and I can bury the meaning of “evangelization” with a litany of words and with the “lingo” of today’s world. But evangelization — $50 word that it is — is our duty — our obligation together — to live each moment every day as if the salvation of our world depends on it. Because it does!
Pope Francis is a perfect example of evangelization. During his pilgrimage with us in our country, every moment was outreach. Every word a call. Every gesture an invitation. It made no difference if he was addressing our Congress, or the United Nations General Assembly, or visiting the homeless at Catholic Charities in Washington.
There was even that wonderful moment at the west portico at the Capitol Building when he asked the tens of thousands to pray for him. Then he added: “And if there are among you any who do not believe or cannot pray, I ask you, please, to send good wishes my way.” You know someone was touched at that moment. You know someone will remember that as the beginning, as the initial moment of grace.
As the Church of Pittsburgh, you and I must do everything we can to be that moment of grace for someone. You and I must do everything we can in all we do to offer healing to the wounded, hope to those in despair. You and I must open doors to those who have left us for whatever reason and reach out in kindness and dialogue to those who do not believe, to those who do not pray — we can offer them our prayers, and we can ask for their good thoughts.
To do this daily evangelization, to accomplish this universal outreach, we have to be prepared as best we can. We have to embrace our baptism to be The Church Alive! We must accept this mission and work together as the body of Christ to build up the kingdom of God here in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Our 200 parishes need to be strong; our liturgy and worship inspiring; our pastoral care and social outreach so genuine that “they will know us by our love” (John 13:35). In a word, we need to be true “disciples.” We need to be The Church Alive!
Series of articles
As you know, together we have begun On Mission for The Church Alive! — a diocesan planning initiative aimed at growing the Church of Pittsburgh through that $50 word “evangelization” with a priceless goal — heaven! The goal of On Mission is to help our parishes and schools, health care facilities, campus ministry programs and every faith community in our diocese become even more “alive” communities of worship and service. At the same time, each of us is to be excited about our faith. Its goal is to bring all of us together, paying attention to the five building blocks of The Church Alive! — Eucharist, catechesis, evangelization, formation and stewardship.
In so many ways that is what we do here in the Pittsburgh Catholic every week. It is the church’s way to connect with you to bring us together better as a diocesan community, to help unite us to the excitement of evangelization; of who we are as disciples of Jesus; to the challenge of living our faith courageously in a world that seems numb to such things.
Which is why I am so pleased to invite you to read and reflect on a series of articles we will be running every week beginning with next week’s issue through May in the Pittsburgh Catholic. The On Mission for The Church Alive! articles will help to prepare us for the period of consultation that will begin in September 2016. We have been praying regularly for On Mission for The Church Alive! And soon we will engage ourselves together in a little study as well.
The series will focus on the key points of what it means for you and me to be disciples of Jesus. It will not nor can it avoid the challenges we face in growing the Church of Pittsburgh. As we foster the growth of our church, we are also mindful of significant changes and challenges that we face. On Mission is a process that will invite feedback from clergy, religious and laity on possible new models of how our church will look in the future. On Mission will engage all of us — the clergy, religious, lay leadership and faithful of the diocese — to consider how we might best share our resources to ensure parishes that are alive, schools that are alive and faithful who are alive with Jesus.
On Mission will look at everything from parish and school configuration to staffing and Mass times. It will be real. It will be concrete. It will be collaborative. It will be courageous. It will be compassionate. It will also be hopeful, exciting, joyous and prayerful.
Begin where Jesus began
Remember what I wrote in my letter to you announcing On Mission for The Church Alive! Our goal is to let the Holy Spirit fire us up to what we can accomplish for the salvation of the world. Remember that’s a mission Jesus places in our hearts and souls with his trust: “Now you go forth and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Our goal is to expand our vision so that we can do all in our power to grow the church! Our goal is to reach out in love to a world that is looking for that initial moment of grace from us:
• Just like Pope Francis as he visited D.C., the Big Apple and Philly.
• Just like those people who approached me with “Excuse me â » would you â »”
To do such is not our “doing” but the “doing” of Jesus in and through us.
To do such means that we begin where Jesus began — talking to his Father in heaven.
To do so, we say:
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.