Thursday, April 07, 2016 - Updated: 6:00 am
No way to avoid it. We’ve got our work cut out for ourselves. On Mission for The Church Alive! is about as big as it gets. This is our diocesan-wide planning initiative in which I am inviting all Catholics — all our parishes, all our schools and all everything that is Catholic — to study how we can best spread the faith today and tomorrow in our changing world.
Our goals are just this:
• Deliberately coming to know Jesus more personally in our lives;
• Enthusiastically embracing our baptismal call to holiness;
• Growing the church in southwestern Pennsylvania by joyfully sharing and showing our faith by our everyday words and deeds;
• Filling our churches through vibrant liturgies and welcome;
• Reaching out to our entire community by seeking to serve the needs of others like Jesus;
• Increasing happy vocations to the married life, the single life, the consecrated life (sisters and brothers), the ordained life (deacons and priests);
• Supporting the leadership of our ordained clergy;
• Inviting more lay women and men to leadership development;
• Increasing an awareness of Catholic evangelization.
So here it is! On Mission for The Church Alive! A call to look at everything we do as the church! Everything we are as Catholics.
We need to look at everything from our church buildings — basements to roofs — to ourselves — heart and soul — to see what is working (and not working) to meet those goals.
It’s going to take a little blood, a little sweat and, yes, some tears.
As church, we need to become more like Jesus. After all, Jesus himself best defines the church as “his body.”
As church, we need to seek the help of Mary, the mother of Jesus, the mother of each of us, the mother of the church.
As church, we need to model the example of St. Joseph, whom we call the patron of the universal church.
Our Catholic heritage
For a good part of my life, I have been close to the Sisters of St. Joseph. They taught me in high school. I later served as their motherhouse chaplain! My most cherished image of St. Joseph is one that the sisters gave me. It is a scene from the birth of Jesus (shown here).
Mary is in the background, sleeping on several bales of hay — following the childbirth of Jesus. Joseph is in the forefront. He is cradling the newborn Jesus in his arms.
And while the image of Jesus in that scene is one of a babe fast asleep, we can only imagine a scene when the infant Jesus, like any infant, is not so quiet — but in need of being cuddled then, too!
So must we cradle the church — the body of Christ. At times of peacefulness and content. And at times not so peaceful.
I have to be straight with you concerning On Mission for The Church Alive! We’re going to have charts. We’re going to have studies. We’re going to have meetings. And in the midst of it all — the need to pray with, share with and inspire each other!
On Mission for The Church Alive! is about who we are now. And what Jesus wants us to be today and tomorrow. It’s not about living in the past. It is all about embracing our Catholic heritage to ensure that we pass that heritage on to future generations.
On Mission for The Church Alive! is all about studying and understanding the challenges we face now — some decline in Mass attendance, baptisms and school enrollment in a cultural environment that grows more and more secular every day. We face a population that is aging and where many slip away from practice of the faith.
At the same time, the tools to respond to these trends need to grow stronger. Nearly half of our parishes are in deficit spending. Many are depleting what savings they have just to keep the doors open and the bills paid. Within 10 years, the number of priests in active ministry will be down from the current 224, the number of active priests, to 112. That’s a number 50 years ago we would have attached to a small diocese in the rural west of the country.
But here’s the deal. After all the work of On Mission for The Church Alive! is accomplished ...
• We will have the church present and the Gospel proclaimed loud, proud and lovingly.
• We will see possible new models of the faithful church — new ways of doing things, ever-faithful to church teaching.
• We will see The Church Alive! with enthusiasm, grace and hope.
• We will see parishes and schools, religious education programs and health care ministries living out the love of Jesus every day in worship, word and service.
• We will see a church steeped in evangelization and outreach, welcoming even more new souls to our faith family as the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
Steadfast in the Spirit
Why am I so confident that On Mission for The Church Alive! will be so successful? Because, in the same way that our Blessed Mother and the first apostles gathered to pray in the Upper Room, we are seeking wisdom and inspiration from the Holy Spirit. That Spirit will guide us now just as the Holy Spirit guided the birth of the church on the first Pentecost. The laity, religious and clergy who make up the story of the Church of Pittsburgh have already shown us what can happen when we rely on the Holy Spirit.
When we began as a diocese in 1843, we began with nothing. We were the poorest of the poor — few in number, fewer in resources. But we came with faith and determination. We built a church here that still shines like a beacon in the United States and to the church universal.
Yes, we have our challenges. But I am so completely convinced that the Church of Pittsburgh can meet these challenges — head on! Your determination — and mine — to remain steadfast in the Holy Spirit assures us of a future ever grace-filled.
But there is another, equally important reason for my confidence that On Mission for The Church Alive! will be successful.
The Scripture is in the first chapter of Luke. We all know it. The angel Gabriel was sent by God to Mary. He announces to her that she will conceive and bear a son, who is Christ the Lord. Mary — a virgin betrothed to Joseph living in a backwater town in a backwater part of the Roman Empire — asks, “How can this be possible?” And Gabriel answers, “Nothing Is Impossible with God.”
Mary came to know that reality at the Annunciation. She came to embrace it again at Pentecost.
That message, “Nothing Is Impossible With God,” is the message I chose as my episcopal motto, the motto on my coat of arms. “Nothing Is Impossible with God.” I remind myself of that promise every day. It has two meanings — that there is nothing that God cannot accomplish. And there is nothing we can’t accomplish together when we depend upon God.
We are “co-missioned” — missioned by God and with God — to do his work in the world. That’s what On Mission for The Church Alive! is all about. That’s why we will succeed. That’s why we will see The Church Alive! in faith, hope and love. Because “Nothing Is Impossible With God.” The Holy Spirit guarantees it!
That is why we pray together always:
“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,
Yes! “Nothing — Absolutely Nothing — Is Impossible with God.”