Beyond 'The Boss'

Friday, September 23, 2016 - Updated: 7:00 am

The day that I was working on this “Bridging the Gap” article, I had a conversation with Father Nick Vaskov, our new diocesan executive director of communications. He shared with me that that evening he was going to the Bruce Springsteen concert at the Consol Energy Center. I know he was joined by others, lots of others.

I must be honest. Even though Bruce and I are the same age, born the same year, I’m not one of his groupies. No offense to those of you who are. I’m more of a Motown kind of guy.

That being said, Bruce Springsteen’s music and lyrics came to represent a longing, a longing for good old things that are gone. It could be a place; it could be a person; it could be a slice of life. You may not have even realized how great it was until it was no longer there.

Some people leap at change. They get excited by it. Embrace it. Can’t wait to get on with it. They are the kids the teachers keep telling to sit still in class. They are just as itchy as adults.

I suspect that the majority of us can become the subject of “The Boss’s” lyrics. We are comfortable with those old shoes. We enjoy that chair we’ve been using forever. We like to own the old pew at church Sunday after Sunday. All to say — the old, the familiar — is just fine the way it is.

Yet, the one thing we do know for sure is that change is fundamental to life. It goes on every day in our physical world, whether it is simply the seasons moving from summer to fall, to the days of our lives moving from dawn-to-dusk, week-to-week, year-to-year.

There is also the restless pilgrimage of change and growth that St. Augustine described as central to our spiritual lives: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.”

Changes will be coming

We together are in an important moment in the history and heritage of the Church of Pittsburgh. As part of On Mission for The Church Alive!, we have been studying and praying about what the Church of Pittsburgh should look like a generation down the road as we face our present realities and move toward that future. We are now reaching that point where actions will be proposed. And changes will be coming.

Some of that change will not be easy. It will require much of us in the months and years ahead. A lot of sacrifice. Maybe a little sadness as well.

Let me propose this, however. The core virtue of On Mission for The Church Alive! is Hope. Now remember, we are looking here at Christian hope, not a definition you and I can call up on the Safari app on our iPhone or iPad. There, hope is equated with “wishing,” with “a string of maybes.” Our Hope, Christian hope, is not that. Our Hope is loving, faithful certainty.

We hope for God’s grace.

We hope for God’s love.

We hope for God’s mercy.

We hope for eternal life.

This is what we believe. This is confidence in and courage for God, confidence in and courage with each other, confidence in and courage about the future.

Where is your treasure?

We are coming to know the tough challenges we are facing On Mission for The Church Alive! We have all seen the hard statistics that our Catholic population has shrunk, the number of those in sacramental participation has declined, financial resources and assets are becoming more limited, and the number of priests is reduced.

We all know that these hard realities are going to require hard decisions from each and every one of us.

But what we also know is that we CAN embrace these challenges together because the Church of Pittsburgh is a church of Hope. If we recognize that the church is being led by the Holy Spirit (and it is), then we will be prayerfully confident that we are going where the Holy Spirit is leading us. The tomorrow of the Church of Pittsburgh isn’t going to happen by accident. It is going to happen because the Holy Spirit will take us to that new day in hopeful confidence and with faithful courage.

Both St. Luke and St. Matthew (Luke 12:34; Matthew 6:21) report it from the lips of Jesus in their Gospels: “Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”

Now that teaching of Jesus does contain within it a lot of caution, a little bit of observation. If what we treasure is money, or power, or buildings; if we treasure ourselves, and our needs only — then that’s where our hearts will be.

But Jesus is teaching us something more, worth more than a million spoken words, he tells us where his heart truly is — focused on you and me as “the apple of God’s eye.”

In turn, if our treasure is right — built on the love of God and the love of neighbor — it becomes a pledge and a promise in our hearts. And that is a treasure that can never be stolen, especially by the devil.

The promise of Jesus

So, yes, many of us will have our Bruce Springsteen moments in the time ahead, looking back with nostalgia.

But we know that no change, no matter how challenging, can contradict our faith, undermine our hope or compromise our love for each other. That’s the promise of Jesus.

In this Holy Year of Mercy, we have come to know again that forgiveness and mercy renew the church, the world and us.

As the Diocese of Pittsburgh is On Mission for The Church Alive!, we are being asked to take up the task to which our beloved Pope Francis calls us: to heal the wounded, and to seek out and welcome all those who do not know God in their lives.

We are On Mission to be Catholic in the truest sense — a church universal, a church without borders, a church that always invites and never rejects. We are a church of mercy, offering divine mercy, divine friendship, divine healing, divine love.

Our goal for On Mission for The Church Alive! is that the Church of Pittsburgh leads everyone to learn, love and live Jesus.

With that as our goal and our mission, we can show the world that we are people of hope. We can show the world what we treasure and where our hearts truly are. We can welcome others, many others, to the Church of Pittsburgh that is truly waiting to put out the welcome mat. And that welcome mat must lead everyone through the door of a church that is truly, faithfully and lovingly The Church Alive!

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