Pastoral Letter on Evangelization
is Lord - We are His Church - He is counting on us to announce the
Good News of His Kingdom.
We have many strengths - about half of our population is Catholic. We have 624 diocesan priests active in our archdiocese, 333 religious priests and 165 men and 1,855 women in consecrated religious life. We have colleges and universities which educate 14,072 students. We have 39 high schools with 16,381 students and 185 elementary schools with 46,915 students. Our religious education programs, hospitals, institutions and agencies serve countless persons each year. Lay persons are serving in ever increasing numbers in new and varied ministries. I thank God from the bottom of my heart for all these blessings!
But we have many problems too. Only 23% of our people attend Mass on Sunday; less than half of our youngsters are receiving religious education. One fifth of our Catholics are almost completely inactive in the practice of their faith and we live in the midst of almost half a million persons who belong to no church at all. Only 435 adult baptisms took place in our diocese last year, an average of less than 2 per parish!
Some outside our Church have referred to us as a "Sleeping Giant". They declare that this is the "Catholic Moment " in the history of our country when our Catholic Church with its members, experience, history and strength can influence the life of our country for Christ in a way no other church can.
Perhaps, in attempting to do so many things for Christ, we forget that the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church. The Church exists in order to evangelize
By evangelization I mean announcing the Good News of Christ so clearly, convincingly and personally - by both word and action - that those who hear it, by the grace of God, can commit themselves wholly and completely to Christ and to His Church.
Evangelization is not the role of clergy and religious along but of every baptized Christian. "Those who rejoice in the life poured into their hearts by the Spirit of Christ must be not only receivers of the Word but also missionaries to others" ("To the Ends of the Earth" #3).
How important it is that each parish, school and institution in our archdiocese reflect on how effectively it fulfills its role in this essential mission of the Church. Can we not plan now so as to become even more effective in proclaiming the Good News of Christ?
OUR OWN CONVERSION - PRAYER
We have to begin with ourselves. Each of us must be converted more fully to Christ our Lord. We can do nothing by ourselves; nothing without the grace of God. Prayer is vital if we are to receive the grace we need to carry out Christ's work.
Our efforts to evangelize ought to begin with prayer, be accompanied with prayer and be concluded with prayer.
Ask for the prayers of parishioners who are sick or handicapped and those who are elderly or homebound when you visit them or bring them the Eucharist. Ask them to pray for inactive Catholics, for the unchurched, and for those who do not know Jesus.
Let the general intercessions of each Eucharistic Liturgy include prayers for our own fuller conversion to Christ and to His Church.
In our daily prayers let us ask for wisdom and courage to witness to our faith in Christ to all whom we meet each day in our schools, neighborhoods and workplaces.
I ask especially for the prayers of cloistered religious; those in consecrated life, that the Good News of Christ may be preached daily, fully and persuasively throughout our archdiocese.
STRANGERS IN OUR MIDST
The Church of Newark is special in that it has always been a haven for people newly arrived from foreign lands - as well as from other parts of our own great country.
The waves of immigrants from England, Germany and Ireland were followed by new arrivals from Poland and other Slavic nations. The immigrants from Italy were followed by families from Spain and Portugal and more recently by those from Central and South America and the islands of the Caribbean.
Most recently, large numbers of people have come from the orient and from Africa - Filipinos, Koreans, Vietnamese, Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese and Indians, Nigerians and Egyptians.
I am proud of those who work so hard to make newcomers feel welcome by extending to them the warm hospitality of Christian fellowship and hospitality that is a tradition among Catholics everywhere.
As new people with different ideas and cultures arrive, we must make even greater efforts to show respect for their culture. We cannot be content to provide for their financial physical needs alone - but we should endeavor to make them feel welcome and at home.
At times they may seem offering the liturgy in their language - utilizing their rich culture and customs. At other times it may include adaptations in our programs so that newcomers may participate fully in our parish life or schools.
Such simple things as signs in their own languages indicate to them that we truly welcome them as our brothers and sisters in Christ.
International dinners where each group prepares special foods, dances and music offer a wonderful opportunity to show respect for these cultures.
We who have been here for generations must offer our most recently arrived brothers and sisters the warm welcome we would wish our forbearers to have received when they first came to these shores.
Inspiring all our efforts will be the words of Christ - "I was a stranger and you made me feel welcome" (Mt. 25:30).
I am saddened at times when I hear of more recently arrived Catholics in our midst who have left the Catholic Church because they found a warmer welcome and more evident charity and assistance from those who do not profess the fullness of the Catholic faith. This fullness of faith of our Church will not be recognized unless it is accompanied by the charity.
We must show the hospitality of Christ not only to newly arrived immigrants but to all who come to our parishes, schools and institutions.
Ours is a very mobile society. At least one family in five moves each year. Often families and individuals who move into our parishes do not know the whereabouts of the parish Church and may become inactive in the practice of their faith.
I urge that visits be made to these newcomers, welcoming them into the parish and inviting them to become active members of the parish, to attend Catholic schools and religious education programs and to become active participants in all aspects of parish life.
In this age of mobility and depersonalization, it is necessary to provide opportunities for parishioners to meet with each other and to feel that sense of belonging which is so often absent in much of modern life.
Introducing new members before or after liturgies, providing time for fellowship after worship and welcoming all who enter the Church, are ways of manifesting that hospitality which is a sign of Christian life.
Our families are the first "little Church" to which we belong. Our parents are the first and best of teachers of the faith. From them we learn how to pray, what to believe and how to live our faith. Here our first evangelization took place. Mother and fathers are helped in their task by Catholic schools and religious education programs. But the influence of parents remains paramount in the religious upbringing of their children. By word, but even more by example they demonstrate how the Christian life is to be lived.
The first priority in evangelization must be to help husbands and wives grow in faith, love, prayer and understanding. The children God entrusts to them will learn from them their first lessons in the faith.
Preparing couples for marriage is a task of utmost importance. Providing opportunities for couples to meet with others who share their faith, their ideals and their problems will enable them to grow in faith and commitment and to share what they have learned with their children.
THE PARISH - A FAMILY OF FAMILIES
After the family, the parish is the place where most Catholics meet God. The parish is a community of families. The local Church is a community of these parish communities.
1) In the parish the Word of God is proclaimed in a full measure.
2) In the parish we are baptized, participate in the Eucharistic Liturgy and join in prayer with others. In the parish we celebrate the sacraments of penance, confirmation, the anointing of the sick; it is there that the vows of marriage are exchanged.
3) In the parish a sense of belonging to a larger Christian community is created and Christian fellowship is fostered.
4) In the parish we endeavor to serve the needs of others within and without the Catholic community and thus proclaim the reign of God.
If any of these elements of parish life is mission, people may find it difficult to recognize the fullness of Christ's truth in that parish. Vital parish life demands that the gifts of all be recognized and utilized in promoting the mission of Christ.
Within the parish the formation of smaller groups of individuals and families should be fostered to provide support and strength to those who are striving to live out their faith in a society which often rejects Christian values.
When the local parish is not able to meet the needs of its parishioners with its own ministries and resources, it should work with other parishes or deaneries or utilize the resources of the archdiocesan offices.
Active participation in the Sacred Liturgy is the primary and indispensable source of Christian holiness. The importance of well prepared and devoutly celebrated liturgies cannot be overemphasized as an essential factor in evangelizing the parish community.
The Eucharist is the center of Christian life. Every effort must be made to celebrate the Liturgy reverently so that all may participate in the prayers and hymns and respond to the proclamation of God's Word with understanding devotion.
The Eucharist shows forth the death of the Lord until He comes again. In it, we offer our efforts to live the Christian life to the Father, through Christ in the Spirit. In Communion, we receive the strength to live out our commitment to Christ and to bring His Good News to all those we meet.
The active participation of Deacons, Readers, Special Ministers of the Eucharist, Ministers of Hospitality and Ministers of Music in the Sacred Liturgy demonstrates the various roles of Christians in the Body of Christ. The priest who presides stands in the person of Christ - a symbol of the one Christ who lives and acts in each of us and gives us the gifts and talents we need to fulfill our role in the Body of Christ.
The Sunday Liturgy is the single most important time of the week. It is the time that the whole parish community gathers to encounter Christ present in the assembly, the minister, the Word of God and in the Eucharist. Nothing must be allowed to overshadow or supplant this sacred celebration.
The very name "Mass" derives from the dismissal of the faithful from the Eucharistic celebration so that they may share the Good News of Christ with all whom they will meet throughout the week.
A well prepared and delivered homily is undoubtedly the single most effective means of teaching the Good News of Christ to the greatest number of people on a regular basis.
Throughout the week parishioners are bombarded with materialistic values by the media. How they yearn to hear the Good News of Christ proclaimed clearly, forcefully and unequivocally! How eagerly they await the reflectively presented homily that will help them to understand the Word of God and apply it to their real life situations!
Liturgy, beautifully celebrated, homilies well prepared and the creation of a sense of belonging through the efforts of many persons participating in the ministries of the parish are the best evidence of a Christ centered and Spirit filled parish. They provide the inspiration and motivation we all need in order to be evangelizers in our daily life. They are at the heart of all evangelization efforts in them we encounter Christ who depends on us to speak to others in His name.
THE SPECIAL ROLE OF THE LAITY IN EVANGELIZATION
The pastor of a parish is the representative of the bishop and the chief catechist of the parish. He presides at the Liturgy, celebrates the sacraments and is the chief servant of the parish. His leadership role is indispensable. Yet, unless he shares ministry with associates, religious and laity, he will be ineffectual and incapable of fulfilling his own proper ministry. The mission to minister in the Church is the right and duty of all the baptized.
Recognition of the gifts God gives each baptized person and providing an opportunity for their use in building up the body of Christ is an absolute necessity in the Good News if Christ is to be efficaciously proclaimed in a parish community.
The collaborative ministry of as many parishioners as possible in roles suited to their gifts and talents, with an opportunity for special training when necessary makes for a parish truly alive with the life of Christ.
Young people especially must be given responsibility and opportunities for ministry. They are the future of the Church and will carry the Good News of Christ into the next millennium. They are the future parents, priests, deacons and religious who will teach and witness in Jesus' name after we are gone. The laity in a special way are called on to apply and incarnate the teaching of Christ in their family, work place, school, neighborhood and institutions. They are able to reach out on a daily basis to persons who are inactive Catholics, unchurched or at times even hostile to Christ and His Church. Sometimes Catholics are hesitant to speak about their faith to others, perhaps because they realize the need to respect the consciences of others. This respect must be balanced by the realization that there are enormous numbers of unchurched persons whose lives are deprived of the peace and joy that comes from knowing and accepting Christ as their Savior and experiencing His love and forgiveness in the Church which continues His work on earth. A large percentage of inactive Catholics have indicated that they consider seriously returning to the active practice of their faith. But they need the invitation of those Catholics who are willing to express how much their faith means to them and to speak of the peace and forgiveness of Christ which they have experienced in His Church. The sight of belief in others converts and holds the world to Christ.
The Sacred Scriptures, written under God's inspiration is the Book of the Church - the source and inspiration of the Christian life.
While much progress has been made in teaching Scripture in parishes, much remains to be done. It is disheartening to hear Catholics whose love for the Scriptures impels them to study the Bible in other churches because their local parish provides no opportunity to study the Bible. I urge that every parish school and institution provide a course in Sacred Scripture each year. It is important that the courses clearly explain the role of the Church in determining what books are inspired by God, in explaining the difficult passages of Scripture and in passing on faithfully those teachings of Christ which are not explicitly found in Scripture.
It is also important that Bible classes teach not only about the Scriptures but that every effort be made to create a love for the Scriptures that will encourage prayerful, reflective reading of Sacred Scripture on a regular basis and the living out of the Word of God in daily life.
No one can read the Scriptures without realizing that Christ has sent us to proclaim His Gospel in every way we can.
The rich heritage of Christ's teachings, faithfully passed on by the Church in Tradition, completes and explains the teachings of Sacred Scripture so that the full Gospel of Christ may be clearly heard in every age.
After almost 2,000 years there are many in the world who still have not heard the Good News of Christ. There are more Catholics who do not actively live their faith.
I ask that each parish school and institution establish an evangelization committee during the coming liturgical year (Advent 1989 to Advent 1990). I ask that through prayer, fasting, discernment and reflection, a plan of evangelization be drawn up that will be carried out in the decade preceding the third millennium.
This plan should endeavor to:
1) Bring unchurched people to a knowledge, love and commitment to Christ as Lord of their life and an acceptance of the Church as His body.
2) Bring inactive Catholics into the full sacramental and community life of their parish.
3) Promote the full personal conversion of each individual in our parishes, schools and institutions.
The plans for evangelization should provide some form of visitation on a regular basis.
I ask that a program of welcoming new parishioners be established in each parish and that a "Welcome Home" program be conducted in each parish or groups of parishes. I look forward to receiving these plans by Advent of 1990.
PLANS ALREADY IN PROGRESS
The pastoral plan of Hispanics, "Presencia Nueva" which I have already approved, offers ideas which may be helpful in drawing up plans for evangelization. In the same way "The National Black Catholic Pastoral Plan" can provide ideas that may be applicable in other pastoral situations.
WE OURSELVES NEED TO BE EVANGELIZED
To evangelize effectively it is necessary that each of us deepen our commitment to Jesus as Lord of all aspects of our life.
We cannot be more fully converted to Christ if we do not pray; and we will not pray unless we schedule a regular time and a place for prayer.
We will not be able to explain the faith to others unless we continue to learn more about the faith through Bible study, religious education, personal reflection and discussion. Ordinarily, we will not be effective in leading others to the community of faith unless we have a smaller Christian community which supports us and encourages us to grow in the Lord.
We will work better in presenting our faith to them if we work with at least one other person. Christ sent his followers out two by two.
Time, talent, and treasure are God's gifts to us. Let us use them to help others recognize how much God loves them so they may experience the peace of Christ as we do.
I call on all who belong to the Church of Newark to reflect on how much God loves you, how special you are to Him and what a beautiful gift He gave you when He sent His Son into this world and gave you the faith to believe in Him.
Commit yourselves fully to Christ and His Church. Thank Him each day for the gift of the Catholic faith in which you find the fullness of His truth.
You are important! And Christ is counting on you to bring His Good News into the lives of those who do not know Him or who have forgotten Him or who have grown cold or neglectful of His gifts. We must not let Him down.
Each day He depends on you and me to bring His Good News into the lives of all we meet by what we say and what we do.
Reverend Theodore E. McCarrick