My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Welcome to the first issue of Catholic Times in our new magazine format. The changes you see are not just in appearance, but rather are a total redesign to a more modern, more convenient magazine format that I hope you will find more appealing. At the same time, we will continue to address matters of interest to our readers concerning issues and events involving the life of faith in the local communities of our diocese as well as in the universal Catholic Church throughout the world. My column will continue to be a regular feature of Catholic Times, which is also available in text, video and audio format online at ct.dio.org.
Since breaking news is often readily available today through the internet, our approach through Catholic Times will not necessarily aim at giving you the latest scoop on current events, but will focus more on going deeper into a story to help you understand the spiritual dimensions and religious implications for people of faith trying to live as committed disciples of Jesus Christ and grateful stewards of his generous gifts of creation. We will also give you a Catholic perspective of the news to counter and correct the anti-religious bias often found in the secular media.
It is fitting that the official publication of our diocese transitions to a new mode of publication as our diocese begins a new chapter in its history following the completion of our fourth diocesan synod last month. Having received input from the clergy, consecrated religious and lay Christian faithful, the diocesan synod is intended to set the direction and tone for the pastoral ministry of this local church for at least the next 10 years. Since our previous diocesan synod was over 50 years ago (1963), we were long overdue for this comprehensive examination of the life of our Catholic community of faith here in Central Illinois.
Over the past several months I listened carefully to the various consultations we had in person and by video conference. The final version of our Synodal Declarations and Statutes reflects the many suggestions that were offered in the modifications and amendments that were proposed. We are now in the process of compiling the Acts, Declarations and Statutes of the Fourth Diocesan Synod into a single volume that will be made available in a hardcover book as well as in a digital version online.
The final outcome of the diocesan synod is not just a hardcover book that will look nice on our bookshelves, but my hope is that it will be more of a roadmap that will help chart the course for the parishes of our dioceses to be revitalized as fervent communities of living faith.
So what are the next steps? While there was strong support for all of the Synodal Declarations and Statutes, the voting was not unanimous, particularly with regard to the questions of tithing and the age and sequence for the reception of the sacraments of initiation (baptism, confirmation and Eucharist). Many people have questions about when and how these changes will be implemented. To help answer these questions, I have appointed two key committees. One committee will work on transitioning the age and sequence of the sacrament of confirmation. The other committee will develop the formula for the parish ten percent tithe to the diocese, replacing the Annual Catholic Services Appeal. Both committees will have a cross-section of clergy, religious and laity to formulate policies and make recommendations to me.
I wish to assure people that our approach to implementation of the diocesan synod will be careful and prudent, taking into account the variety of factors that surface whenever a transition is being made to a new or different way of doing things. I note also that so much of what we do in the church has to be motivated by the desire to have a right relationship with God, rather than simply following rules. For example, regarding the question of asking people to tithe by giving 8 percent of their income to their parish and 2 percent to other charities, we will not be asking people to submit tax returns nor will we be hiring diocesan revenue agents to collect tithes! The language of the declarations and statutes dealing with tithing is very aspirational, encouraging and guiding people to live up to a spiritual expectation that is based on the Bible and is ultimately accountable in conscience to God, not a demand from the bishop that will be enforced by the diocese.
As a further step to help implement the diocesan synod and explain it in more pastoral terms, in the weeks ahead I will be writing my third Pastoral Letter, which will be a personal reflection on the questions of discipleship and stewardship that we discussed in the preparatory phase of the synod as well as a post-synodal pastoral exhortation on the declarations that were adopted at the final session of the synod.
I also plan to write my column in the upcoming issues of Catholic Times on each of the 12 Synodal Declarations to help explain them so that we could fulfill our diocesan mission to build a fervent community of intentional and dedicated missionary disciples of the Risen Lord and steadfast stewards of God’s creation who seek to become saints.
May God give us this grace.