My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
As we begin this Year of Our Lord 2018, it is a good time to look ahead with firm resolve to make improvements in our lives, as individuals and as a diocese, with the help of God’s grace.
During this past year, we held our fourth diocesan synod, which concluded this past November. In addition to the clergy and consecrated religious who participated, delegates from each of our 129 parishes in this diocese voted overwhelmingly to adopt a dozen declarations intended to set the direction and tone for the pastoral ministry of this local church for at least the next 10 years.
In this and in the upcoming issues of Catholic Times, I will explore each of these 12 Synodal Declarations in more detail, not only in terms of what they say, but also why we have made these declarations.
The first of these declarations proclaims a new mission statement for all of us as members of this diocese: “The mission of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield in Illinois is 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. Accordingly, the community of Catholic faithful in this diocese is committed to the discipleship and stewardship way of life as commanded by Christ Our Savior and as revealed by Sacred Scripture and Tradition.”
To further this mission, the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois is committed to implementing the Four Pillars of Discipleship and Stewardship, namely, hospitality, prayer, formation and service. In other words, we will invite people proactively to join us in prayer, especially Sunday Mass; we will provide well-prepared celebrations of the sacraments and other occasions for prayer as signs of hope and paths of grace to heaven; we will study the Bible and learn more about Jesus and our Catholic faith; and we will serve each other, especially those in need, by practicing charity and justice. You might say that these are our diocesan New Year’s resolutions!
So why have we adopted this new mission statement? Our old mission statement was not bad, but it was also not particularly specific to our diocese. Moreover, I wonder how many people could tell you what our old mission statement said or how many people even knew that we had a mission statement! I do not necessarily expect everyone to memorize our new mission statement, either, but we should all be familiar with its essential terms: that we are committed to discipleship and stewardship and to the Four Pillars of Discipleship and Stewardship, namely, hospitality, prayer, formation and service.
One reason why people make New Year’s resolutions is due to a sense of dissatisfaction with the way things are and desiring to see some improvements. We join a health club because we are not happy with the weight we have gained and want to be more physically fit. We resolve to follow a more regular schedule of prayer because we sense that something is missing in our relationship with God and we want to be more spiritually fulfilled.
Our resolutions as a diocese spring from an awareness that the ecclesial life of our parishes and our diocese can be much more fervent and we want to move from maintenance mode to grow as a community of intentional missionary disciples.
There is also a sense of dissatisfaction with the way things are in the world around us and a desire to see a better world come to light, namely, a world imbued with the values of the kingdom of God. Just a quick glance at some of the new laws that took effect here in Illinois on Jan. 1 gives us an idea of how bizarre the values of our state have become. Illinois now provides state health insurance and Medicaid coverage for abortions. At the same time, another new Illinois law prohibits the use of elephants in circuses and other traveling exhibits. So the State of Illinois now requires taxpayers to pay for people to kill their unborn babies while providing protection for the lives of elephants! You are not alone if you think that you are a “stranger in a strange land,” as Moses is recorded as saying in the Book of Exodus. Our legislative leaders and governor have failed us miserably, and it is time for this to change.
So we look with hope for a better future, a hope ultimately based not on our own efforts, but on the grace of our loving God.
As you contemplate your personal new year’s resolutions, I invite you to consider how you can advance on your own individual path of holiness by growing in faith, hope and especially charity as a missionary disciple of Jesus Christ.
May God give us this grace. Amen.