My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
In the previous issue of Catholic Times, we discussed the first declaration of our diocesan synod, in which we proclaimed a new mission statement “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” and expressed our commitment to further this mission by implementing the Four Pillars of Discipleship and Stewardship, namely, hospitality, prayer, formation and service.
Today we will look at the second declaration of our fourth diocesan synod, which states, “In the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, ‘all pastoral initiatives must be set in relation to holiness’ and will invite people to a life of discipleship and stewardship.” That seems quite simple and even obvious, but it is deeply profound.
The quote within the second declaration comes from the Apostolic Letter of Pope St. John Paul II, entitled, Novo Millennio Ineunte, which in Latin means On entering the New Millennium. Issued on the Solemnity of the Epiphany, Jan. 6, 2001, Pope St. John Paul II set this statement in context by saying, “What awaits us is an exciting work of pastoral revitalization — a work involving all of us. As guidance and encouragement to everyone, I wish to indicate certain pastoral priorities which the experience of the great jubilee has, in my view, brought to light. First of all, I have no hesitation in saying that all pastoral initiatives must be set in relation to holiness. ... To profess the Church as holy means to point to her as the Bride of Christ, for whom He gave himself precisely in order to make her holy (cf. Eph 5:25-26). This as it were objective gift of holiness is offered to all the baptized. But the gift in turn becomes a task, which must shape the whole of Christian life: ‘This is the will of God, your sanctification’ (1 Th 4:3). It is a duty which concerns not only certain Christians: ‘All the Christian faithful, of whatever state or rank, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity’ (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 40).”
For several years now I have been using this statement of Pope St. John Paul II that “all pastoral initiatives must be set in relation to holiness” in my homilies for the liturgical installation of new pastors. This is a basic and essential reminder not just for the pastor, but for the parish pastoral council, finance council, staff members and indeed for all the parishioners. It is too easy to fall into the trap of getting so caught up in the details of the immediate tasks that come before us that we lose sight of the big picture of why we are doing all the things that we need to do, namely, to promote holiness so that we might all be saints. Making sure that our facilities are clean and in good repair, paying the bills, scheduling meetings and hosting social gatherings are all important and are related to the mission, but we must constantly call to mind the mission and articulate it explicitly. For example, hosting a parish picnic or an ice cream social or a pizza party for the youth group can be very worthwhile endeavors for a parish, but if their purpose in building up the community of faith in holiness is not recognized as the reason for these activities, then there would be no difference between such events being hosted by the parish or by the local park district or by the YMCA.
This second synodal declaration with its focus on holiness in our pastoral initiatives flows directly from the statement in the first synodal declaration saying that we seek to become saints. Once when I was talking to someone about our mission statement saying that we are a community seeking to become saints, he objected and said that our mission statement should say that we are a community of sinners. While it is true and we certainly must acknowledge that we are all sinners, Jesus does not want us to remain mired in our sinfulness. Rather, Christ comes to us as our Lord and Savior to call us to live with him forever as saints in his kingdom.
In Psalm 118 we pray, “Open to me the gates of holiness: I will enter and give thanks. This is the Lord’s own gate where the just may enter. I will thank you for you have answered and you are my savior.”
May God give us this grace. Amen.