Wednesday, December 26, 2012

St. Stephen, Model of the New Evangelization and of Pastoral Planning

At this particular moment in the life of the universal Church and in the life of my own local Church--the Archdiocese of Boston--several various moments are coinciding; the Year of Faith, the ramped up call for the New Evangelization, and--in Boston--a new pastoral plan.  While these events are occurring simultaneously, I think there is a logical priority of order. 

What most afflicts the Church right now is not a numbers problem. The shortage of priests, the scarcity of lay people receiving the sacraments regularly and devoutly, and the disappearance of Catholic influence upon the culture are not the primary issues.  The primary issue is a lack of Catholic Faith.  Pastoral planning and evangelization can only be effective if their foundation is authentic Catholic Faith. Without authentic Catholic Faith, evangelization is reduced to the proclamation of opinions and fads. Without authentic Catholic Faith, pastoral planning is reduced to meaningless bureaucratic strategizing. 

This is not to say that all three things must be done chronologically, but rather that there is an inner logic that has to be observed.  Faith has to precede evangelization and evangelization has to be the impetus for pastoral planning.  Absent this order, parishes risk becoming increasingly irrelevant because they build themselves not on the rock of faith (revealed through Scripture and Sacred Tradition), but on gimmicks that eventually lose their novelty.  Faith, on the other hand, never loses its novelty.  It is always relevant. 

Without authentic faith, the person and the parish lack that inner necessary source of renewal. We become corpses.  And, when we set aside authentic Faith under the pretext of becoming more inclusive of others, we hasten the death of a parish--even if by outward appearance things are going fine.  The New Evangelization is about preaching Christ and His Gospel in all of its fullness. It is not about diluting the Gospel in order to make it more palatable to the dominant culture.  Similarly,
pastoral planning must risk everything on the full proclamation of the Gospel.  In other words, pastoral planning must be primarily concerned with ordering the archdiocese in the most effective way for proclaiming the full Gospel.  Pastoral planing has to be about evangelization and evangelization has to be about the Faith.

Today, Pope Benedict spoke about St. Stephen as a model for the New Evangelization.  On the day after we celebrate the feast of our Lord's birth, we celebrate the martyrdom of St. Stephen. In this way, we come to see what Faith can cost us.  It is interesting that the Holy Father chooses to call Stephen a model for the New Evangelization.  By all outward appearances, Stephan failed miserably.  His Faith caused him to be calumniated, arrested, and killed.  Only the wisdom of the Church could see Stephen as a model for our path forward.  Stephen kept his eyes firmly upon Christ, preached Christ faithfully, and imitated him nobly.
Our pastoral planning and evangelizing--in order to bear true and lasting fruit--require us to deepen our own Faith, act in obedient Faith, and risk everything on the Faith.  

The Code of Canon Law says that in order for someone to become a pastor, he must be "outstanding in sound doctrine and integrity of morals and endowed with zeal for souls and other virtues; he is also to possess those qualities which are required by universal and particular law to care for the parish in question." For all of us who are priests, I think the Year of Faith, the New Evangelization, and pastoral planning invite us to grow in our priestly identity.  This particular moment in time invites us priests to keep our eyes firmly fixed upon Christ, to hold fast to sound doctrine and to preach it boldly, to imitate Christ in our moral life, and to be zealous for souls through perfect obedience in the Faith.  In many ways, the New Evangelization--and thus pastoral planning--depends upon priests. This is a moment for those of us who are priests to deepen our union with Christ. 

"Finally, St. Stephen is a model for all those who want to serve the new evangelization. He shows that the novelty of proclamation does not primarily consist in the use of original methods or 
techniques, which certainly have their uses, but in being filled with the Holy Spirit and allowing ourselves to be guided by Him. The novelty of proclamation lies in immersing ourselves deeply in the mystery of Christ, the assimilation of His Word and of His presence in the Eucharist, so that He Himself, the living Jesus, can act and speak through His envoy. In essence, the evangelizer becomes able to bring Christ to others effectively when he lives of Christ, when the newness of the Gospel manifests itself in his own life. We pray to the Virgin Mary, so that the Church, in this Year of Faith, sees more men and women who, like St. Stephen, know how to give a convinced and courageous witness of the Lord Jesus."--Pope Benedict XVI

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