In July 2012; after months of consultations with priests, lay people, religious and deacons; Bishop Malooly announced four priorities for the future of the Diocese of Wilmington. In November 2012, the Bishop appointed committees of clergy and laity to study these priorities.
Develop new models for parish structure and administration promoting vibrant and collaborative parish leadership, integrating the gifts of both laity and clergy.
The Church, while always having a universal dimension, finds its most immediate and visible expression in the parish. Using the words of our late Holy Father, Blessed John Paul II – “It is in the parish that the Church is seen locally. It is the place where the very ‘mystery’ of the Church is present. The parish is not principally a structure, a territory, or a building, but the Family of God, a familial and welcoming home, the Community of the Faithful” (Christifideles Laici).
It is within the parish that our faith is formed and nurtured as the Word of God is proclaimed and the Mystery of Christ’s love in Eucharist unites us to the Lord and to one another. The parish is the community of the Followers of Christ. It is in the parish that forgiveness is given and received, goodness is affirmed and the call to renewal and service is heard. However, in this post modern age there are many challenges which negatively impact the vibrancy if not the life of a parish. Chief among these are the sociological changes over the past 50 years and changes in family structure. In recent years a new threat to the vitality and stability of the parish is the shortage of priests. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance that the parish, its life and ministry, is our first priority.
This Diocese like so many other Dioceses throughout our country is facing a shortage of priests. Unfortunately, this year we will have no ordinations to priesthood. Next year, hopefully, we will have three men ordained as priests. Many of our dedicated priests are approaching or have passed their 70th birthday. Age and infirmity are limiting some. While we still fervently believe that God will provide and we continue to pray that the Harvest-Master will send workers into the harvest, we must take steps to assure that our parishes are vibrant communities of faith where the mystery of Christ is celebrated and where every parishioner is brought to a deeper encounter with Christ through the sacraments and liturgical life of the Church.
Pastors have a multitude of responsibilities, not only the sacramental and preaching ministries and caring for the sick and the poor, their primary mission, but many administrative duties as well. Given the shortage of priests we must both encourage vocations to the priesthood and also take steps to relieve the priest of duties others can perform so that he is about the work of his sacred ministry. We are facing the real specter of priests having to pastor more than one parish. Indeed in the most recent clergy assignments that reality became apparent. Thus, we must develop a plan that will effectively address this challenge. The plan must be one based upon the collaboration of priests and laity in the administration of the parish using the shared gifts of laity and clergy in a way that the priest is truly about his primary ministry.
I have appointed a committee of lay persons and clergy to study our needs and our resources, study what other dioceses have done to address the challenge of a shortage of priests, review the directives of canon law regarding parish life, and produce a plan that will effectively address the challenge of maintaining and growing vibrant parishes even in the face of fewer priests.
Initiate a new effort of evangelization which will enliven the parish community to a renewed call to holiness, witnessing the Good News in word and work, and inviting others to come to the Heart of Christ.
Our second priority is evangelization, or if you wish, implementing aggressively the new evangelization called for by both Pope Benedict XVI and the late Blessed John Paul II. This re-evangelization of the Church is fundamentally connected to our first priority, assuring the vibrancy of our parish communities. While we must address the urgent need to reorganize the administration of parishes, sharing with the laity an even broader role in parish administration, and while we must design new models to accomplish this, we must also renew the spiritual life of the whole Church community.
Evangelization is the “essential mission of the Church” proclaimed Pope Paul VI in his Encyclical “Evangelii Nuntiandi.” It is the proclamation of God’s goodness through word and deed and it embraces the total activity of the parish. Evangelization calls all members of the parish to a deeper and more active faith, as well as inviting others to join the Church. Thus, the parish must be that welcoming and inclusive community where every individual is invited to become a living member of the Body of Christ. But evangelization, before all else, demands a call to personal holiness and personal renewal. Catholic evangelization is an on-going process involving both heart and head, quite different form the one time acceptance of Christ as Lord and Savior espoused by some evangelists. Jesus explained becoming his disciples in dynamic terms, inviting people to take up their crosses and follow Him. It is a call to holiness which we achieve only through a lifetime of loving faithfulness to the Gospel. The priest and the lay person must hear over and over again the Word of the Gospel, taking it within themselves, living that Word daily and concretely both as individuals and as part of the parish community.
There are many resources at our disposal to help bring about this new evangelization. I have appointed a group of lay persons, deacons, religious, and priests to study those resources and develop practical programs recommended for parish use in promoting renewal.
A renewal of catechesis at every level, including adult formation, parish religious education programs, Catholic schools, and youth ministry.
If evangelization is the hearing of the Word of God and responding to the Call to Holiness, then the natural follow up is catechesis, that is, deepening our understanding of the Lord and the mystery of His love. As defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “catechesis is an education in the faith of children, young people, and adults which includes especially the teaching of Christian doctrine … with a view of initiating the hearer into the fullness of Christian life.”
Throughout the consultation participants expressed a concern that the faith is not understood or that the manner in which we are passing on the faith requires reexamination. While these same participants recognized the good work of our parish religious education programs, our Catholic schools, and the ministry among our youth, so many participants, both young and older, worried about the everyday Catholic’s appreciation for the great treasures of the Gospel and the Magisterium. They encouraged us to reexamine all our faith-forming programs to assure that we are effectively leading both the young and the adult to a deeper understanding of the mystery of God’s love, the sacraments, the Church, and the role of discipleship.
While some participants in the consultation expressed concern about the content of our religious education programs, others wondered about the effectiveness of the teaching, recommending an improved systematic catechist formation process. Participants also encouraged the pursuit of new models of religious education in parishes. The consultation revealed a great respect for Catholic schools and the urgency of preserving them, of finding new sources of funding, ways of promoting Catholic schools, and the need to strengthen the true Catholic identity in every one of our Catholic schools.
Every consultation evidenced a great hunger for adult faith formation so that parents could better instruct and encourage their children in the faith as well as move themselves deeper into the mystery of Christ. Participants recognized that Catholic youth ministry covers a wide range of activities carried out with young people with the intention of leading adolescents and young adults into a deeper understanding of the mystery of Christ Jesus. It is a field which has evolved much in recent decades and participants in the consultation encouraged the continued expansion of youth ministry in all its forms.
I have met with the directors of our religious education, youth ministry and Catholic School offices respective boards to discuss the many recommendations and concerns for a renewal in catechesis brought forth in the consultation. As they assess the concerns and the data, I will ask for recommendations as to how best we can move forward improving every aspect of our faith formation efforts.
Reinforcing our baptismal call to holiness in all vocations with a special effort to promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
As we initiate a new effort at re-evangelization a fundamental focus must be the connection between the Call to Holiness and living out that holiness in one’s vocation. All of us have a vocation. Each person receives a special vocation from God that only he or she can fulfill. While the goal is common to all, that is, union with God, each person’s path to that goal is quite particular. Whatever our vocation, it is God’s call to find union with Him in that specific manner of life. While a great concern of ours these days must be the declining number of priests and the need to aggressively promote and enhance the vocation effort to attract more men to the life of the priesthood, we must also be equally committed to promoting all vocations as the specific, sacred way a person lives out the Lord’s call to holiness.
The vast majority of Christians are the lay faithful; the single, and especially the married life. They live amidst the ordinary affairs of work and family and social life. The specific vocation and mission of the laity is to sanctify the world by participating in its structures and endeavors. Christian marriage is a sacrament involving a special way of holiness and service. Those who receive this sacrament are called to serve the Church through an example of committed love to one another and generous self sacrifice and commitment to the formation of their families. As a sacrament, Christian marriage is a grace filled encounter with Jesus. In its love and commitment, spousal love resembles the love of Christ for the Church.
Some forego marriage to care for others, to pursue professional excellence, or for some other great cause. Still others, because of their great concern for and devotion to the Church and the call to make all things new in Christ, join communities of consecrated life, witnessing in a very special way a life of service, hope, and love. Their consecrated lives enrich the Church by pointing clearly and effectively to Jesus and to the Kingdom of the Father which is now bringing new life in the Church. Our purpose must be to focus again on the vocation as God’s call, the way to holiness. As Church we must provide for the nurture and the strengthening of all vocations.
When Christ founded the Church He called all the baptized in communion with Him and to share in His mission as priest, prophet, and king. However, to some Christ addressed a special call to shepherd His people. The sacrament of Holy Orders is a constant reminder to the Church that it is God who takes the initiative for our salvation through Jesus Christ. In the Church and on behalf of the Church, priests are sacramental representatives of Jesus interpreting His Word, repeating His acts of forgiveness, and offering salvation. The Church finds it fullest expression as the faithful gather around those who are sent by God to proclaim the Good News and celebrate the Sacraments with Christ’s authority.
Promoting vocations to the priesthood is a total Church responsibility as the whole Church recognizes that priests are among those gifts necessary for the vibrant life of the Church. All of us, Bishop, priest, religious, and laity, must redouble our efforts to not only create new vocation programs, but also to find ways to raise the image of priesthood and provide an improved catechesis for the laity on the essential need for priests so they in turn will encourage their sons to consider this sacred way of life.
In the coming months I will call for a conference on vocations to consider ways we might embark on a new effort to rediscover the meaning and importance of all vocations lived out by the Church’s faithful day by day.
I will also, in the coming months, ask the Director of Vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life to assemble a task force to assess what we are currently doing to promote vocations and to recommend ways we can enhance our efforts using all the resources available including the media, our schools and parish religious education programs, youth ministry, and any other means we have to promote the priesthood.