They say that joy is the truest sign of God's presence. Our most recent popes have called upon all Catholics to spread the joy of knowing Jesus with a new and missionary fervor. A joy for the Gospel, of which Pope Francis so often speaks, can only succeed if it exudes at all levels of church life - personal, parish, school, campus, in health care, and social services. But we cannot give what we do not possess. How would your parish score in its capacity for joy, these days?
No one doubts the need for a new evangelism. Bishop Richard J. Malone insists that this will require a shift away from the business as usual approach to faith, for all Catholics. Such a shift will especially challenge Catholic leaders who feel fortunate just to be able to maintain ongoing operations in such uncertain times. Even when the need is abundantly clear, these agency administrators and pastoral leaders confess to being ill-equipped to plan and implement a systematic strategy for a new evangelization.
But no church leader can do this for us. It is the work of all who are baptized. The missionary impulse of which Pope Francis speaks, starts with listening more carefully to the spiritual hungers of a young and increasingly disaffected generation who inhabit a culture which is skeptical of all institutions. A responsive Church will need to test its assumptions, mobilize new constituencies, and form new partnerships in order to align scarce resources with innovative priorities.
Do we have the confidence to encounter and accompany people who are less convinced about the virtue of being Catholic? Are we capable of entering into a sincere dialogue with those who are least impressed with us? Are we ready to listen to those, most critical of us? Such hard-earned insights, have always yielded the raw material necessary for a joyful and inspired evangelism. I believe that we do.
Accordingly, the following recommendations from a commission of local practitioners, missionary innovators and other diocesan leaders, were recently accepted by Bishop Malone.
We believe that these represent the first steps in spreading our joy for the Gospel in Western New York: First, Listen to the voices of people who live at the margins of church and society; Second, Develop competent and confident Catholics who are compelled by a conspicuous joy for life; Third, Encourage Catholic missionaries and innovators across Western New York. Fourth, Find ways to be conspicuous in our witness to the power of Jesus in our lives.
Pope Francis hopes for a "missionary impulse" which can change the way we do business and make all our activities "on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself" "Evangelii Gaudium" #27.
Stay tuned for more articles in the coming months about ways to share the joy of the Gospel in Western New York.