“To live is to change; and to be perfect is to have changed often.” This favorite saying of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman offers some timely wisdom as we implement a pastoral plan for the Archdiocese of Hartford. Some individuals will no doubt be upset, hurt or alienated as a result of change, and I regret that deeply and keep them in my prayers. But many more will make the transition in a positive spirit, either welcoming or being welcomed into newly configured parish communities. That is as it should be, since we are all one family of Catholic faith in this local Church of the Archdiocese of Hartford.
The whole point of developing and implementing a comprehensive plan, as we have done, is so that parishes do not have to live under a cloud of uncertainty. Now that the changes have been announced, I believe that the archdiocese is in a much better position to provide pastoral care in the coming years, notwithstanding fewer priests. It is my hope that all our parishes will grow and thrive.
How does a parish grow and thrive?
When I was a boy in the 1950s and early 1960s, if you were Catholic, chances were very strong that you sent your children to Catholic school, went to Mass every Sunday and were catechized by the Baltimore Catechism. The number of practicing Catholics in our country was so great that the Church had no need to go to the people; the people came to the Church. There were many converts to Catholicism, especially at the time of marriage. When it came to spreading the Catholic faith, most Catholics only thought of far-away mission lands.
Within the Church, a sense of Catholic identity that was once taken for granted has been greatly weakened. Meatless Fridays; the rosary and benediction; wearing the scapular; traditions surrounding Christmas, Lent and Easter, not to mention the strength of family life and moral teachings — these things are, in many cases, not even known, much less practiced, by a great number of today’s Catholics. All these things were expressions of a strong and coherent identity, a Catholic life lived according to the Gospel.
For millions of people, nothing has really replaced that sense of identity. It has now become urgent to bring the Catholic faith to our own backyard, among our family, neighbors and friends, in the workplace, community, our schools and nation. Our country is filled with people who have no church, have drifted away from church or who are alienated from church. The word “nuns” used to mean religious sisters; now “nones” refers to the growing number of people who, when asked about their religion, say they belong to “none.”
For a parish to grow and thrive, the challenge is for every parishioner to realize that being Catholic also means being evangelical, a missionary, a witness for the faith. Jesus says “Go and make disciples of all the nations.” St. Paul exclaims, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.” And St. Peter writes: “Should anyone ask you the reason for this hope of yours, be ever ready to reply, but speak gently and respectfully.”
Almost 60 years ago, Pope St. John XXIII envisioned the Second Vatican Council as a new Pentecost in our time. Pentecost was the day on which the Holy Spirit first came down upon the Church with power in the form of tongues of flame. The apostles, locked in the upper room out of fear, were emboldened to go out and preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth as Jesus had commanded them.
The mission that each of us has by baptism and confirmation is to bear witness to Christ in truth and charity, and to invite others to our shared communion of faith and sacramental life. For divine help in fulfilling this mission, I ask that you participate in the novena that was announced and published last month, that is, nine days of prayer for the gift of the Holy Spirit leading up to Pentecost Sunday on June 4.
May our heart’s desire be for a new Pentecost in our time, in our archdiocese, in our world. God bless you.