This is the second of three columns on the diocesan pastoral plan, “Stewards of Hope.”
By Bishop Edward Weisenburger
In the last issue of The Register, I wrote to acknowledge the efforts our diocese has made over the last four years to implement our pastoral plan, “Stewards of Hope.” While recalling that history is significant, we can ask: Where do we go from here?
We are not unlike the disciples who found themselves searching for the next steps after they had been impacted by their own encounter with Jesus. The direction Jesus gives them boils down to simply: Go. Go Baptize. Go preach. Go serve. Go, do this in memory of me. My love in you cannot and will not remain contained in your hearts alone. It must be shared. Indeed, it is the power of love that seeks to make a difference.
That is the basic understanding of the Church’s ministry of evangelization.
Sometimes evangelization has been misunderstood to mean “knocking on doors,” “soapbox preaching” or “street corner grandstanding.” But Pope Benedict XVI spoke of how evangelization is really a matter of re-proposing the Gospel’s message of hope to others. Having experienced the difference our encounter with Christ has made to ourselves, we are empowered to share it with others so that they also may know the message of hope.
To meet Christ is to be made new. This encounter is nothing less than the power of love that can — and does — change our lives. It has the power to fill us with hope, for God has the power to do in us — and through us — more than we could ever have imagined.
Sadly, there remains the destructive power and insidious nature of sin. Sin is not just to break God’s laws and incur God’s wrath and judgment (it does do that), but to assault (even steal) our hope that we can be different, be better disciples, be more authentic believers. Our only hope lies in the encounter with the person of Christ.
Pope Francis reminds us that this “re-proposing” hope cannot be done arrogantly. It can only authentically come from our own humbling encounter with Christ. It is a witness to our own experience of God and our dependence on God’s grace, especially in terms of his mercy and forgiveness.
This encounter is not so much with ideas, teachings and facts, but more with a person — another disciple — who is a channel to us of God’s grace. This encounter may be through a person who is close to us daily, an ancestor who has gone before us in faith or even a saint to whom we feel a very personal connection with their life story. Regardless of who the person is who has loved us so, we often find ourselves struck by how the grace of God has been at work in their life. And, often mysteriously, we find that there is something that persists in calling our attention to how that person has been transformed. Even more mysteriously we, almost unavoidably, are prompted to ask ourselves, “I wonder if I am being (or could be) transformed to be like them?”
Accordingly, I have directed the diocesan Office of New Evangelization to take the lead in carrying on the thrust of “Stewards of Hope.” Our pastoral plan endeavored to address the major themes of discipleship: growth in holiness; formation for leadership, life and family; and sharing with the world. The root of evangelization — the encounter with the person of Christ and the difference it makes — also runs through each of these themes. This is how God’s love works, encompassing and touching on all areas of our faith lives, because the encounter with Christ is meant to touch every part of our lives.
In my next Register article, I’ll share some more ideas about how we can take this somewhat daunting task and apply it to our lives. It will require some effort on our part and considerable humility for each of us. Put simply, it will require God’s grace. But as in the past, I believe today that God, once again, will give us all that we need.
And so … go.