Bishop Boyea’s first pastoral letter calls for a new effort at evangelization, year of prayer
By Mark Haney
The Catholic Times
LANSING — The numbers are a bit staggering: since 2000, a 32.8 percent drop in baptisms, a 44.4 percent fall in marriages and a 57.5 percent drop in Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults participation.
And yet the more sobering result is that from 2000-09, the Diocese of Lansing saw a 3.2 percent drop in parish population and a 16.4 percent drop in Mass attendance. That decline was in virtually every parish and every county. Only 20 of 90 parishes showed any increase and only 12 of them were increases of more than 50 people and only five had increases of more than 100 people.
That’s what, “Feed My Sheep,” a report written by the Task Force on Discipleship and Engagement made up of Deacon Daniel Foley of Christ the King Parish in Ann Arbor, Craig Pohl of Most Holy Trinity Parish in Fowler, Fr. John Byers of Immaculate heart Parish in Lansing, Sharon Falinski of Holy Spirit Parish in Hamburg and Patricia Nickerson of Cristo Rey Parish in Lansing, found. That report, in turn, along with one of the directions from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for every bishop to write a pastoral letter for the implementation of the Year of Faith, prompted Bishop Earl Boyea to write his first pastor letter, “Go and Announce the Gospel of the Lord.”
“’Proclaim in the name of Jesus’ is the task given to us,” the bishop writes in the letter’s introduction. “We, my sisters and brothers, are always on mission. We do not simply support missionaries. We are missionaries — all of us.
“It seems so simple. All we need to do is tell others about the most important events that have ever occurred. All we need do is repeat the most loving and peaceful words ever spoken. All we need do is share with others the simple truths that will bring meaning to this life and eternal happiness in the next life.
“Yet, like the apostles, we are frightened. Our society places religion on the short list of topics not to be discussed by polite people. We shy from conversations we fear will be awkward. We may admire those who can speak of Jesus without embarrassment, but we doubt this grace will be granted to us. We may even quote the wonderful phrase attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: ‘Preach the Gospel at all times and, when necessary, use words.’
“We are all sinners, of course. Nonetheless, this is the necessary time to use words. We need a new boldness, tongues of fire given us by the Holy Spirit. I, like most of you, have many family members who have left the Church. Every day I meet other people who have never really had an encounter with Christ. I try to love them all, to pray for them, and to be a good example. However, I need an infusion of wisdom to know when words are, in fact, necessary and then greater courage to speak. May the Holy Spirit burn my lips with the holy embers of God’s Word, so that I will say what needs to be said!”
While the goal is to reach out to those who have left the Church and to those who do not attend any church, the bishop said that job must first begin in our churches.
“This pastoral letter is primarily directed to you, my sisters and brothers, who are members of the Household of Faith,” he writes. “Few who have left the Church or have not really heard of Christ will ever read these words. So we are the ones who must become more engaged in the life of the Church and so help to build up the Body of Christ. Then we can fulfill the mission of Christ to go forth.”
While the pastoral letter charges each parish with finding ways to evangelize, the bishop also is calling for a year of prayer, from Friday, Aug. 3, to Monday, Dec. 9, 2013, the date of the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the diocese and the celebration of the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the patroness of the diocese and the cathedral, which was dedicated on that date in 1913.
Masses said in each parish the weekend of Aug. 4-5 will mark the beginning of the year of prayer.
To add to the unity, the bishop is asking that everyone pray the same prayer:
Let us pray that every person within the Catholic Diocese of Lansing
Will come to know and love our Lord Jesus Christ in a personal way,
Grow in maturity as a disciple of Christ,
Become actively engaged in the full life of the Church,
And joyfully utilize his or her gifts
For the building up of the Kingdom of God
And the salvation of souls.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful
And kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created.
And you shall renew the face of the earth.
O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit,
Did instruct the hearts of the faithful,
Grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be
Truly wise and ever enjoy his consolations.
Through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
“At the end of this time period,” he writes, “I intend to summon a diocesan assembly. The preparatory work …. will be done by our parish councils, vicariate gatherings and other juridic persons in our diocese. The result of such an assembly would be a long-range plan that should easily take us to 2026. In addition, this solemn gathering of the Church of the Diocese of Lansing will be an opportunity for the celebration of our faith and a public renewal of that faith, to ‘profess our faith in the Risen Lord in our cathedrals and in the churches of the whole world’ as Benedict XVI has requested.”
For the faithful to be better evangelists, the bishop writes, they must be better educated. That is why, he writes, he is asking priests to find ways to bring instruction into their weekly homilies, which are meant to “break open” the Scripture. He also urges all families to have and refer often to a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
In addition, the bishop in his letter calls for every parish to designate one Sunday each year for a renewal of marriage vows for all married couples, for the schools and religious education programs to offer more instruction on the “Theology of the Body” and natural family planning. He calls for those with same-sex attraction to participate in the Courage program (and their families in the Encourage program) and for pastors to counsel those co-habitating and living in second and third marriages.
The aim always is to help everyone live that chaste life to which God calls us,” he writes. “Our sexuality can be a great challenge for all of us, yet we are all called to be saints.
The bishop also calls on all young people to consider a religious life as a priest, brother, sister or consecrated person, but adds that there are numerous ways in which the rest of the faithful can be involved through such movements as the Secular Carmelites, the Charismatic Renewal and other ecclesial movements and communities within the Church.
But those actions, he adds, are just to prepare people for the real purpose: to bring the lost back into the fold.
“Why have so many left the Church?” he asks in the second part of the letter. “While this is an important question, the more important question is why are we sitting around tending the 99 and not going after the one who has been lost? One reason is that the approach taken by Jesus — leave the 99 sheep untended to find one — makes no human sense. We imagine all the harms that could befall the 99, so we write off the one sheep. Yet, God’s wisdom is not ours. One sheep wanders away, then another, then another! Soon we are forced to ask why we are tending the 50 sheep and not going after the other 50 who have been lost. Perhaps this is how we got to where we are now, by ignoring each one who has wandered.”
To start, the bishop writes, priests need to promote the sacrament of reconciliation.
“In this diocese, a number of our Indian priests have strongly promoted the sacrament of reconciliation,” he writes. “Where they have done this, sinners have come out of the woodwork. My brothers in the priesthood, we must be more generous in scheduling times for the celebration of this sacrament. We must preach the sacrament often. We must have welcoming spaces for the sacrament. And we must pray that St. John Vianney will intercede to gain for us the confessor’s wisdom and kindness we need.
“Just as we acknowledge our personal sins before we go in search of the lost, so must there be acknowledgment of our sins as members of the Church, particularly those related to the terrible scandal of abuse. We human members of the Church sometimes have failed to accord individuals and groups the full measure of dignity, charity and justice they deserve. Blessed John Paul II, as part of the celebration of the Jubilee Year of 2000, publicly repented of these kinds of sins. I ask the Office of Worship to put together a penance service at our cathedral during our upcoming Year of Prayer. I wish to lead us in this repentance.”
The joy that the faithful gets from reconciliation, he adds, will help bring some people back to the faith.
The bishop also urges people to reach out to those who have fallen away and to listen to them. One way to start that process is through a census, where people go to the homes of others to talk to and listen to them.
“The actual process of conducting a census — neighbors talking to neighbors — can provide a wonderful opportunity for positive interaction with those who have wandered away,” the bishop writes.
Next, he writes, Catholics need to attend to the focus of the Church: the Mass.
“We go to Mass on Sundays,” he writes. “We give one hour a week in service to our God – not to be entertained, but rather to give ourselves in gratitude for all that God has given to us. We do not have to attend Mass. We get to attend Mass.
“Now having said this, none of us should be satisfied with Sunday worship that is less than the best we can give to God. If we are going to seek out the lost, we need to bring them back to something that will indeed satisfy their deepest longings.”
That means being welcoming, he writes, and to being reverent and bringing our own joy and warmth to the Mass and those we meet at church. It also means better homilies that are well spoken and delivered, he adds, noting that is especially true at weddings, funerals and baptisms, where others are present.
The bishop also cites a need for more follow up with those who just joined the faith at the Easter vigil, for greater effort to engage teens and for a stronger campus ministry at the universities and colleges of the diocese.
“Obviously, this outreach to our lost sheep is a task for every Catholic,” he writes. “I call upon every parish council (and vicariate councils where they exist) to discuss this letter and formulate a set of local responses. I also call upon the diocesan staff to support with great energy the pastors, principals and agency directors as they, in turn, support the efforts of the laity to find and heal the lost sheep.”
The bishop acknowledges that living out Catholic principles, especially Catholic social teaching, in the community and the world is one way into which to show the world that Catholics live the teachings of Christ.
“For ours to be a Catholic witness, the world needs to realize that we are Catholics,” he writes. “We must present our faith as the means of salvation for us and for all. The sacred liturgy, our worship of God, is something the world needs to see. In days gone by, Catholic processions, Catholic feast days, Catholic days of fast and abstinence, Catholic art and music and architecture, Catholic pilgrimages, and, ultimately, the Catholic profession of faith all made a visible impact on our society. Unfortunately, we have become much less certain of our place in this world.
“Jesus wants us to go to the nations. For his first disciples, this meant going beyond the familiar limits of the family, tribe and nation. My sisters and brothers, we likewise must allow the Holy Spirit to take us beyond our normal lives and go where we have never gone before.”