Pastoral Planning Since Pentecost

May 6th, 2014

The readings from God’s Holy Word in the Bible during this bright Easter season are most enlightening and encouraging.

A facet I enjoy a lot, especially evident in our selections at Mass, and in the Divine Office we clergy and religious daily pray, is the narrative, particularly in the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of Paul, Peter, James, and John, about the growth and structuring of the infant Church.

So, the apostles, disciples, and faithful women and men had to pray for guidance, then debate, and finally make tough decisions about such things as preaching the Gospel outside of Jerusalem (Who would go? Where? What language?); taking care of the “widows and orphans” (thus the development of deacons); the flow of the liturgy and other sacraments; attracting new converts and preserving the faith of those already in the fold; how to relate to pressing cultural and social issues, bringing the light of the gospel to the public square; and, how best to spend the offerings of God’s People.

One legitimately asks: hasn’t the Church been into strategic pastoral planning since Jesus ascended to His heavenly Father?

It’s hardly novel.  Our current Making All Things New is only the 2014 chapter of an opus which began to be composed in 33 a.d.

That’s why we’ve stressed from the start of our present round of planning that it’s more than a question about buildings, addresses, closings or merging.  Yes, some of this will be called for, and the sound recommendations from our pastors, clergy, religious, and people are now “on the table,” to be further prayed over, refined, and finalized.

But, driving all of this is the same set of values we sense in our Easter readings: is the invitation of Jesus, and the truth of His message, being extended effectively in our preaching, religious education of the young, faith formation of adults, and our schools? Are the poor and rich being served?  Are the “fallen away” being welcomed back?  Do God’s people have available to them the spiritual sustenance of prayer and the sacraments? Are the offerings of God’s People being spent well, or squandered?

Some are tempted to observe (and the press readily reports it!) that this strategic pastoral planning is all the result of a new, unprecedented crisis in today’s Church, caused by such things as mismanagement and stupidity by bishops and priests; the stubbornness of the Church to change settled teaching (woman’s ordination) or discipline (priestly celibacy) to correct the shortage of vocations; the loss of money paid to victims and attorneys due to the sex abuse nausea; or the mistakes of past bishops and pastors in overbuilding and over-expansion.

Baloney!  There’s not much radical, dramatic, or crisis driven in sound, patient, prayerful pastoral planning.  It’s been going on since Pentecost.

Thanks to all of you leading and cooperating in this current phase!  It’s not easy, but it’s sure essential.  And you’re in good company with the apostles and first generation disciples.

Revive Our Catholic Schools

April 23rd, 2014

Here is a great piece on Catholic education from the New York Daily News by Peter Meyer:

Church officials and educators have not given up, and there are numerous initiatives that have been launched in the last 20 years meant to staunch the hemorrhaging. The church’s extensive network of religious orders have picked up some of the educational slack, expanding their networks of schools, especially for the poor…

These are promising initiatives, but in this Holy Season, Catholics should consider their history, especially those times in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when they were not the dominant American religion, but an outcast group. And it was in 1884, at a Baltimore enclave of Bishops, that church leaders ordered every Catholic parish to create a Catholic school and all Catholic parents to send their children to them, creating one of the most successful grassroots church revivals in history.

Read the rest here.

Reconciliation Monday

April 14th, 2014

I hope that our non-Catholic friends will pardon many of us Catholics today.  They will probably sense that we’re a bit jittery:  This is Holy Week, and, today is Reconciliation Monday throughout all five boroughs, Long Island, and seven counties north of the Bronx, reaching almost to Albany.  Sometime this week, especially today in the Archdiocese of New York, Diocese of Brooklyn, and Diocese of Rockville Centre (as every parish in those three dioceses has confessions available from 3:00-9:00) many of us will approach the sacrament of penance to conclude Lent and be ready for Easter.

So, we’re a little nervous.  Going to confession is like a trip to the dentist:  we know it’s good for us, and we sure feel better afterwards, but we’re anxious about doing it.

The simple truth is, we are sinners.  We Catholics – - like all Christians, and our Jewish neighbors – - acknowledge that our sins not only offend our loving God and harm ourselves, but that they hurt everybody else.

We claim to be people of love, and, I’m afraid, sometimes are hateful; we pretend to be selfless, and often are the opposite; we say we’re honest, and on occasion lie and cheat; we’re supposed to be for peace, and end-up fighting and arguing. We say we’re humble, but are all too often cocky and arrogant.  As is evident from what Pope Francis expressed Friday, we remain sickened and sorry for such a horror as the abuse of minors by priests, and negligence by bishops, however tiny a percent of clergy they may be.  We have disregarded the commandments, the beatitudes, the Bible, and the teaching of Jesus and His Church.  We admit it.  We’ve hurt God, ourselves, and our neighbors.  We’re sorry.

We know God forgives us when we ask Him to, because He told us so.  We experience that in Confession.  We find it hard at times to forgive ourselves.  And we ask those whom we have offended to pardon us for our failure to practice what we preach.

I guess that’s why we describe ourselves as “practicing Catholics,” because we keep trying to get it right.

So, this week finds us somber, as we recall what our sins did to Jesus that first Good Friday.  Jesus, on his way to His cross, fell three times, which means, in the Bible, “a lot.”  We slip and fall a lot too!

But, this Holy Week finds us ultimately joyful, grateful, renewed as we celebrate His resurrection from the dead this Easter Sunday.

Today finds us jittery as we prepare for confession on this “Reconciliation Monday.”

So, to our non-Catholic friends who read this blog, I say thanks for your patience with us, not only today, but every day, as we often stumble and fall in what I hope is our ongoing journey to follow Jesus more faithfully and generously.

And, to my fellow Catholics, I strongly urge you to take advantage of this most wonderful sacrament.  If you’re in New York, Brooklyn, or Rockville Centre, stop by any Church between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. today, and a priest will be waiting to hear your confession.  If you’re outside the New York metropolitan area, I am sure your local parish will have additional opportunities to receive the Sacrament.

Happy Passover to our Jewish neighbors!

Happy Holy Week and Easter to our Christian neighbors!

Finding God Amid the Scaffolding and Noise

April 10th, 2014

Thought you would enjoy this wonderful piece on the Cathedral from Mary DeTurris Poust:

At first, as we walked along the outer edges of the cathedral, trying to avoid wires and boards and construction workers, I wondered aloud why they would even bother to keep the cathedral open under such conditions. But eventually we made our way to the Lady Chapel at the back of the cathedral, which remains untouched (at least as of now) by the restoration project. We knelt down in prayer, as other visitors did the same — the old lady with the scarf tied tightly around her head, a shopping bag on her arm; the young business man in the fashionably cut suit; the tourist with backpack and camera marking his outsider status. One by one, they drifted in and out, genuflecting, kneeling, praying, making the Sign of the Cross…

Read the rest here.

Bigotry and Catholic Education

April 3rd, 2014

My thanks to Seth Lipsky at the New York Post for his insightful article, Time to end NY’s anti-Catholic bigotry:

The proposed credit is tiny compared to the estimated $22 billion for pre-k through grade 12 in the state’s education budget. It would start at $180 million in the first year and then $225 million and $300 million. However modest in comparative cost, it would be a help, particularly to families of limited means with pupils in religious day schools…

Our credit is shaken, but not by the priests, rabbis and imams. The poor laborer is strangled by public employees who have a better deal than he could ever get — and a quarter of a trillion dollars in unfunded state pension obligations. Isn’t it time to make it easier for religious schools to help educate our children?

Read the rest here.

A Mission Church

March 25th, 2014
This comes to you from Alaska! I joked at Mass last Sunday at St. Patrick’s Cathedral that I was going to a place with a milder winter climate than New York City!

The Archbishop of Anchorage, Roger Schweitz, and the Bishop of Juneau, Ed Burns – – both good friends and exemplary apostles – – had invited me a couple years ago. They had told me that annually, the bishops and priests of the three dioceses in Alaska – – there is a diocese of Fairbanks, too, and they await Pope Francis’ appointment of a new bishop – – meet during Lent for a few days of prayer, camaraderie, and conferences. I’m providing the latter.

Long have I been in admiration of the Church in Alaska. The state is almost three times the size of Texas, with three expansive dioceses, and less than seventy priests. The Catholic population is only at 10%, and two thirds of Alaska’s population itself is “un-Churched.”. The distances are unbelievable, the lack of “resources” – – parishes, chapels, schools, religious education programs, charitable outreach, priests, sisters, brothers, deacons, trained lay pastoral leaders, money – – a real challenge.

Yet, Catholics are united, proud, and active; the priests happy, zealous, and committed; vocations on a slight increase; and the people love the Church! They cherish the company of fellow Catholics, they know they must evangelize their neighbors and their culture – – suspicious as the society is about religion, and especially Catholics – – and they show grit and determination about their faith that is radiant.

Yes, Alaska is the missions. But, as I’ve mentioned before, so are we in the Archdiocese of New York. No longer can we take our faith for granted; all the “props” we used to count upon for our faith are no longer there. A presumed, superficial, “inherited” faith just doesn’t cut it anymore. Our culture is suspicious of us, if not downright antagonistic. To be a sincere Catholic entails an active, free deliberate choice to accept the gracious invitation of Jesus to know, love, and serve Him in His Church.

That’s the message of Lent…

That’s the message of Pope Francis…

That’s the message of Alaska!

A “Used-to-be” Lent

March 20th, 2014
This time of the year, these forty days of preparation for Holy Week and Easter, I often hear folks over fifty-five or so reminisce about how Lent“used-to-be.”“Remember the tuna casseroles and grilled cheese sandwiches?”

“I used to long for Sunday when I could have a piece of the candy I had given-up for Lent.”

“Did I ever love the Stations of the Cross on Friday.”

“Remember how tough it was not to eat between meals?”

“I can still recall dad reminding us to make a good confession before Easter.”

“Mom used to love her sodality meetings, and dad his night of cards and a couple beers at the Holy Name evenings at the parish, but those were all cancelled during Lent.”

“Remember the ‘rice bowl’ to help feed the starving sitting on the kitchen table where we’d put our pennies saved from buying treats.”

“And remember how we used to so enjoy Easter, after forty days of sacrifice and penance; it was like we were entering a new life and the sun of spring with Jesus risen.”

A lot of that these days, what I call “used-to-be Lent.”

Because, I wonder if we’ve lost it . . . has Lent become a thing of the past?

Now, don’t get me wrong!  I don’t want to go back to the “under-pain-of sin” mandatory fast and abstinence of pre-1967 Catholic life – – although I sure remember Pope Paul VI, as he lifted mandatory fast and abstinence (keeping it only on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent), expressing confidence that mature Catholics would now freely embrace penance and self-denial.

Nor do I suggest that there aren’t a good number of Catholics who still take Lent very seriously with their acts of sacrifice, more fervent prayer, and added deeds of service and charity.

Yet, I am still moved to wonder if, as a Church, we have lost the wonder of Lent, that these forty holy days have gone the way of holy days of obligation, fasting before communion, and no meat on Friday.

And all our kids hear about is how Lent “used-to-be.”

So, for instance, I’m at a great parish in the archdiocese and notice that they’re having a big dance on . . . the first Friday of Lent!

So, I’m at a huge banquet for over a thousand men, mostly Catholics, where the liquor flows and the steaks are medium-rare on . . . a Friday of Lent!

So, I’m at Mass in a parish where they sing the Gloria and have alleluias all over the place on . . . a Sunday of Lent!

I admire how our Jewish neighbors take their “high holy days” in the fall so seriously, especially the days of penance, fasting, and contrition . . .

Our Islamic neighbors fast all day and deepen their prayers for a month at Ramadan . . .

And here, my Catholic people write me for a “dispensation” on one of the six measly Fridays we’re asked to abstain from meat (big sacrifice these days!), if they even bother with the dispensation at all.

Am I being too gloomy here?  You know me well enough to realize I’m hardly puritanical or a crab.  All I’m asking is:  have we lost Lent?  Is it all now nostalgia, a museum piece, in the attics of our souls, as we tell our kids and grandkids how Lent “used-to-be”?

Lent didn’t just used to be . . . it’s needed now more than ever!

Let me ask you, is there anything different at all in your life, in the rhythm of your family and home, in your parish, this Lent?

Is it too late to get it back?

Rebuilding Our church So We Can Rebuild the Church

March 13th, 2014
Monday’s our feast day, everybody.

As a child, I grew up in a parish with a lot of Irish Americans, with a pastor whose folks came from Co. Tipperary, and wonderful Sisters of Mercy from Drogheda, Co. Louth, who taught us.

March 17 was a grand day, a holiday, with a “Corned Beef and Cabbage Dinner” the Sunday before, the grade school girls trained by the sisters to dance the reels and sing the lyrics from Ireland.

But I noticed that the only ones actually from Ireland, the nuns, approached St. Patrick’s Day in a more reflective, somber, spiritual way.  It was clear to me that they looked at the feast as a holy day.

And, indeed, so should we!  For us in the Archdiocese of New York, St. Patrick’s Day is not just about beer, music, and marching in parades, but about celebrating the feast of a saint who is particularly close to us as patron of our diocese and cathedral.

For me, the heart of the day is our 8:30am Mass in the cathedral.  I have no say over the parade that follows, nor do I expect one.  (From the press, you’d think I was running it.  I don’t.) But, I have a lot to say about the Mass.  It’s SRO, spirited, reverent, prayerful.  It’s what March 17 is really all about.

That it takes place in the Cathedral that bears his name, built with the pennies of immigrants who survived with nothing but their religion, the genius of an archbishop from Co. Tyrone who wanted a “cathedral of suitable magnificence” as an icon thanking God for faith and freedom, and proclaiming to the city and the world that the Catholic Church was at home in America and here to stay in the nation’s major metropolis, makes this Mass all the more moving.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral belongs to us all – – Catholic or not, Irish or not – – and has been since 1878 the real “soul of the city.”

But, she now needs our help.  Her bricks are crumbling and falling; her roof is leaking; her stained-glass windows shaky; her walls tarnished with soot; her pews splintered; her heat and air no longer reliable; her organ cranky; her wiring frayed.  Get the picture?  We’re not talking luxury here, folks…we’re talking basic, raw repairSimply put, we have no choice: if we don’t do the repair, we’ll have to shut down, and it’s all costing us $180 million!

It’s costing me sleepless nights as I worry about raising money.  However, a lot of generous people, some of them not Catholics, have come forward, and we’re at about $65 million from philanthropic donations, not including what we have invested.

So, St. Patrick’s needs your help, and his feast day is a good time to ask.

We’re still consulting about the best way to approach our people for help.  As I’ve mentioned, our advance gifts are already close to$65 million, and the archdiocese itself has invested some of its funds in the project.  However, we do envision an eventual archdiocesan capital campaign to raise funds for our parishes, pastoral initiatives, and our beloved St. Patrick’s.

You’ve seen her: the Cathedral is under dramatic repair and renewal.  Then again, so are each of us; so is The Church!

Jesus spoke to St. Francis from the cross, “Rebuild my Church.”  Pope Francis is doing that, isn’t he?  Here in the archdiocese, we want to rebuild our church, (St. Patrick’s Cathedral), so we can rebuild The Church!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

A Blessed Lent

March 5th, 2014

“Remember man! Remember woman! You are dust, and unto dust you shall return!”
Stern, sober, chilling? Yes!

Oppressive, pessimistic, dreary? No!

True, liberating, challenging? Yes!

Today, Ash Wednesday, literally millions of Christians – 50,000 at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral aone – will hear this exhortation from the Bible as they begin the forty day journey of prayer, sacrifice, and charity to Easter. You’ll notice them as they show up at work, school, shopping, with a smudge of dust, or ashes, on their forehead,

What’s it all about? A memory comes to mind.

Couple years ago, I visited a dying man at the renowned Calvary Hospital. I had known him as a crusty, salty, influential gentleman, who was also somewhat unfair in his business practices, stingy with his money, unfaithful in his marriage, at odds with his family, and lax in his own Catholic religion. But, now he was close to death, and had asked to see me. I took a deep breath, whispered a prayer, and went into the room.
There I was shocked – pleasantly – to see him and his wife holding hands, his estranged sister close to him by the bed, and his children close around. Through the oxygen mask I could see him, clearly weak, with a smile on his face.

“Cardinal, I’m dying. They tell me I could go anytime. What a blessing to know the end is near. I need God’s grace and mercy, because I haven’t thought that much of Him or His commandments most of my life. Now I’ve asked my wife to forgive me, I’ve apologized to my sister and kids, who I’ve neglected and mistreated all these years, and my lawyers just left after helping me give the millions I’ve selfishly horded away to those that need it. I’ve never felt freer or more at peace. Could you pray that God forgives me, too?”

Could I ever! I emptied the room so I could hear his confession; I called them back in as I anointed him and commended his soul to Jesus, and my smile was as big as his.

While not the day itself, that event was Ash Wednesday for him. He became conscious that he had an eternal destiny, that he was in a passover from this life to eternity, that he was returning to dust.The popular saying goes, “Live today as if it is the first day of the rest of your life.” Not bad…

Equally wise is the exhortation of Ash Wednesday: “Live today as if it’s the last day of your earthly life, and tomorrow the first of eternal life.”
So for forty days, Lent invites us to think more of our soul – – meant to live forever – – than our own body – – which will turn to dust.

A blessed Lent!

During Lent, Americans Retrace Ancient Pilgrimage Routes in Rome

March 4th, 2014
George Weigel writes in the Wall Street Journal about a wonderful tradition in Rome…that is undertaken by Americans! (It was begun by seminarians and student-priests from the Pontifical North American College…where I used to be stationed.) As we prepare to begin Lent, I thought you’d enjoy this piece:

“On March 5, Ash Wednesday, hundreds of residents of Rome will begin a six-and-a-half-week long pilgrimage to the Roman station churches of Lent—a tradition that began in the earliest days of legalized Christianity but, until recently, had lain fallow…

The station churches themselves, especially those off the tourist track, often astonish. The apse mosaic in the Basilica of Sts. Cosmas and Damian is a startling sixth-century anticipation of 20th-century art deco. The little church of St. Praxedes, hidden behind the vast basilica of St. Mary Major atop the Esquiline Hill, contains the golden mosaic St. Zeno Chapel, one of the most beautiful rooms on the planet.

Amid the world’s continuous wayfaring, the Roman station church pilgrimage has a unique character, combining history, art, architecture and the human quest for truth. Built on the foundation of martyrs’ homes, it is a reminder that religious freedom is never cost-free. And its revival by Americans, who lead it today, is a fine act of gratitude from the New World to the Old.”

Read the rest here.