Posts Tagged ‘New Evangelization’

Pastoral Planning Since Pentecost

Tuesday, 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.

A Mission Church

Tuesday, 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

Thursday, 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?

Update from Rome: Preaching the Truth with Love

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

This comes from Rome, where the sun is shining brightly, the sky is deep blue, the breeze is warm, the wine flows, and the pasta is al dente… and you are jealous!

It has been a full week.  Last Thursday and Friday, the entire College of Cardinals met with Pope Francis to discuss marriage and family.  The cardinals spoke as pastors, very aware of the threats to marriage and family, attacks from culture, the state and entertainment, for instance; but also of the beauty, nobility, and poetry of God’s grand gifts of husband, wife, father, mother, and children.  How can we propose to the world anew the grandeur of family, and defend marriage, without wringing hands and manning the barricades?  How better can we preach the truth with love?

The cardinals also pushed the image of the Church as family: God, our Father; Mary, our mother; Jesus, our older brother; the saints, our elders; our fellow Catholics, our siblings.  Like any family, we have our dysfunction, but we come to our supernatural family for rebirth in baptism, nourishment at the Eucharist, reconciliation in penance, maturity in confirmation, solidarity in prayer and charity.  We are born into this family of the Church, and we long to die in her embrace.

The consistory itself, welcoming the nineteen new cardinals and their people from all over the world, took place on Saturday and Sunday. Pope-emeritus Benedict ”stole the show,” with his humble, unexpected presence, quietly joining the rest of us in prayer.  It had been a year since we had seen him, and he brought joy to our hearts.

Yesterday and today I’ve been at meetings to plan the Synod of Bishops slated for October, 2014, and October, 2015, both on the topic of — you guessed it — marriage and family. It’s very clear that Pope Francis wants to use these synods — meetings in Rome among the Pope and elected delegates from bishops around the world, along with clergy, sisters, and laity present as experts and observers — as a regular and respected form of his governance and teaching.  He is big into listening, as was clear to us as he sat with ears open in the two days of consistory, and our meetings for synod preparation.

With all this going on, I have not had much time to savor the sun, sky, breeze, wine, or pasta!

So, tomorrow, I’ll be home again after this week in the Eternal City, happy to be with you, yet relishing a return here the Sunday after Easter for the canonizations of Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II.

Standing Up for Persecuted Christians in the Middle East

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

Recently I read this moving piece on the plight of Christians in the Middle East. It is our duty to stand up for them as is eloquently outlined by Johnnie Moore, author and Professor of Religion and Vice President at Liberty University, on FoxNews.com:

I wept as I heard their stories, and I wondered why Christians around the world weren’t incensed by it all.

Ironically, that meeting in Jordan was not convened by Christians, but by Muslims who cared about the plight of their Christian neighbors.

At one point, Jordan’s strong and kind king said that “it is a duty rather than a favor” to protect the Christians in the region, and Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, a senior adviser to the king, acknowledged that “Christians were in this region before Muslims.” He said, “They are not strangers, nor colonialists, nor foreigners. They are natives of these lands and Arabs, just as Muslims are.”

While I was deeply encouraged by the tone of these Islamic leaders, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “I wonder how many Christians in the West even care about those in the East?”

In that moment, I decided I would be their advocate.

Read the rest here.

Serving Young Adult Catholics in New York

Friday, January 24th, 2014

You might remember how, about four-and-a-half years ago, Bishop Dennis Sullivan, then our auxiliary bishop, now the chief shepherd in the diocese of Camden, began what I call the antipasto for our current process of pastoral planning, Making All Things New.

He, along with a couple dozen faithful collaborators, toured the archdiocese, holding “town hall meetings” for thousands of the folks. His question was simple: what are the needs of God’s People? What spiritual care and pastoral service do you most expect from the Church? What especially would you like to see this archdiocese start, or do better?

Five or six pressing pastoral needs surfaced, and we’ve spent the last four years trying to respond to them. Let me mention one of them to you: young adult ministry.

Our parents and grandparents reported that young adults — that means usually post-college to late thirties — were drifting from the Church. Used to be, they noted, that young adults got married in their early twenties, had babies quickly after that, and got settled into a parish. No more! The average age for marriage (for those that do marry at all, which is yet another big challenge) is now late twenties and early thirties.

So, guess what? Young adults drift , and are sometimes in a “no-man’s land” when it comes to the Church. Thank God, some remain active and committed, although they may “parish-hop”; others become lacklustre in their faith; others, sadly, leave the Church, for no religion at all, or for another, usually evangelical Church.

The priests told us this was indeed the case, and that the problem was beyond the remedy of any one single parish. What was needed, they all urged, was diocesan-wide action. We heard you!

Over the last six-weeks or so, I’ve been to three “humdinger” events for young adults.

In Advent, our recently expanded Young Adult Office sponsored a Mass on a weekday evening at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and asked me to be the celebrant. They do this monthly. The cathedral was jammed. Confessions were heard prior to Mass; the music was excellent; I tried my best to give a decent sermon; the crowd was attentive, reverent, happy.

Young Adults gathered for Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral

After Mass, I mingled with them, and heard them observe how much they appreciated the company of other Catholics their age. A big chunk of the group then adjoined to a nearby locale for “milk and cookies.” (You know better!)

Right after New Year’s, I attended another event for our young adults, this one called Catholic Underground, at Our Lady of Good Counsel parish on East 90th Street.

Again, SRO, with even hundreds down in the basement. This crowd spent the hour in front of the exposed Blessed Sacrament, praying the evening divine office of the Church, with moving, live meditative chant and music as a backdrop. A half dozen priests heard confessions, and they coaxed me into saying a few words at the conclusion of our prayer. All adjourned to the hall afterwards for a concert, refreshments, and fellowship.

Finally, a couple of Sundays ago, I offered the 7:30 p.m. Mass at St. Ignatius Loyola Church on Park Avenue. I had heard that this, too, was a popular mecca for young adults, and sure enough, it was. Great crowd, uplifting music, good participation, well-planned worship . . . and drinks and snacks afterwards.

I heard the same message: these young adults enjoy sleeping-in and loafing on Sunday morning, and look forward to the evening Eucharist and good company later in the day.

These young adults tell us they search for three things: nourishment in their faith through good prayer and worship; friendship with others who share their religion; and opportunities for Christian service.

Our Archdiocesan Young Adult Office is hyper to respond to these needs. From what I have seen, they’re doing it! And, they’ve even got workers in the other areas of our expansive archdiocese to meet young adults there. Here’s how you can access them: www.catholicnyc.com.

We’ll keep trying, because these young adults need the Church . . . and we sure need them!

Michael Garvey on What Being Catholic Is All About

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Recently I came across one of the best articles I’ve read in a long time on what it really means to be a Catholic by Michael Garvey of Notre Dame University.

He writes that the Church is,

“a conglomeration of Eucharist-addicts. To admit or, perhaps better, to “confess” that we remain in the Church is no more than to acknowledge our need. We are blessed because of that need, according to the Beatitudes, but we shouldn’t be under any illusions about who we are and what the Church is made of. Right at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, the genealogy of Jesus Christ gives that long list of occasionally unpronounceable names to emphasize a truth put memorably by the Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe: “God’s plan is worked out not in pious people, people with religious experiences, but in a set of crude, passionate and thoroughly disreputable people. Jesus belonged to a family of murderers, cheats, cowards, adulterers and liars — he belonged to us and came to help us. No wonder he came to a bad end and gave us some hope.”

You can read the whole piece here.

Rebuild My Church

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Good morning!  Buon Giorno!  Happy Columbus Day!

Welcome to this ritual of blessing our newly repaired and restored doors here at our city’s, our nation’s, spiritual gem, America’s parish church, our beloved Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

Cardinal Egan, my brother bishops, Monsignor Ritchie, the rector of this Cathedral, my brother priests, join me in welcoming all of you, inside and outside of this sacred temple, as do prominent board members, trustees, and allies:

Ken Langone

Anthony and Christie DiNicola

Daniele Bodini

Sam and Melody DiPiazza

Patricia Dillon

Alice Sim

John Studzinski

Stephanie Whittier

Vicky McLoughlin

Judge Milton Williams

And so many more….

These leaders join me in saying Benvenuti  this splendid autumn morning,  Columbus Day.

You know what Jesus said to the patron saint of Italy, St. Francis of Assisi, from the crucifix at the crumbling church of San Damiano: Rebuild my church!

We have heard Jesus say the same to us, Rebuild my church, as a year-and-a-half ago, on Saint Patrick’s Day, we began the repair, restoration, and renewal of this historic soul of New York City.

Thanks to generous benefactors.

Thanks to our artisans –

Jim and Colleen Donaghy

Andy Bast

Rolando Kraeher

Jeff Murphy

And, thanks especially to God’s grace, the repair, restoration, and rebuilding progresses.

How fitting that we’d halt to bless these restored doors:

Through them have passed saints and future saints:

St. Francis Xavier Cabrini, the patron saint of immigrants

The body of Venerable Pierre Toussaint

Venerable Dorothy Day

Venerable Terence Cooke

Venerable Fulton Sheen

Through these doors have passed future Pope Pius XII, Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II (twice!), Pope Benedict XVI.

Through these doors have passed immigrants and their children from Italy and from all over the world, who, with tears in their eyes from leaving their homes behind, had a smile on their face as they realized that, at St. Pat’s, they had a spiritual home.

Through these doors came not only saints, popes, immigrants…but sinners, people searching, seeking, and struggling, like you and me, who, once through these doors, know that our Heavenly Father embraces them.

Members of the Columbus Citizen’s Foundation Board:

President and Mrs. Fusaro

Maria Bartiromo

Grand Marshal and Mrs. Perella

Mr. and Mrs. Mattone

Ms. Pardo

Mr. and Mrs. Trennert

Mr. and Mrs. Freda

Louis Tallarini

Mary Young

And Consul General Natalia Quintavalle

Thank you for so graciously representing the millions of immigrants from beloved Italy, and from all over the world, who, like Christopher Columbus, dared to dream, hope, and discover, trusting in God, bringing their faith to a new land.

Thank you to all who support us as we “rebuild His church.” 

I invite you all to continue to support our humble attempt to answer the request Jesus gave Saint Francis, Rebuild my church!

Let us pray:

Open wide the doors to God’s mercy.

Jesus says, “Here I stand knocking at the door!”

Lord, you are a God who opens doors,  not closes them.

You are a God who opened to us the doors to life, and who longs to open for us the doors to heaven.

You are the God who desires that all pass through the doors into your household of faith…

Bless these restored doors, through the intercession of Mary, your mother, and the saints who adorn them – Saint Joseph, Saint Isaac Jogues, the North American Martyrs, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, Saint Francis Xavier Cabrini, Saint Patrick – so that all who enter them may be refreshed by your love, grace, and mercy,

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…Amen!

 

A Call to Counter Cultural Witness

Monday, July 1st, 2013

Sad . . . worrisome . . . but hardly surprising.

That’s how I answered another concerned person who asked my sentiments about Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision allowing the redefinition of marriage.

Sad, because the ominous erosion of the pivotal institution of society and civilization — marriage – has been accelerated.  Yes, the decision could have been more troublesome, but it’s still somber.

The understanding of marriage as the lifelong, faithful, loving union of one man and one woman, as a husband and a wife become a mom and dad to their babies, and bring about a family, is a given in the human heart, a constant in history, flowing from what philosophers term the natural law, a definition embedded in reasoned reflection on the human person, antedating any government, written law, or religion.

To protect and foster that union has been the driving force of civilization.  Sure, it’s been under pressure from the start – by, for instance, cheating on one’s spouse, abandoning spouse and children, lack of selfless love, or divorce, just to mention a few threats — but culture has always understood that such pressures could not prevail, and that this ancient institution had to be cherished if the human community were to flourish.  Governments then have a duty to enact and defend laws that protect this special relationship, in order to promote the common good of all.

For those of us who believe in God, things get even better, because this God has revealed that this foundational relationship of marriage is a mirror of the way God loves us!  In other words, God loves us like a wife loves her husband, like a husband loves his wife.  Since God’s love for us is forever, faithful, and fruitful (bringing life), so is marriage!

The creator elevated this natural understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman, faithful and forever, giving us new life in babies, to a supernatural level, as Jesus taught.

In recent decades, this fundamental relationship of marriage has been under dramatic pressure:  no-fault, easy divorce; living together like a husband and wife before marriage, or even for years without the formal bond; glorification of promiscuity; and even same-sex “marriage.”

In the face of each threat, people of faith, and thoughtful, reflective people of no faith at all, have expressed genuine concern that the ordinary, intended, given definition of marriage was almost becoming the exception.  People of faith have tried — not always successfully, I admit — to do this in a non-judgmental, calm way.  In other words, we discourage divorce, without harshly judging those who have to suffer through it; we oppose same-sex “marriage” while never condemning those with same-sex attraction (a bigotry God also abhors); we consider adultery wrong, while forgiving adulterers.  In other words, we’re pro-marriage, not anti-anyone.  Thus, while we highly respect the Supreme Court, we find very troubling the statement that one’s defense of marriage as historically and naturally understood to be based only on bigotry.  The justices have the responsibility to interpret law, not the motives of honest citizens.

We love many people:  our parents and siblings, our good friends.  But we don’t marry them.  Marriage is about love, yes, but a unique love that procreates children.

This past Wednesday, marriage as classically defined, naturally understood, and historically defended, took a big hit.  That makes us sad.

We’re also worried, because those of us who will continue to hold to the definition of marriage consonant with reason, nature, tradition, and faith, might now be coerced to accept, promote, and allow what we find so sad and ominous.  We’ll be told to “keep our oppressive, bigoted, medieval, outmoded” opinions to ourselves.  If we want to hand those “opinions” on to our children, teach them to our people, behave in accord with them, and exercise the duties of our faith publicly — to serve, teach, heal — we’re worried we’ll be harassed.

We’re worried enough to ask, now just who is doing the imposing?  We’ve been stereotyped as imposing our strange “view” of marriage upon others.  We worry, because now the highest court in our land has undermined the definition of marriage, and imposed a new definition on everyone else.

We also worry about an apparent understanding of government that considers itself able to exercise such power.  If I remember my American Studies courses correctly, the wisdom of our founders, as we’ll celebrate Thursday, was that they viewed government as a human construct to protect and defend mediating institutions such as family, marriage, and faith, not to change or tamper with them!  Kings claimed a “divine right” to alter the natural order, and our founders rebelled against that claim.

So, as one commentator observed, “The government can talk and issue rulings all it wants, but nobody can change the very definition of marriage.”

Sad, worried, but hardly surprised.  I confess that I won a $5 bet last week, as I had wagered months ago that the Supreme Court would follow this rush.  The powerful engine to redefine marriage left the station about a decade ago.  Somberly, we’ve come to realize that, once Hollywood, the entertainment industry, college professors, the society and editorial pages of our big urban newspapers, the sit-coms, movies, and talk shows get behind something, get out of the way.

What becomes normative, then, is not natural law but the polls, not the Constitution but the “correct,” not the Bible but the blogs and the TV, not the Church but the chic.

No surprise . . .

What to do?  We can get mad, bitter, angry, and harsh.  Forget it.  That’s hardly decent, and it’s counterproductive.

We could “circle the wagons” and retreat from a culture that more and more finds our values toxic and wants to stifle us.  Don’t go there.  We’re to engage the culture, not run from it.

We could long for the “good old days,” and wring our hands about these awful modern times.  Of course, the older you get, the more you realize there were no good old days, and that our job is “to make pasta with the dough we got,” to work and live honorably and justly in the here and now.

We better start with ourselves, because, a good chunk of people of faith, even among our own Catholic people, do not share this sense of sadness and worry over Wednesday’s decisions.  Part of the New Evangelization is to present the timeless teachings of our faith – - like true marriage – - in a cogent, coherent, fresh way, re-convincing our people.

We remind ourselves of what Blessed John Paul II called our duty to be counter cultural:  that our beliefs are often at odds with contemporary trends, but that this reality only encourages us to live them out more heroically.  True freedom is not the license to do whatever we want, but the liberty to do what we ought.

We recover a sense of faithful citizenship, and, as loyal American citizens, continue to explore every method of reversing this sad and worrisome decision, reminding our elected officials and magistrates that the rights of conscience and religious freedom are not government favors or concessions, but flow from the very nature and dignity of the human person.

And, we never give up hope.  The witness given by our husbands and wives, moms and dads, to faithful, life giving, lifelong love is more cherished and essential than ever.  These days, the vocation of a man and woman, united forever in faithful love, leading to babies and families, is as potent a sign as celibacy is for priests!

Besides, “the truth shall set us free!”  That always gives us encouragement, and trumps worry and sadness, right?

A blessed Independence Day!

Sacrament of Penance

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Today I delivered my remarks to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore, Maryland. I would like to share a copy of my text with you.

My brother bishops,

Yes, we have “a lot on our plate” as we commence our meeting, urgent issues very worthy of our solicitude as pastors — the suffering in vast areas not far from here caused by the Hurricane of two weeks ago, the imperative to the New Evangelization, the invitation offered by the Year of Faith, and our continued dialogue, engagement, and prophetic challenge to our culture over urgent issues such as the protection of human life, the defense of marriage, the promotion of human dignity in the lives of the poor, the immigrant, those in danger from war and persecution throughout the world, and our continued efforts to defend our first and most cherished freedom — all issues calling for our renewed and enthusiastic commitment.

But I stand before you this morning to say simply: first things first. We gather as disciples of, as friends of, as believers in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, “the Way, the Truth and the Life,” who exhorted us to “seek first the Kingdom of God.” We cannot engage culture unless we let Him first engage us; we cannot dialogue with others unless we first dialogue with Him; we cannot challenge unless we first let Him challenge us. The Venerable Servant of God, Fulton J. Sheen, once commented, “The first word of Jesus in the Gospel was ‘come’; the last word of Jesus was ‘go’.”

Fifty years ago, on October 11, 1962, Blessed John XXIII courageously convened the Second Vatican Council “the greatest concern of which,” he insisted, “is that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously.” (Allocution on the occasion of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, Gaudet mater ecclesia). We gather for our plenary assembly in our nation’s premiere see, at the close of the XIII Ordinary General Synod of Bishops, still near the beginning of the Year of Faith. Both occasions have the same origin, the same goal expressed by Blessed John XXIII: the effective transmission of the faith for the transformation of the world.

A year ago we began our visits ad limina Petri et Pauli. I know you join me in expressing deep gratitude for the extraordinary affection, warmth and fraternal care with which our Holy Father welcomed us.But Pope Benedict did not stop with his gracious hospitality. No. He also gave us plenty of fatherly advice — for our ministry as pastors of the Church and our personal role in the New Evangelization.Here’s an especially striking example from his first ad limina address:

“Evangelization,” the Successor of St. Peter noted, “. . . appears not simply a task to be undertaken ad extra; we ourselves are the first to need re-evangelization. As with all spiritual crises, whether of individuals or communities, we know that the ultimate answer can only be born of a searching, critical and ongoing self-assessment and conversion in the light of Christ’s truth.”

As we bishops at the just concluded Synod of Bishops confessed in our closing message: “We, however, should never think that the new evangelization does not concern us as Bishops personally. In these days voices among the Bishops were raised to recall that the Church must first of all heed the Word before she can evangelize the world. The invitation to evangelize becomes a call to conversion.”

“We Bishops firmly believe that we must convert ourselves first to the power of Jesus Christ who alone can make all things new, above all our poor existence. With humility we must recognize that the poverty and weaknesses of Jesus’ disciples, especially us, his ministers, weigh on the credibility of the mission. We are certainly aware – we bishops first of all – that we can never really be equal to the Lord’s calling and mandate to proclaim His Gospel to the nations. We. do not hesitate to recognize our personal sins. We are, however, also convinced that the Lord’s Spirit is capable of renewing His Church and rendering her garment resplendent if we let Him mold us.” (Final Message of the Synod of Bishops to the People of God, October 28, 2012)

The New Evangelization reminds us that the very agents of evangelization – you and me — will never achieve that abundant harvest Blessed John XXIII described unless we are willing and eager to first be evangelized themselves. Only those themselves first evangelized can then evangelize. As St. Bernard put it so well, “If you want to be a channel, you must first be a reservoir.”

I would suggest this morning that this reservoir of our lives and ministry, when it comes especially to the New Evangelization, must first be filled with the spirit of interior conversion born of our own renewal. That’s the way we become channels of a truly effective transformation of the world, through our own witness of a penitential heart, and our own full embrace of the Sacrament of Penance.

II. “To believers also the Church must ever preach faith and penance,” declared the council fathers in the very first of the documents to appear, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. (SC, n. 9) ​To be sure, the sacraments of initiation – - Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist – - charge, challenge, and equip the agents of evangelization. Without those sacraments, we remain isolated, unredeemed, timid and unfed.

​But, the Sacrament of Reconciliation evangelizes the evangelizers, as it brings us sacramentally into contact with Jesus, who calls us to conversion of heart, and allows us to answer his invitation to repentance — a repentance from within that can then transform the world without. ​What an irony that despite the call of the Second Vatican Council for a renewal of the Sacrament of Penance, what we got instead was its near disappearance.

​We became very good in the years following the Council in calling for the reform of structures, systems, institutions, and people other than ourselves.That, too, is important; it can transform our society and world. But did we fail along the way to realize that in no way can the New Evangelization be reduced to a program, a process, or a call to structural reform; that it is first and foremost a deeply personal conversion within? “The Kingdom of God is within,” as Jesus taught.

​The premier answer to the question “What’s wrong with the world?” “what’s wrong with the church?” is not politics, the economy, secularism, sectarianism, globalization or global warming . . .none of these, as significant as they are. As Chesterton wrote, “The answer to the question ‘What’s wrong with the world?’ is just two words:’I am,’”

​I am! Admitting that leads to conversion of heart and repentance, the marrow of the Gospel-invitation. I remember the insightful words of a holy priest well known to many of us from his long apostolate to priests and seminarians in Rome, Monsignor Charles Elmer, wondering aloud from time to time if, following the close of the Council, we had sadly become a Church that forgot how to kneel. If we want the New Evangelization to work, it starts on our knees.

Remember a few years back, when Cardinal Cahal Daly led us in our June retreat? Speaking somberly of the Church in his home country, he observed, “The Church in Ireland is in the dirt on her knees.” Then he paused, and concluded, “Maybe that’s where the Church is at her best.”

We kneel in the Sacrament of Penance because we are profoundly sorry for our faults and our sins, serious obstacles to the New Evangelization. But then we stand forgiven, resolute to return to the work entrusted to us – as evangelizers of the Gospel of Mercy.

I recall a conversation about a year ago with one of our brother bishops, newly ordained, attending his first plenary assembly. I asked his impressions of the meeting. “Well organized, informative, enjoyable,” he replied, but he went on to observe that it was one moment in particular that had the greatest impact on him. It was during our closing Holy Hour, as he entered the large room next to the chapel, to see dozens and dozens of bishops lined up to approach the Sacrament of Penance. This new Bishop told me that he felt that moment had more of an influence upon him than anything else at the meeting.

Who can forget the prophetic words of repentance from Blessed John Paul II, during the Great Jubilee, as he expressed contrition – publically and repeatedly – for the sins of the past? He mentioned the shame of the slave trade, the horrors of the holocaust, the death and destruction wrought by the crusades, the injustices of the conquest of the new world, and the violence of religious wars, to name only a few.

I remember during the celebration of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Ireland last June, when Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Papal Legate, expressed this so forcefully as he spoke on behalf of the Holy Father at the penitential shrine of St. Patrick’s Purgatory: “I come here with the specific intention of seeking forgiveness, from God and from the victims, for the grave sin of sexual abuse of children by clerics. . . In the name of the Church, I apologize once again to the victims, some of which I have met here in Lough Derg.”

And so it turns to us, my brothers. How will we make the Year of Faith a time to renew the Sacrament of Penance, in our own loves and in the lives of our beloved people whom we serve? Once again, we will later this week approach the Sacrament of Penance.

And we’ll have the opportunity during this meeting to approve a simple pastoral invitation to all our faithful to join us in renewing our appreciation for and use of the Sacrament. We will “Keep the Light On” during the upcoming Advent Season!

The work of our Conference during the coming year includes reflections on re-embracing Friday as a particular day of penance, including the possible re-institution of abstinence on all Fridays of the year, not just during Lent. Our pastoral plan offers numerous resources for catechesis on the Sacrament of Penance, and the manifold graces that come to us from the frequent use of confession. Next June we will gather in a special assembly as brother bishops to pray and reflect on the mission entrusted to us by the Church, including our witness to personal conversion in Jesus Christ, and so to the New Evangelization.

We work at giving our people good examples of humble, repentant pastors, aware of our own personal and corporate sins, constantly responding to the call of Jesus to interior conversion. Remember the Curé of Ars? When a concerned group of his worried supporters came to him with a stinging protest letter from a number of parishioners, demanding the bishop to remove John Vianney as their curé, claiming he was a sinner, ignorant, and awkward, St. John Vianney took the letter, read it carefully … and signed the petition!
III. As I began my talk this morning, my brothers, so I would like to end it, with Blessed John XXIII.

It was the Sunday angelus of October 28, 1962.The message the Holy Father delivered on that bright Roman afternoon never even mentions the phrase New Evangelization.But it strikes right at the heart of the mission entrusted to each of us as shepherds.

“I feel something touching my spirit that leads to serenity,” Good Pope John remarked. “The word of the Gospel is not silent.It resonates from one end of the world to the other, and finds the way of the heart. Dangers and sorrows, human prudence and wisdom, everything needs to dissolve into a song of love, into a renewed invitation, pleading all to desire and wish for the establishment of the Kingdom of Christ. A kingdom of truth and life; a kingdom of holiness and grace; a kingdom of justice, love and peace.”

How could we not see it alive in those holy men and women of every time and place, the heroic evangelizers of our faith, including most recently St. Kateri Tekakwitha and St. Marianne Cope?

We have beheld it in the Church’s unrelenting corporal and spiritual works of mercy, in the heroic witness of persecuted Christians, in the Church’s defense of unborn human life, the care of our elders and the terminally ill, advocacy for the unemployed, those in poverty, our immigrant brothers and sisters, victims of terror and violence throughout our world, of all faiths and creeds, and in our defense of religious freedom, marriage and family.

And, I have suggested today, that as we “come and go” in response to the invitation of Jesus, we begin with the Sacrament of Penance.This is the sacrament of the New Evangelization, for as Pope Benedict reminds us, “We cannot speak about the new evangelization without a sincere desire to conversion.” (Homily for the Opening of the XIII Ordinary General Synod of Bishops).

With this as my presidential address, I know I risk the criticism. I can hear it now: “With all the controversies and urgent matters for the Church, Dolan spoke of conversion of heart through the Sacrament of Penance. Can you believe it?”

To which I reply, “You better believe it!” First things first!