As you are probably aware, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is going through a very rough time. Those good people, our family members in the “Household of the Faith,” and their brave archbishop, Charles Chaput, deserve our love and prayers.
In his courageous and inspired efforts to bring hope and renewal to that Church in crisis, Archbishop Chaput recently made a statement that stopped me cold: “The Archdiocese of Philadelphia . . . is now really a mission territory.’’
Yes, I had to read it twice, too.
Uganda a mission territory? Sure . . .
Peru a mission territory? Yes . . .
Alaska a mission territory? Okay . . .
But Philadelphia? Come on now! That archdiocese in a way was the model of a robust, intact, cohesive Catholic infrastructure! Parishes, schools, apostolates, ministries galore! A huge Catholic population, with cardinals as past archbishops, vocations abounding, close to a million–and–a–half Catholics proud of and fervent in their faith, right?
What do you mean a mission territory? Is Archbishop Chaput bluffing?
No! I’m afraid he’s right on target.
And, guess what? Our beloved Archdiocese of New York is also mission territory!
True, thank God, we sure do not face the tsunami of current problems Philadelphia does. Our financial picture is tight but solvent, our Catholic population actually growing, and extensive layoffs, shut-down of parishes, schools, and services, hardly anticipated.
But, we are a mission territory, too. Every diocese is. And every committed Catholic is a missionary.
This is at the heart of what Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI call the New Evangelization.
I was raised – - as were most of you – - to think of the missions as “way far away” – - and, to be sure, we can never forget our sacred duty to the foreign missions.
In fact, when wonderful Sisters of Mercy from Drogheda, Ireland, came to my home parish, Holy Infant, in Ballwin, Missouri, fifty-five years ago, we smiled when they humbly called themselves “missionaries.”
Couldn’t be, we chuckled: we’ve been Catholic for generations; we’ve got a parish church and school; the Catholic Church is strong, proud, growing, standing tall! We’re not Africa! We’re not mission territory!
Yes we were! Yes we are! The sisters were right! Archbishop Chaput is correct! Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI are on target!
Maybe, we have gotten way too smug. We have taken our Catholic faith for granted. As Archbishop Chaput observed, the big problem is a dullness that has “seeped into church life, and the cynicism and resentment that naturally follow it . . .These problems kill a Christian love . . . they choke off a real life of faith.”
As my friend Greg Erlandson commented in Our Sunday Visitor, the archbishop’s sobering point was echoed by the President of the Catholic University of America, John Garvey, in his recent splendid address to us bishops. What we’ve got, according to Mr. Garvey and paraphrased by Mr. Erlandson, is a societal crisis of faith. “More and more residents of the Western World [you and me!] are simply wandering away from their faith, which means that what is happening in Philadelphia is but a microcosm of a much more disturbing erosion.”
Have I depressed you yet? I sure hope not!
Have I awakened you and challenged you! I sure hope so.
Because, guess where we’re at: We’re with the apostles on Pentecost Sunday as we embrace the New Evangelization.
No more taking our Catholic faith for granted!
No more relaxing in the great things the church has accomplished in the past!
Cynicism is replaced by confidence . . .
Hand-wringing by hand-folding . . .
Dullness by dare . . .
Waiting for people to come back replaced by going out to get them . . .
Presuming that people know the richness of their Catholic faith replaced by a realistic admission that they do not . . .
From taking the Church for granted as a “big corporation,” to a tender care for a Church as small and fragile as a tiny mustard seed Jesus spoke about. . .
Keeping our faith to ourselves to letting it shine to others!
This is the New Evangelization!
The Archdiocese of New York is a mission territory!
The whole Church is! Our parishes are! Culture is! The world is!
You and I are missionaries!
No longer can we coast on the former fame, clout, buildings, numbers, size, money, and accomplishments of the past. As a matter of fact, all of this may have dulled us into taking our faith for granted.
No more! We are missionaries. And, it starts inside. As Greg Erlandson concludes, “Without a conversion of heart, starting with ourselves, we may never truly address the heart of the current crisis.”
I don’t know about you, but I need the Year of Faith starting in October.
And I need the synod on the New Evangelization in Rome this fall.