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.