Heeding the call to faith formation and evangelization

As a new decade begins, I am looking forward to the great fruits of faith formation and evangelization which will enrich the 144 communities of the Archdiocese of Boston in the coming years. In September, Pope Benedict XVI reminded Catholics of the heart of our mission saying, “the Church works not to extend her power or assert her dominion, but to lead all people to Christ, the salvation of the world.” In leading all people to Christ, each Catholic must strengthen his or her own faith and embrace the call of the Holy Father to be an evangelizer -- someone who shares the good news of God’s saving love in word and in deed.

The greatest works of faith formation and evangelization take place at the parish level, where Catholics are inspired by beautiful liturgies, nurtured by compelling homilies, renewed by great spiritual leadership and strengthened by compassionate pastoral care. We have begun a number of important initiatives throughout the archdiocese to strengthen parish ministries, three of which I would like to highlight for you.

ARISE Together in Christ. ARISE Together in Christ, was launched in 2007 to energize parish renewal while bringing individuals closer to Christ and their Catholic faith. To date we have had over 30,000 participants in ARISE, with the numbers of individuals and parishes growing as we are poised to enter our fourth season during Lent. These spiritual enrichment programs are offered in seven different languages, and include focused outreach to school-aged children, youth and young adults, and to those confined to prisons. The theme of the fourth season of ARISE is “New Heart, New Spirit,” which contemplates the gifts of reconciliation and healing. A highlight of ARISE in 2009 was the Archdiocesan Social Justice Convocation where participants shared insights and resources on Catholic Social Teaching, celebrated the work for justice, and identified concrete ways to connect faith with action in the service of justice. I thank God for the gift of ARISE, particularly for the ways in which faith formation has been enriched for individuals and communities throughout the archdiocese.

The Light is On For You. Building on the foundation of ARISE, and recognizing the need to focus on the ministry of reconciliation, Cardinal Seán accepted the recommendation of a committee chaired by Bishop Robert Hennessey, and affirmed by the Presbyteral Council, to begin a powerful effort of renewal in the practice of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. “The Light is On For You,” as the initiative is called, will be celebrated annually during Lent and Advent beginning on February 24. Each Wednesday evening, during these sacred seasons, priests and bishops will be available at every church and chapel of the archdiocese for individual and private confessions. Other dioceses have found this initiative to be the source of much grace and healing. I am certain these gifts will bless our archdiocese as well.

Welcoming Catholics Back to the Church. In Advent, the archdiocese will be initiating an evangelization program which invites inactive Catholics to return home to the Church. Based on St. Augustine’s great prayer “Our hearts are restless, Lord, until they rest in Thee,” this outreach builds upon the natural desire to renew and to deepen one’s faith in God. We will prepare parishes to receive new and returning Catholics through specially developed resources and training for parish staff. Parish and diocesan pastoral teams will respond to people who seek support and healing, especially those who feel alienated or distant from the Church community. In a special message to the archdiocese, Cardinal Seán will invite active Catholics to assist him in the great apostolic work of bringing souls to God by supporting this evangelization initiative through their prayers, generosity and a renewed passion for Christ and the Church.

These initiatives, and the many other ongoing efforts in the archdiocese, are focused on the importance of sharing the gifts of our faith with others so that they can come to know and love Christ our Savior. We are attempting to actively live our baptismal promise and call as Christians. Cardinal Seán’s comments during the 2009 Chrism Mass summed up the fruits of these efforts in a most eloquent way when he said, “We are called to evangelize out of love of Jesus Christ and of the people who will be graced by what His Kingdom of love, peace and justice will bring to their lives.” I urge you to be a partner in evangelization by living your faith fully and sharing your love for Christ generously. Imagine how blessed this new decade will be when Catholics throughout the archdiocese heed the call of Christ and the Church to grow in faith and to become evangelizers for the Lord.

Father Richard M. Erikson is vicar general and moderator of the curia of the Archdiocese of Boston.