Priorities in Mission: Overflowing With God’s Grace

When Bishop William Dendinger of Grand Island, Nebraska, was Air Force Chief of Chaplains, he presented a great metaphor for describing priorities. At the time, the military chaplaincy had taken on a number of social work and counseling tasks outside its primary responsibility, and the mission of pastoral care was suffering. In a presentation about the importance of mission and priorities, Chaplain Dendinger said, “We have gone through the buffet line and loaded our tray to the point we can’t lift it or pay for it.”

I think of this vivid metaphor when I look at the important ministry that needs to be accomplished in the Archdiocese of Boston. It would be easy to fill our tray to overflowing, but it would also be self-defeating. We serve two million Catholics in 144 cities and towns. The need is great, and the laborers are relatively few. Setting priorities is critical.

Among the priorities that Cardinal Seán has identified for us are five that are being accomplished with the help of committees of lay, religious and clergy leaders. They are:

The new evangelization of youth and young adults (being led by Father Matt Williams)

Marriage (being led by Mrs. Kari Colella)

Pastoral planning (currently being led by Father George Evans, with a search for a Director of Pastoral Planning underway)

Religious education (committee chaired by Father Brian Kiely)

Lay faith formation (committee chaired by Msgr. William Fay)

We have been working on the first three priorities over the past couple of years. We are now working on the last two as well, and the two new committees have made significant progress since they were established in May of 2008. Let’s take a look at each of these mission priorities:

The New Evangelization of Youth and Young Adults

Cardinal Seán has led an effort to energize our ministry to youth and young adults through the ministry and leadership of the newly established Office for the New Evangelization of Youth and Young Adults (ONE). The mission of ONE is to form disciples of Jesus Christ and His Church through a unified vision for ministry to young people, from early adolescence through young adulthood, emphasizing the need to accompany them along the transitions of life.

The Cardinal chose the name of the office from the writings of Pope Paul VI, which were echoed throughout the pontificate of Pope John Paul II. The term “New Evangelization” is meant to be prophetic and revolutionary. The Church must respond to the challenges of our time, and the challenges that many young people face in regard to their faith with a new, dynamic “re-proposal” of the Catholic faith. Pope John Paul II called for our effort in evangelization to be new in its “ardor, methods and expression.” It is “not merely a matter of passing on doctrine but rather of a personal and profound meeting with the Savior.”


In January 2006, the Cardinal established a committee that included representatives from various marriage-related ministries and services to uphold the sanctity of marriage as well as to promote marriage education, preparation and enrichment. The Archdiocese’s Marriage Ministries is currently working to implement the committee’s recommendations, which focus on assisting couples prepare for and thrive in marriage and on promoting marriage in society. As one example of their efforts, Marriage Ministries is assisting in the implementation of “The Future Depends on Love,” a statewide marriage initiative of the Roman Catholic bishops of Massachusetts designed to educate Catholics concerning the truth of marriage and to empower Catholics to promote the value and importance of marriage in the wider community. The upholding of the sanctity of Marriage is crucial to the fabric of our faith life and to our society.

Pastoral Planning

Pastoral planning is the work we do to equip ourselves to meet the spiritual and sacramental needs of the people of God, especially in our parishes. It is both a spiritual and practical process, one that looks at the mission of Christ, population shifts, the shortage and aging of priests and the resources available to support parishes and other Catholic organizations. The Pastoral Planning Committee has looked at the different ways parishes are structured and staffed in dioceses and parishes across the country.

We have had a series of meetings and consultations over a period of many months throughout the Archdiocese. As a result, we have a great deal of wonderful input and many solid recommendations. The next step, and a major initiative for 2009, will be to educate and work with parishioners to consider future planning needs. With clear guidance from Cardinal Seán, and with parishes working together in the collaboratives that were established in 2008, we will be equipped to meet the needs of the future.

Religious Education and Lay Faith Formation

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that God calls us to seek, know and love Him so that we can “share in His own blessed life.” We begin catechesis, the process of learning about our faith, when we are children. However, we must continue to learn, grow in, and witness the faith throughout our lives.

In 2008, two new committees were formed to research and gather information in the areas of religious education and lay faith formation. They will be looking to other dioceses as well as our own parishes, schools, institutions and agencies to identify successful models and to assess needs in order to make recommendations for future action.

In a sense, all of our work begins here, with coming to know God. Children learn the basics of faith; young adults discover how to put faith into action in the world; and all of us must continue to grow into a deeper relationship with Christ. With a laity strengthened by a greater understanding of faith, we are better prepared to meet the challenges that lie ahead.

Taken separately, each of these priorities presents a great challenge. Together, they represent key areas of concentration and effort over the coming months. I listed the contact person for each effort or committee as a way to welcome and encourage your input. Your ideas, support and prayers are both welcomed and needed. Under the leadership of Cardinal Seán, informed by the Holy Spirit, and with the great blessings that come with our talented laity, religious and clergy, we believe we will meet these challenges. For our tray is overflowing with the grace of God.

Father Richard M. Erikson is Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia of the Archdiocese of Boston.