In the bleak mid-winter
In his Midnight Mass homily on Christmas Eve, Cardinal Sean said, "I like having the Mass at midnight -- at the darkest moment of the night is when Christ, the Light of the World, makes his presence felt." The Christmas season is over, we're back in Ordinary Time, and just about mid-point in "meteorological winter" which began on Dec. 1 and ends on Feb. 28. Even though the days are getting ever so slightly longer, this is a dark time of the year. There is another kind of darkness, one that is more about interior gloom than inky skies in the morning and afternoon.
Like most endeavors, big or small, implementation of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan, "Disciples in Mission" has come with glitches, gaffes, bumps, and bruises -- and, surely, moments of downheartedness. Herculean efforts by good, faith-filled, hardworking, bright, people are not always successful -- sometimes seriously not successful. Disciples in Mission, a new model of shared leadership, focuses on evangelization, bringing back those who have been away and bringing everyone closer to God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It hopes to invite and assist parishioners to deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ. Disciples in Mission comes with a new language -- words we know, like evangelization, witness, and outreach -- but maybe haven't used or thought about recently. No one has to be reminded that we have a shortage of priests available for full-time ministry in parishes. Cardinal Sean is explicit that Disciples in Mission must raise awareness of the need to encourage vocations to the diocesan priesthood, "Vocations are everybody's business."
Disciples in Mission is still new, being only four-and-a-half years since Phase I was inaugurated in 2012. In Church history, this is mere minutes. Collaboratives that are living out or writing their local pastoral plans (LPP) face challenges. We can relate to some of these. Every homeowner knows the feeling that comes with an unexpected repair, a broken heating system or a leaky roof: there goes the summer vacation that was planned or Christmas will be a bit sparse this year. Collaboratives face similar problems, but when the leaky roof is slate and on a 100 year old building, or the boiler breaks in a building that seats 800 people, the problem is writ large. In the "real world" most people -- homeowners or renters -- have to pay the light bill, and most have heating bills. Parishes do too. These things aren't free. Lay staffs in parishes and collaboratives really need to receive something that at least approaches a living wage. This is a justice issue. There are those who feel that the Church is just focused on money. No one can deny that finances are important; parishes depend on the weekly offertory collections. The important thing is always the mission: sacraments, formation, prayer, but when income doesn't meet expenses, changes have to be made. Sometimes those changes are significant and painful, leaving many people -- parishioners, leadership, and archdiocesan central ministry staff -- downhearted, in a dark place. Darkness gives way to negative thinking.
On those days when it's easy to wonder if all is for naught, Sister Patricia Boyle, CSJ, associate director of the Office of Pastoral Planning, urges her Pastoral Center colleagues, clergy, and collaborative staffs, "Look to the light. Find the light -- the Light of Christ." Good advice, some days easier to follow than other days, but she's right.
Now, in mid-January, the days are getting longer. In the implementation of Disciples in Mission, we've learned a lot and have made changes along the way. There are more positives than negatives. Sadly, the negatives often develop legs and travel with great speed. The positive things are often overlooked -- taken for granted. But God is good; there are always glimmers of light. For every collaborative that is under financial stress, has had to cut staff, or end a program -- things that can make even an optimist lose heart -- there are "little lights." Phase IV pastors and leadership have had fruitful meetings with central ministry consultants preparing for the hard, exhausting, yet energizing work ahead of them. Their staffs and councils are beginning their training and formation in evangelization, leadership, and understanding how collaboratives work. And at a recent meeting with Phase II collaboratives, a pastor commented that he is, "thrilled with the little lights of success that we see."
This new year, filled with new, abundant grace, comes packed with hope and light, pray for open hearts and minds to receive it.
- SUSAN ABBOTT IS EVANGELIZATION ASSOCIATE, OUR LADY OF GOOD VOYAGE SHRINE.