'You learn discipleship the way you learn a language, by being part of a community that speaks that language.' -- Cardinal O'Malley
Recently, the staff from all offices and agencies of the Pastoral Center, gathered for a 90 minute meeting with Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley and John Straub, chancellor of the Archdiocese. The gathering was facilitated by Father Paul Soper, cabinet secretary for Evangelization and Discipleship and director of the Office of Pastoral Planning.
For most, the meeting was a refresher course on the principles and purpose of 'Disciples in Mission,' the pastoral plan of the Archdiocese. For employees who started work after Pastoral Center staff received intensive training in 2013, it was a more formal introduction to the plan. The cardinal began by expressing his gratitude to employees, "for all of the wonderful work done here" and reminding the group that, "the goal of Disciples in Mission is to make all of our parishes, schools, and institutions thriving centers of evangelization."
Cardinal O'Malley noted, "We live in a culture that is increasingly individualistic." He cited Robert Putnam's 2000 book "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community" as evidence of this: more Americans are bowling, but fewer are joining leagues. Simply doing things the way our parents did isn't enough. "Old paradigms are not enough," he said.
Highlighting discipleship and evangelization as hallmarks of "Disciples in Mission" the cardinal pointed out, "You learn discipleship the way you learn a language, by being part of a community that speaks that language." He looked at Gospel stories contrasting the role of the community and the role of the crowd. The crowd consistently tries to push people away from Jesus. The community, on the other hand, brings people to Jesus. "The crowd is a collection of individuals; we need to be a community, always bringing people to the Lord."
"Disciples in Mission' is at the heart of the archdiocese's plan... it is a mammoth effort.... We have learned a lot in the process," the cardinal said, "but it is an ongoing process and we're always trying to improve what we're doing." He encouraged the gathering to recognize that this effort involves "not just one group or department, it touches all of our efforts. We are all participating in the work of building up the Church -- we are a community, not a crowd. All of us here at the Pastoral Center want to consider how we can support the efforts of parishes to evangelize." To do this effectively and authentically, Cardinal O'Malley encouraged each person, "to make time and space for God in our lives, have an understanding of our own personal vocation, and also the shared mission we all participate in as baptized members of the Church."
The cardinal admitted that there are challenges ahead, and reiterated a familiar theme, "We can't simply go about the work of the Church as we have in the past, we need new methods of outreach and evangelization... We can't do everything at once, we have to look at what's do-able." He ended his remarks with a reference to Pope Francis' visit to the United States, calling it "our national retreat." "Pope Francis always talks about being missionary disciples, for us, that translates into Disciples in Mission. We have a tremendous opportunity to entrust ourselves deeply to God's grace, to go forth to make disciples, beginning here in our own archdiocese. We are here to build a civilization of love, to say "Yes" to the Lord, to be part of his family, to be part of his mission, always remembering what St. Augustine said: 'Without God we can't, but without us, God won't.'''
Father Soper then presented an overview of the plan, highlighting some priorities from the Phase I Local Pastoral Plans. Next, chancellor John Straub asked that each department integrate Disciples in Mission into their department goals and priorities, and integrate the language of Disciples in Mission into everyday routine. "There is a role for everyone in this building to support collaboratives." He urged listeners to be creative and solutions-oriented and challenged all to avoid, "We've always done it this way" thinking.
Vicar General Bishop Peter Uglietto closed the assembly acknowledging that "Some of these are new concepts, new language, but as the cardinal mentioned, this is his primary initiative. Everyone under the roof has to be part of this effort in some way.... Goals can help us figure out in what way each one of us participates and helps the cardinal toward his first priority -- evangelization. We are all under the one roof, with one plan."
SUSAN ABBOTT IS COORDINATOR OF PARISH OUTREACH FOR THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON'S OFFICE OF PASTORAL PLANNING.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.