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Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany
   

WE ARE GOD'S PRIESTLY PEOPLE

A Vision for the Church of Albany for the 1990's

A Pastoral Letter
By Bishop Howard J. Hubbard
August 1988

MY DEAR SISTERS AND BROTHERS IN CHRIST,

Ten years ago at the conclusion of my first year of service as Bishop in our Diocese of Albany, in response to a number of requests that I record my hopes and dreams for our Diocese, I developed a pastoral letter. In We Are His People, consequently, I shared with you my vision for our Church as we journey together as a people of faith.

This vision, based upon the concept of shared responsibility, has served as the foundation of efforts in our Diocese of Albany to meet the manifold spiritual, pastoral, educational and social needs of God's people. The seriousness with which this pastoral letter was received and studied, the enthusiasm and commitment with which it has been implemented and the ongoing way in which it has stimulated constructive interaction between the Diocese and local parish communities have exceeded my fondest expectations and have been for me personally a source of great joy, hope and strength.

I wish to take this opportunity, therefore, to thank you both for your reception and implementation of that pastoral letter and for the many ways in which you have been so supportive of my episcopal ministry among you. Words cannot express adequately my profound gratitude and appreciation for all of the cooperation, assistance and affirmation I have received in our mutual venture of advancing God's kingdom in our day.

Reviewing the decade

In the ten years since the publication of We Are His People, much has happened in our Church and society. We have had two Popes and a new President. One Pope is dead; our current Pope and President have been the victims of attempted assassinations.

We have experienced, furthermore, new major social problems such as the emergence of AIDS and the growing phenomenon of homelessness; an economic recession and recovery with all the attending social problems this has created; the insurance crisis; growing environmental issues; and critical international problems in Central America, the Mid-east, Poland, Afghanistan, the Falkland Islands, Granada, South Africa and Northern Ireland, just to mention a few.

All of these new issues, coupled with the major unresolved social problems we have been experiencing for some time, such as the scandal of abortion; the rising rates of divorce, family breakdown, teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, mental illness; and the lack of adequate education, employment, housing and health-care opportunities for too many of our citizens, have had a profound impact on the way in which we live and act as a people of faith. These problems are symptomatic of something deeper; their roots are grafted in the breakdown and rejection of the core values of our Judeo-Christian heritage.

U.S. Church

In the Church, we in the United States have been the beneficiaries of two pastoral visits by our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II. To date, our Holy Father has issued seven major encyclicals and has presided over Synods on the Family, Reconciliation and the Laity as well as over an Extraordinary Synod to evaluate and reaffirm the values of the Second Vatican Council. Our Holy Father has also promulgated the revised Code of Canon Law which has harmonized Church law and discipline with the various norms and forms of the Second Vatican Council. The recently completed Marian Year has given a renewed focus to the role and place of Mary in Catholic spirituality.

Nationally, the Bishops of the United States reflected on the role of the laity in the Church in a pastoral statement entitled Called and Gifted and have authored important pastoral letters on the need of the Catholic community to develop adequate pastoral outreach to the Black and Hispanic communities. The Bishops have engaged furthermore, in extensive processes of consultation leading to major pastoral letters on peace and the economy and to a forthcoming pastoral response to the critical concerns facing women in Church and society. These efforts have sought to bring the gospel message to bear upon contemporary realities and to give tangible expression to the ringing affirmation of the Second Vatican Council that "the joys and hopes, the grief's and anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these too are the joys and hopes, the grief's and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their heart." (Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, par. 1).

What happened here

In our Diocese, we conducted the Always His People program of reconciliation and engaged in RENEW, a three-year process of spiritual development based upon prayer, scripture study and faith sharing. Seventy-five percent of our parish communities participated in this process in which over 20,000 adults were involved in the weekly small faith-sharing groups. Many parish councils have been initiated or revitalized. New and expanding roles for the laity have been fostered and a two-year lay ministry formation program has been developed.

Our Diocese has joined the Catholic Television Network of America (CTNA), thereby expanding immensely our opportunities for teleconferencing and communications as well as local programming and tape production. The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) and other programs of evangelization, moreover, have begun to take root in our parishes.

Our Diocesan School Board and Office have developed an overall strategic plan as well as regional planning for the future. Our Diocesan Office for Religious Education has worked to formulate a comprehensive religious curriculum for our schools and parishes with a special new curriculum on human sexuality. This office has also initiated a new commission to address the special needs of the developmentally disabled.

Our Catholic Charities network has been expanded to all fourteen counties in our Diocese, serving over 140,000 people annually with an amazing $ 3,033,216 of donated services provided last year alone by caring volunteers. New initiatives have been launched for persons with AIDS; boarder babies; the homeless; children in need of day care; the elderly; the homebound; the incarcerated; the victims of domestic violence; the separated and divorced; and women who are experiencing the trauma of abortion. As a concrete response to the pastoral letter on the Economy, the Employee Ownership Project has been established, designed to empower the unemployed or underemployed to operate their own business.

Ecumenical and interfaith relationships have been deepened, especially through our recovenanting with Christians United in Mission and through the special celebrations or dialogues we have had with the Lutheran, Reformed, Orthodox, Methodist and Jewish communities.

Problems, too

During these years, we have experienced problems and difficulties as well. Despite concerted efforts by our Diocesan School Board, pastors, parents, and local school boards and parish councils, our Catholic schools continue to be plagued by fiscal and enrollment problems. Vocations to the ministerial priesthood and religious life have dwindled with great implications for both the configuration and staffing patterns of many of our parish communities. Our Diocesan Service Corps, initiated by the 1978 pastoral, while making a significant contribution during its ten-year history, has not been able to survive because of the lack of volunteers and finances. Catholic contributions to the parish and Diocese have not kept pace with the Cost of Living Index or the level of giving of our Protestant or Jewish neighbors. This has created deficits for our diocesan budget and for the budgets of many of our parish communities, deficits which can only be addressed by increased giving or by the reduction of vitally needed pastoral services.

Reviewing the letter

In the light of all the aforementioned and other developments in our Church during the past decade, at the universal, national, diocesan and parochial levels, I felt that it would be an appropriate time to review my initial pastoral vision as expressed in We Are His People and to revise this pastoral vision on the basis of these lived practical experiences and of the consultation conducted this past Spring with our pastors, diocesan staffs and representatives from our parish, deanery and diocesan councils. I invited these representatives of our local Church to offer their reflections on the 1978 Pastoral, after having lived with this vision for ten years.

I am pleased to say that many constructive criticisms have surfaced and numerous creative and far-reaching insights have emerged as a result of these consultations. The two major themes of the 1978 pastoral letter We Are His People, moreover, have been reaffirmed and reinforced wholeheartedly and enthusiastically:

  • FIRST, that the concept of shared responsibility and collaborative ministry, based upon the baptismal call given to each member of the Church, must serve as a foundation of the Church's efforts to advance the mission and ministry of Jesus in the world; and
  • SECOND, that the parish community has been and will continue to be the center of the Church's life.

In writing this updated pastoral letter, then, I seek to build and expand upon these two foundational themes and request that this revised version, if you will, be read not as a new and different initiative but rather in conjunction with and in light of the initial vision and of our successes and failures in pursuing that vision over the past ten years.

WHAT IS THE CHURCH?

In our consideration of both of these themes of shared responsibility and of the centrality of the parish community in the life of the Church, it is necessary to reflect first upon the nature of the Church itself, because our vision of the Church and its mission conditions our understanding of ministry and shapes its development in the parish community.

When we speak of the Church, we are dealing with a living mystery. As the Second Vatican Council expressed it, the Church is a mystery prefigured in creation, prepared in the history of Israel, initiated by the Holy Spirit and reaching its fulfillment only at the end of time (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, par. 2). The Church is that mystery in which is made visible God's saving presence in Christ Jesus. It is Christ's mission that the Church is about; it is Christ's message it strives to communicate to others and it is His ministry that it extends into the world.

Because the Church is a mystery, therefore, it cannot be totally understood or fully defined. But from its very beginning the Church has been revealed to be a community of people formed by the word of God, animated by the creative power of the Holy Spirit and sustained by the worship and service of its members. Its mission is both to proclaim the message of Christ for the enlightenment of the hearts and minds of people and to provide a place where His healing presence can be experienced. As such, the Church must always understand itself as not existing for itself but for the world. The Church can never be a mission or ministry to itself; rather it is to be a community of ministers charged with the task of bringing the healing presence of Christ to a wounded humanity.

We who belong to the Church today, then, are called to be the community described in the New Testament where all things were held in common; where Paul urged that competition should be in giving service; where Jesus said that those who would be great should be the servants of all people.

SHARED RESPONSIBILITY

In 1978, I suggested that the Second Vatican Council had given us a concept that enables us to be the Church, the community of God's people in our day: the concept of shared responsibility. Put succinctly, shared responsibility means that each of us, by virtue of baptism, has the right and the duty to participate in Christ's mission of praising and worshiping the Lord, of teaching His word, of serving His people and of building a community here on earth in preparation for the fullness of life together in the kingdom of heaven.

Through baptism, in other words, every Christian is brought into an intimate, personal and abiding union with Jesus and with all other Christians. This sacramental dignity unites popes, bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laity in the one body of Christ which is the Church. It also serves as a mandate to each of us to use his or her talents so that the mission of Christ and His Church may be fulfilled.

This responsibility of being about the work of Christ's Church is ours, regardless of our state in life or the differing roles we may actually exercise. We are all called to be co-creators with God, advancing His kingdom in our day. Every person's contribution is vitally needed so that together in a rich diversity we can build up the Christian community by enhancing the sacredness and growth of others.

In this letter I would like to reiterate the vital importance of this fundamental concept of shared responsibility for the life of our Diocese but to do so from a slightly different perspective, the priestly ministry which is given to the entire people of God.

In a recent pastoral letter on ministry entitled You Are a Royal Priesthood, Archbishop William Borders of Baltimore articulated in a concise and meaningful fashion the idea of the priestly ministry which belongs to the entire Church. The Archbishop writes:

"Just as the mission of the church is rooted in its identification with Christ and the continuance of his mission, so too the ministry of the church is a sacramental continuation of the ministry of Christ to the world - a continuation of the way Jesus sought to touch the hearts and minds of people to open them to the experience of God.

"The exercise of this ministry is essentially a priestly task. As the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, there is one high priest and mediator of grace, Jesus Christ (Heb. 5:7-10). In the New Testament the term priesthood refers first and most fully to the one priesthood of Christ.

"Yet the community of the church, as Christ's sacramental presence in the world, is constituted "a royal priesthood, a holy people set apart" (I Pt. 2:9) for a mission and ministry to the world. It is through our baptismal relationship with the person of the risen Christ that we are formed into a people and are given a share in what St. Paul called the priestly ministry of spreading the Gospel (Rom. 15:16).

"This understanding of the priesthood of all the baptized is most important for our understanding and approach to ministry. Many of us have come to identify the term priesthood with the ordained priesthood. Yet in the New Testament the primary application of the word priesthood (after the unique priestly role of Jesus Christ) is to the priesthood of every baptized man and woman" (Origins 18, No. 11:167).

I share this quotation from Archbishop Borders' pastoral letter; and I highly recommend a careful reading of his entire pastoral because I believe it amplifies more fully the concept of shared responsibility, which was a major theme of We Are His People, and because it offers a fresh approach for exploring that concept in the life of our local Church. For your convenience and interest. I have included additional quoted material from Archbishop Borders' letter in the Appendix of this pastoral letter.

All Are Called

The Archbishop's pastoral letter emphasizes that the Church is not a stratified or clerically dominated society but a community of persons, all sharing in the priesthood of Jesus Christ and all called equally to be the people of God.

The letter stresses, furthermore, that the Church is a community of collaborative ministry. That is a community in which each member is challenged to see his or her baptism as a call to holiness and ministry; a community which seeks to help its members to discern the personal charisms given them by the Spirit and to enable them to employ their gifts in the mission the Church; a community whose ordained and vowed ministers see the fostering of greater participation in the work of the Church as essential to their responsibility as leaders.

This understanding of the priestly ministry which belongs to the entire Church and this emphasis on collaborative ministry have profound implications for ordained ministers, religious and the laity.

Bishops, priests and deacons, for example, must recognize and appreciate that their ordained ministry arises from the priestly call that is given to the entire Church and exists for the purpose of enabling the whole Christian Community to be a priestly people. Again, as Archbishop Border states:

"The ordained ministry does not exist by or for itself, but only in and for the church. It exists to offer the service of leadership and sacramental nourishment through which it acts as a catalyst to enable and empower the whole community of the church to realize its mission in the world. Thus the theology of holy orders arises out of the theology of the church and not vice versa, and the apostolic responsibility inherent in the sacrament of orders does not stand apart from the responsibility and mission given to the entire priestly people of God.

"Those who are called to the ordained ministry fulfill their role through the service of leading God's people in the fourfold ministry of the church - in proclaiming the Gospel, in worshiping, in building community and in offering healing service to human needs." (p. 177.)

Our Roles

Bishops, priests and deacons, therefore, have a serious responsibility to help all the members of the Church discover, develop and use their God-given talents and charisms for the well-being of our Church and society. Furthermore, this expansion of ministries within the Church, which ordained ministers are called to foster and promote, must not be perceived as a practical necessity imposed by the current shortage of priests nor as motivated by some kind of American desire to democratize the Church; but it must be viewed as the consequence of the rights and duties which belong to every baptized member of God's priestly people.

Religious men and women must see their vowed life not as a superior state to other ways of Christian living or as a means of withdrawing from the harsh realities of Christian living in the world but as a specific mode of consecration to Christ which seeks to offer a public witness that reminds all Christians of the radical claim that Christ makes upon them in the circumstances of their daily living.

The witness and ministry of religious, then, also must be catalytic in nature, namely, designed to help all the members of the Church to develop and then use the gifts of the spirit with which they have been endowed so that they can take their full part in advancing Christ's mission to the world.

The laity must rediscover that biblical fact of the priesthood of all the faithful and the common vocation to holiness and ministry which is theirs by virtue of baptism and confirmation. This sharing in the priestly ministry of the Church and this call to holiness and service to others must challenge the laity to see that faith is not passive and requires more than attendance at Mass. They must recognize that ministry is not something which can be left solely to the ordained and religious or to professional lay Church staff members. Rather the laity must appreciate the dignity and empowerment they have to be the Church, to be the people of God, called to exercise their gifts and talents both within the Church itself and within the wider community.

Church of ministers

If we truly believe with the Second Vatican Council that the Church exists to carry out the priestly ministry of Jesus and if we believe with the Council that the laity are joined with bishops, priests, deacons and vowed religious as enactors of that mission, then what we have is a Church of ministers: some of them bishops, some of them priests, some of them deacons, some of them vowed religious, but most of them lay men and women. Such an understanding of the Church allows for the richness of varied ministerial roles and encourages all the members of the Church to contribute the wonderful gifts each has.

This vision of a universally ministering Church was the foundation of the pastoral letter We Are His People, and it remains the sustaining vision in this updated pastoral We Are God's Priestly People. Whether expressed in terms of shared responsibility or in terms of the priestly ministry which is given to the entire people of God, it can be summarized in the following way.

Responsibility for the mission of the Church is collaborative and is shared by all the baptized - ordained and non-ordained, vowed and non-vowed, carpenter, housewife, businessman or woman, young and old, rich and poor, parent, child, single person, black, white, red, yellow and brown - all bound together by a variety of gifts and ministries and all serving the one priestly mission of our Lord Jesus Christ.

GROUPS ADDRESSED

As I did in 1978, let me address the priests, deacons, religious and laity within our Diocese and the role I envision for each as we seek to make a collaborative model of ministry a vital reality in our Diocese in the 1990's and into the third millennium.

To Priests

The priests of our Diocese serve the Church and its people with great zeal, dedication and enthusiasm. Their personal holiness, their openness to renewal and their willingness to explore new approaches to serving God's people have been a source of great blessing for our local Church. Permit me to share with you an assessment of the challenges which I believe our priests have experienced since the Second Vatican Council and the splendid manner in which they have responded to these challenges. At our annual priests' retreat I told my brothers:

There is no group within the Church which has had greater responsibility for coping with these problems and for birthing and nurturing these changes than you priests.

You, as priests, stand at the cutting edge of Church and society. You have been pained by the departure of close friends and classmates from the priesthood. You have been abused by dissatisfied liberals and recalcitrant conservatives. You have faced the challenge of working with couples who are more concerned about the place of the wedding reception than about the nature of the marital bond, and couples who unthinkingly accept a contraceptive lifestyle.

You have been disappointed by those who would abort the unseasonal or unwelcome human fetus, or by Catholics who are Republicans or Democrats before they are Catholics and who consequently reject those teachings of our Church which conflict with the tenets of their political parties.

Pioneers

You have been pioneers, blazing new pathways, forging new frontiers, developing new approaches to ministry often without role models or tested programs upon which to fall back. Many of you were prepared to serve in a Church which, in a sense, from 1965 on no longer exists; those ordained since 1965 were prepared for a Church which as yet has not arrived.

In other words, you have been the pivotal figures who have had the responsibility for learning, teaching and implementing the norms and reforms of the Second Vatican Council. While in a sense this has been very exciting, challenging and energizing, it has also at times been very discouraging, frustrating and disillusioning - especially when your best efforts have been taken for granted, gone unappreciated, been misunderstood, ignored or rejected outright.

Thus, if there is one message that I would like to share with you at this Eucharist, it is how important you and your ministry are and how grateful I am for the manifold ways in which you continue to serve the Church with fidelity and creativity, and as instruments who foster spiritual growth, healing, reconciliation and renewal among your people.

With all of the challenges which confront us as a Church and society, and all the pressing demands that are placed upon you as priests, demands which are often contradictory and unprecedented in the history of the priesthood, you have responded magnificently, and you have served with a courage, loyalty and fidelity of which you can be justifiably proud, and which, I am convinced, historians in the future will judge to be one of the outstanding accomplishments of this, or indeed, of any century.

Please be assured, then, that you and your ministry are desperately needed and absolutely critical for the future of our Church.

Unique role

Your role is unique and indispensable. As the Second Vatican Council states:

"Priests, prudent cooperators with the episcopal order as well as its aids and instruments, are called to serve the People of God. They constitute one priesthood with their bishop, although the priesthood comprises different functions. Associated with their bishop in a spirit of trust and generosity, priests make him present in a certain sense in the individual local congregations of the faithful, and take upon themselves, as far as they are able, his duties and concerns, discharging them with daily care. As they sanctify and govern under the bishop's authority that part of the Lord's flock entrusted to them, they make the universal Church visible in their own locality and lend powerful assistance to the up-building of the whole body of Christ (cf. Eph. 4:12). Intent always upon the welfare of God's children, they must strive to lend their effort to the pastoral work of the whole diocese, and even the entire Church" (Constitution on the Church, 28).

Paradoxically, however, the Council which speaks so positively about your priestly ministry has also created a certain ambiguity about the role of the priest. For example, the Council addressed itself extensively to the role of the Bishop and the laity but offered few new insights about the role of priests.

In other words, while the Council said some fine things about the priesthood, its document, On the Ministry and Life of Priests, was definitely among the minor ones and the Council did not develop a contemporary theology of priesthood. In fact the Council fathers seemed to take the priesthood somewhat for granted and did not see the necessity to discuss the matter at great length.

Indirectly and unwittingly, however, the Council fathers may have severely undermined the traditional role you priests have played in the Church. By insisting that the Bishop is the primary minister in the Church and that the priest is the helper of the Bishop, the Council demoted the priest from an alter Christus to an alter Episcopus. And by emphasizing the priesthood of the laity and deemphasizing the sacred power which sets the priest apart from the laity, the Council deprived the priest of his traditional identity and clear self-image.

In hindsight, as Father Edward Hussey suggested in a recent Conference on "U.S. Catholic Seminaries and Their Future," and it is only in hindsight, the recent decline in the number of priests and the present straits to which we are reduced are the natural and, perhaps, even inevitable result of the documents of the Second Vatican Council. What is needed today, then, is a more fully developed theology of the priesthood in light of this Second Vatican Council's emphasis on the Church as the entire Christian community, on the priesthood of all the baptized, and on the pastoral ministry of Bishops.

Critical tasks

As that theology of the priesthood emerges, you, my brother priests are faced with the critical task of contributing from your practical pastoral experience to the development of that theology and at the same time of being leaders in fostering a collaborative model of ministry in the Church.

This I realize is not an easy challenge. Deep down in your hearts, I suspect, you are haunted by the question "Am I important?" If, for example, deacons, religious and laity can exercise roles like those of spiritual director, of leaders of scripture study groups, of liturgical planners or of pastoral administrators, areas which were previously your exclusive domain, is it any wonder that your identity may be blurred and your confidence shaken.

Yet despite this personal and ministerial ambiguity that you may experience and the natural defensiveness such can engender, you priests must be in the forefront in facilitating the development of new ministries in the Church, especially on the part of the laity and in particular on the part of women. You must seek to learn and to exercise skills of coordination, collaboration, and community building, and you must search for creative ways to try to attract, empower and support others in their various ministries on behalf of God's people.

In a special way, I look to you to help me in the critical task of preparing our people for the changes in parish life which must take place in light of the current and projected critical shortage of priests and religious. Our dwindling numbers necessitate that our Diocese develop in the immediate future different parish configurations and staffing patterns. Your leadership is key to the acceptance of what must occur.

If you deny the problem, if you become defensive because your own particular pastoral position may be threatened, or if you have not helped your people realize the rich ministerial potential they have and can develop, then your people will not be ready for the transition which must happen and consequently will suffer needless trauma.

If on the other hand, you approach this challenge in a positive and constructive manner, and if you are able to assist your people to see the current crisis not so much as a problem but as an opportunity, an opportunity indeed for collaborative ministry, then I am convinced we can develop new models and approaches to parish life and ministry which can be exciting, enriching and future-orientated.

To Religious

The religious through the living of their vowed life of poverty, chastity and obedience offer a rich treasury of spiritual gifts for the life of the church.

You women and men religious have made an enormous contribution toward promoting the renewal envisioned by the Second Vatican Council. Indeed, I would suggest that there is no group of persons within the Church that has taken more seriously the Council's call to conversion and renewal than communities of religious. You have gone back to your roots and recaptured the spirit of your founders and foundresses. You have reexamined seriously and prayerfully how the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience can be lived meaningfully in our contemporary church and society. You have reviewed your constitutions and governing structures in accordance with the principles of collegiality and servant ministry. You have reassessed your apostolates in light of the needs of the times and discerned continually how your members might best serve God's people as we prepare to enter the twenty-first century.

All this, I believe, has enabled you to become more prayerful, more spiritually alive and more deeply committed to the mission of Jesus. You have been at the forefront of liturgical renewal, of a scripture-based spirituality, of developing creative new apostolates and of linking prayer and worship to global and national issues of peace and justice.

Evangelical witness

I am deeply grateful, therefore, for your presence among us and for your evangelical witness to the countercultural life style that all members of the Church must seek to embrace. The recent overwhelming response to our appeal for retired religious is a tangible evidence of the affection and esteem with which you are held by our entire Diocese.

As we look to the future, I envision two specific ways in which you can help develop the concept of collaborative ministry.

  • FIRST, many of you have been in the vanguard of fashioning collaborative models of ministry within your own religious communities. You have developed creative patterns of participatory governance which rely less upon authoritarian dictates or majority rule and more upon consensus building. You have fashioned patterns of effective communication which allow maximum grassroots input and which facilitate sharing, understanding, ownership and empowerment. You have also developed personnel placement policies which have allowed members to explore more fully their particular gifts, talents and charisms.

    All of these experiences, both positive and negative, as the recent dialogue conducted in our country between Bishops and religious revealed so well, are a rich legacy from which the entire church can benefit in our pursuit of collaborative ministry. I urge you, therefore, to share your communal experience of governance, communication and placement with us in the Diocese so that we can reap the ripe harvest which the seeds of renewal you have sown have made possible.
  • SECOND, I encourage you to share with the wider Church the varied prayer experiences which are so much a part of your religious life. It is frequently stated that the crisis of our age is the crisis of spirituality. We have lost a sense of the transcendent. We have lost the art of contemplation. We have failed in our attempts to integrate liturgy and work, prayer and service, faith and action.

    We are struggling to move away from the monastic spirituality which has been predominant in the Church for centuries and to develop an authentically apostolic spirituality; a spirituality which enables us to harmonize our prayer and our work; a spirituality which enables us to be doers who contemplate; a spirituality which enables us to reflect upon the wonders of the Father's creation, the beauty of the Redeemer's love and the pulsating presence of the Holy Spirit and then to translate that prayerful reflection into words and deeds which speak clearly, meaningfully and persuasively to contemporary realities.

Challenges today

The challenge for spirituality today, in other words, is to avoid the heresy of activism on the one hand and escapism on the other. You, as religious, I believe, are in a unique position to help us address that challenge. You have had the experience of integrating daily prayer with the hectic demands of your apostolates in education, health care, social work and pastoral ministry.

This blending of the active with the contemplative in a meaningful daily pattern of prayer, which is at the heart of religious life, is something the whole church needs to experience. Indeed, prayer must be the foundation and sustaining motivation of collaborative ministry.

You religious, then, can render a real service to God's priestly people by sharing with the whole Church your time-tested and time-proven apostolic approach to prayer and by helping the members of the Church develop a style and pattern of prayer applicable to the diverse circumstances in which each finds oneself.

To Permanent Deacons

The restored order of the permanent diaconate is among the greatest gifts which the Second Vatican Council has given to the Church. Our own Diocese has been blessed by the ordination of eighty-one men to this revitalized ministry. Deacons by virtue of the public and permanent character of their ordination commitment offer a shining example of that servant ministry to which every Christian is called.

You deacons, your spouses and families provide a fresh image of what ministry is and can become. While retaining your family relationships and work responsibilities, you have forged liturgical and pastoral roles which enhance the life of the Church and which bridge the gap that frequently exists between the sacred and the secular, the sanctuary and the pew.

You have done this at great personal sacrifice. Many hours away from family have been devoted both to ministerial formation and to ongoing education as well as to direct service to God's people in a wide variety of parish, diocesan and community-based apostolates.

You have been real pioneers, breaking new paths, navigating uncharted courses, learning from doing and from sharing with others. Not infrequently, however, your role has been misunderstood, ignored or rejected by priests, religious and laity alike as people's fear of the unknown, mistrust of the unfamiliar or outright resistance to newness and change have often thrown up barriers to acceptance and support of your role and ministry.

Yet you have persevered with dignity, courage and patience. You have moved forward step by step by maintaining the sense of what is possible and a sensitivity to the pace of others. In so doing you have given a dynamic witness to what servant ministry is all about.

Contributions

As we move to make the vision of a universally ministering Church a lived reality in our Diocese, I would suggest that you have several distinctive contributions to make.

  • FIRST, you must be careful that you not foster a new clericalism wherein you transfer from the ranks of lay parishioners to clerical professionals and seek to carve out roles that solidify your own position, responsibility and authority in the hierarchy of the Church, but at the expense of lay initiatives and lay involvement. If this happens, the diaconate will be robbed of its fresh character and promise and will belie the concept of collaborative ministry which is so crucial for the future of our Church

    As deacons, then you must see the empowerment of the laity as one of your prime responsibilities. For example, in your function as a staff member you should seek to insure that whenever possible the role of the laity is included in liturgies, programs and activities; and you should be an advocate for the laity where they mare unable to speak for themselves. Otherwise, your efforts can be very self-serving and as discriminatory towards the laity as some clergy and religious have been and still tend to be.
  • SECOND, you must seek to be sensitive to the growing pains clergy and religious may experience coming to grips with our expanded concept of ministry. Priests and religious can tend to resent the intrusion both of deacons and laity in those roles which traditionally and historically have been reserved exclusively to themselves. In light of these new opportunities it may seem that their role in the Church is blurred and that their ministry has been downgraded or has lost some of its luster.

    You, I believe, because of your unique relationship with the clergy and religious on the one hand, and with the laity on the other, can help bridge this gap by enabling priests and religious to see these new ministerial opportunities for laity not as a competition, nor as an usurpation of their power or as a threat to their authority, but as an opportunity to explore the interrelatedness of all the gifts and ministries God has shared with His People and to facilitate the development of such.

    Specifically, you might discuss with priests and religious ways in which you or the laity might free them from some of the responsibilities nonessential to their specific ministry, but with which they have become burdened, so that their time for prayer, study, planning and direct pastoral ministry can be maximized.

    Furthermore, as deacons you can discuss with the laity the reluctance they often manifest in assuming new roles in the parish or in the Christian community because "that's not my place"; and you can interpret for them the true sense of the call, empowerment and responsibility they have as baptized Christians so that the laity's gifts might be fully galvanized and utilized.
  • THIRD, you deacons and your families have a special contribution to make toward strengthening family life and toward assisting the family itself to be a ministering community.

    In your homilies, for example, by drawing from your own family experience, you have a unique opportunity to relate the Scriptures to the challenges of married life and to the demands of daily living in a way that can be stimulus for the whole community. Along with your spouse you can also be leaders in the development of family-life ministry within the Church, a ministry which foremost and essentially should be a ministry of the laity, a ministry exercised by families.

    The key to family-life ministry, in other words, is to be found in the family's becoming aware of its Christian mission. The family must foster caring and sharing attitudes among its own members which then should stimulate the same type of loving care and concern within the wider community. You deacons, your wives, and children, then, can be examples par excellence of how family, work and community responsibilities can be blended in a deep commitment to the mission of the Church and service to the world.

To the Laity

The laity of our Diocese constitute a splendid mosaic of God's priestly people in action.

Your enthusiastic commitment to the life of your parish as lectors, extraordinary ministers of the eucharist; catechists; evangelists; music ministers; ushers; and ministers of service to the poor, sick, developmentally disabled, elderly, youth, hospitalized and imprisoned--as well as your caring involvement in the host of activities related to your family, neighborhood, workplace, and community--are a never-ending source of inspiration and edification.

Your loyalty to the Church, your participation in our new lay ministry formation program and your sacrificial generosity in response to financial appeals from the parochial, diocesan, national and universal Church have been nothing short of extraordinary.

Your openness to change, your life of prayer, your eagerness to learn and grow in the ways of the Lord are daily reminders of God's presence in our midst and of your zealous responsiveness to that presence.

You are the most numerous members of God's priestly people. As the Bishops of the United States stated in our 1980 Pastoral Reflection on the American Catholic Laity, you are truly "Called and Gifted." Each of you by virtue of baptism is incorporated into the people of God and each of you has a vocation to serve God's people in a way that is characterized by adulthood, holiness, ministry and community.

Laity's role

As you look to how you might collaborate with bishops, priests, deacons and religious in fulfilling your priestly call, I would suggest that you consider how we Bishops organized the ministerial section of Called and Gifted.

After stating that baptism and confirmation empower all believers to share in some form of ministry, we go on to speak first about the laity's call to ministry in the world:

"The whole Church faces unprecedented situations in the contemporary world, and lay people are at the cutting edge of these new challenges. It is they who engage directly in the tasks of relating Christian values and practices to complex questions such as those of business ethics, political choice, economic security, quality of life, cultural development, and family planning...in those areas of life in which they are uniquely present and with which they have special competency because of their particular talents, education and experience, they are an extension of the Church's redeeming presence in the world."

It is not until after your normative secular ministry is affirmed that we bishops speak about the call 0f laity to ecclesial or Church ministry. Here the ministry of catechist, parish and diocesan councilor, eucharistic minister, spiritual director as well as of full-time professional minister is acknowledged with gratitude. What Called and Gifted offers then is an inclusive view of lay ministry. As laity, your Church service is ministry, but so also is your everyday life and work, and preeminently so.

Reversing the order

Indeed, in Bishop Raymond Lucker's address to the assembled National Catholic Conference of Bishops at Collegeville in June 1986, entitled "Linking Church and World" and related to the vocation of the laity, the pointed out that we have reversed the order. We have tended to call you the laity first to ministries within the Church and then secondarily, or at least with far less emphasis, to ministries for the transformation of society.

It is important, therefore, that you, the laity, take responsibility for correcting this imbalance. Not that you should downplay or ignore in any way the creative new Church or ecclesial ministries which have been available to you in recent years. These have been vitally enriching for the whole Church and must continue to flourish and expand. However, you must give equal attention to developing your ministries to the world, in the marketplace, in the area of work, family, leisure and in all your ministries for the transformation of society.

It is especially in the family and society, in marriage and work, in human sexuality, and in economics that this transformation takes place. Consequently, it is vitally important that lay men and women appreciate the call you have in the home, on the job, in the neighborhood or community to be about the transformation of society; to make the message of the Gospel real in your family, social life, business transactions and world of politics.

Furthermore, your must strive to make the connection between faith and work, between weekend liturgy and weekday responsibilities, between seeing God's presence at the altar and at the desk, the sink, the farm, the labor union hall, the P.T.A. meeting, the political caucus and the legislative chamber.

In the past, in other words, the Church encouraged or seemed to have encouraged you to find holiness by leaving the world instead of finding holiness in the world. Now you must take the initiative to recapture and to develop practical ways to implement that sterling insight of the Council that your unique role as laity is to make Christ present in society and to transform political, economic and social institutions in light of the Gospel.

Involvement

Needed more than anything else on the part of you, the laity, I believe, are not only your participation and involvement in the life of our church and society, but a participation and involvement which flow from your keen awareness and appreciation of the dignity you have as baptized members of God's priestly people and from a firm conviction about the indispensable ministry you exercise both in Church and society.

It is only where your priestly mission and ministry are fully understood and appreciated that your life as a Christian can be transformed from a rather dull, routine and perfunctory fulfillment of specific tasks and burdensome obligations to an exciting, challenging and spirit-filled adventure which will deepen your relationship with the Lord and which will redound in loving and selfless service to God's people.

THE PARISH

The second major theme of the 1978 pastoral letter We Are His People is that the parish is the center of the Church's life, the place where Christians gather to hear the Word, to celebrate the Eucharist and other sacramental rites of the Church, to support one another in faith and in the face of personal and social challenges and to become energized for mission both to the Church community and to the wider society and world.

Furthermore, the letter stressed that the mission of the parish is the same as the mission of Jesus, namely to bring the Good News of God's unconditional love to His people and to enable the members of the parish community to witness to a common faith, love and service which they share in union with Jesus and with one another.

Finally, the letter expressed the conviction that the parish council is a vehicle which best enables the members of the parish to become a community of collaborative ministry.

Parish Councils

The parish council is that coordinating and unifying body which seeks to harmonize the efforts of the parish with those of the Church universal and the diocesan Church and which strives to empower the members of the parish to exercise their gifts and talents so that the parish itself is a truly vibrant expression of God's loving, healing, liberating and redemptive presence among us.

The parish council is a practical means of achieving the full participation of the whole parish in its mission. It does this by giving all a voice and by encouraging, guiding and enabling the various aspects of the parish's life.

The parish council, then, is both a ministry and a sign of what an authentic Christian community is all about.

The parish council, in other words, is meant to be a partnership on the part of the pastor, the parish staff and the parish representatives which gives witness not only to what the parish is, but especially to what the parish is called to be.

The parish council shares in the critical task of setting directions and of calling people to walk in the ways of the risen Lord Jesus.

That is why in 1978, when We Are His People was issued, I asked each parish to establish or to revitalize a parish council, because, I believe, an effective parish council is the best way to insure that the parish becomes a community of collaborative ministry. At that time, less then half of our parishes had functioning parish councils. Presently, however, 90% of our parishes have a parish council or some form of effective advisory group which embodies a participatory or collaborative model of parish life. This, indeed, is testimony to the leadership of our pastors and parish staff and to the enthusiastic and cooperative response of our people.

Four observations

In assessing our experience with the parish councils in the Diocese of Albany I would make four general observations.

1, The very existence of the councils is a testimony to the flexibility, determination and faith of all the people in our Diocese. Any change comes about with a certain wrenching, a certain resistance, a certain pulling away from the comfortable, the tried and the true. So it takes great risk and trust to launch forth into the unknown. Yet the people of our Diocese have done this boldly and enthusiastically.

2. The growth and development of councils have demonstrated a deep willingness to become involved by learning a seemingly "radical way of being church," a style of functioning as a parish that necessitates more self-initiative, more creativity, more independence, more discernment and greater personal investment.

3. We have had our casualties as a result of this new experience. There have been misunderstandings and hurts, frustrations and disappointments, false starts and failures. There have been evenings, I am sure, when pastors, staff and council members alike have wondered why in the world they had chosen to be a part of this so-called shared responsibility or collaborative ministry.

Obstacles to councils

Before stating my fourth general observation, I call your attention to some of the problems encountered in efforts to encourage growth in effectiveness of the parish council.

As Bishop in the Diocese, I am well aware (both from surveys and personal interaction), of the problems which have arisen in initiating or revitalizing our parish councils. From the pastor's perspective or that of the parish staff there are the problems of getting people who will be active, enthusiastic contributing members.

There are the problems of motivating council members to assume or to fulfill responsibilities without having to be present themselves at every committee meeting or every parish function. There is the ongoing problem of orientating the ever-rotating council membership to a sense of where the parish as a community has been, is, and is going to be. There is the problem of avoiding narrow parochialism and of envisioning the parish community within the context of the Diocesan, national and universal Church. And there are the frustrating problems associated with collegial decision-making when it might be easier, quicker, and perhaps more effective to do things oneself.

On the other hand, from the laity's point of view, parish councils are often perceived as an exercise in futility. Some councils are looked upon as paper tigers which meet infrequently, if at all, and then only to ratify or to confirm what the pastor and parish staff have already decided. Others are perceived as debating societies where various factions air their complaints and grievances, hoping to win a favorable hearing for their pet projects or their vision of the Church, but showing little interest in fostering an authentic Christian community.

Still other councils are viewed as dull, stodgy groups devoid of any purpose beyond insuring that the parking lot is paved, the annual fundraising events are established and staffed and the budget is balanced.

Finally, there is the problem created when a new pastor has an entirely different vision of Church or differing expectations of council members than those of his predecessor.

For pastor, staff, and council members alike, moreover, there is often the tension over power, authority and control which depletes people's energies and enthusiasm and creates only frustration, cynicism, bitterness and disillusionment.

However, all these problems and many more which are frequently associated with the establishment and development of parish councils are, I believe, part of the pain associated with any change or transition. But people can grow only if they are given the chance. I am convinced that if we strive to promote, affirm and support parish councils, then, even in our failures we will grow; and, in the final analysis, we will have stronger, healthier, more spiritually alive parishes because of the struggle and pain experienced in such growth.

4. That brings me to my fourth and final observation, namely, that we do indeed have many outstanding parish council models throughout the Church at Albany to substantiate my optimistic convictions about parish councils.

As I indicated previously, there are presently some 90% of our parishes which have some kind of active advisory body whether or not it be termed a parish council. This is not to say that every council is functioning to its full potential, but the vast majority are doing well and some are serving exceptionally well.

As our councils have matured, I have seen exciting movement and growth from a strictly business board to a community of servant leaders; from a decision-making group that happens to pray to prayerful communities that have to make decisions; from crisis management to long-range planning and stewardship of gifts and resources; from parochialism to outreach; from rule by an elite group to participation and ownership for decisions by many parishioners; from "we have always done it that way" to creative recentering; from damaging conflict situations to a recognition of the need for healing; from a dualism that assigns spiritual matters to the priests, deacons, and religious and the temporalities to the laity toward a shared responsibility for the total mission of the Church by all.

Some our councils have begun to assimilate these concepts and others, quite frankly, are backsliding; but when our councils are trying to root themselves in the message and mission of Jesus, they are devoting as much time and effort to being, as they are to doing--with the result that the doing is so much more effective and the council experience itself so much more enriched.

Vibrant parishes

In reflecting upon those parishes which are most vibrant and most successful, I believe there are certain ingredients which are common to them all be they in larger or smaller parishes, in low, moderate or high-income parishes or in urban, suburban or rural communities. They are, in fact, the very qualities or characteristics identified by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops Parish Project as contributing to healthy, mature, spiritually alive parish communities. These characteristics are four in number:

  • FIRST, parishioners enjoy good liturgy and preaching. People earnestly desire worship services which help them to pray well and preaching which gives meaning to their faith lives.
  • SECOND, they value the ability of the parish to help people deal practically with their life concerns, such as those of alcohol and drug abuse, poor schools, crime and safety issues, unemployment versus job stability, and especially their life concerns about family and children.
  • THIRD, parishioners need a feeling of ownership on their part; a feeling that they belong, that their concerns are being listened to and that they can have the opportunity to affect parish policy and practice.
  • FOURTH, the people appreciate an active quality in the parish, a sense that something is going on and that there is something happening for everyone.

I would like to propose that these four characteristics be the realistic goals for which the parish councils in our diocese strive in order to facilitate and enable further growth and vitality in their respective parishes.

Tense relations

Lastly, regarding parish councils, I would note that both in our diocese and throughout our nation and world the greatest single problem that has arisen with councils is in the realm of the tension which frequently develops in the relationship between the pastor and the council membership.

The tension arises, I believe, from two very important theological principles which coexist in our Vatican II Church. On the one hand, the Second Vatican Council emphasizes the common dignity and the equality that exists among all of God's priestly people. All, therefore, are called to the same holiness of life and all are entitled to become actively engaged in exercising the Church's mission in the world.

On the other hand, the council also highlights the hierarchical nature of the Church. We live as believers within a Church that has an appointed structure with predetermined ranks of authority.

These two notions so evident in the documents of the Council and of the revised Code of Canon Law are not contradictory, but they do create a tension when it comes to such practical things as how decisions get made in the Church. This tension is real at the level of the universal Church and it also affects our local Church or Diocese and our parish communities.

We are faced, therefore, with the challenge of living with this tension, with these two differing principles. One stresses our unity with Christ Jesus and with one another. The other stresses the need for organization, structure and authority. One acknowledges the gifts of God which exist within individual believers; the other stresses the diversity of functions and roles which must be lived out within the Christian community. Somewhere between them we are expected to govern and to be governed; to minister and to be ministered to.

The challenge, then, is to recognize the authority of those who hold pastoral office within the Church without diminishing the value of those who recognize their call to shared leadership responsibility arising from baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist.

Pastor's role

More specifically, the pastor, by Church law, has ultimate responsibility for the spiritual care of the parish. He is directly accountable to the Diocesan Bishop for all parish matters. However, it is neither wise nor based upon sound Church teaching if the pastor operates without consultation from others.

That is why, in accord with Canon 536 of the revised Code of Canon Law, I have asked that each parish have a parish council. It is interesting to note that the Code calls this body a Pastoral Council. The idea behind the term employed contains a subtle hint: pastoral parish councils should be dealing with comprehensive pastoral ministry in the parish and not just the finances or temporalities.

The pastoral or parish council, however, according to the code, is of a consultative or advisory nature. But do not let these terms diminish or dilute the important, and indeed indispensable, role of the council. The real purpose of any consultative or advisory body is the pooling of the gifts of the group so as to influence the decisions to be made. The decision itself may lie ultimately with another (e.g. the pastor), but the really controlling element of the decision is the group's influencing the decision by having done their homework and by having shared their combined wisdom. In this way the persons consulted in many respects determine what the decision will be.

In very pragmatic terms, then, the pastor continues to bear the final responsibility for the total parish ministry. For sake of accountability to the Diocesan Bishop whom he represents and to the people of God whom he serves, the pastor must ratify the recommendations of the parish council before they can be implemented.

Likewise the pastor must guard against the parish council's endorsing proposals which would be contrary to universal church law, diocesan policy or civil law.

On the other hand, the pastor is expected to exercise his pastoral responsibility not as the only minister of the parish, but as the presider over the variety of ministries that the people have, and as a sharer with the people in those ministries. Rarely, therefore, would it be envisioned that the pastor override or veto the advice of the parish council; or if such be the case, then normally an explanation of his decision would be in order. Hopefully, too, the advice given the pastor from the council would not be by majority rule but by consensus among the group.

In the final analysis, councils will work better once pastor, staff and council members realize that there will probably always be some creative tension between the executive function and the wisdom or advisory function. Each has its own vantage point and needs to be understood in that light. The more, however, pastor and council members clarify their mutual expectations of each other and of how decision-making is formulated, the better off we will be.

It should never be forgotten, however, that the parish council is not an end in itself but a means to facilitate an end, namely the mission and priestly ministry of Jesus in the parish and to the wider Church and world.

THE MISSION AND MINISTRY OF THE PARISH

Reflecting upon the life and ministry of Jesus, I perceive four aspects of his work and mission.

First, Jesus was a herald. In His person and in His teaching, He revealed to us, in profound yet understandable ways, God's love for each of us and the nature of God's Kingdom now among us.

Second, Jesus was a servant. He was a person who came to give sight to the blind, speech to the mute, hearing to the deaf, health and wholeness to the sick and the Gospel to the poor.

Third, Christ was a sanctifier. He created and left with us sacred signs which enable people of every generation to encounter the living God. These, of course, are the sacraments, which help us become what Jesus called us to be - a loved and loving people.

Finally, Jesus was a community builder. He formed a group of people who were to live together in love and peace, to insure that the Eucharist was celebrated, and to see that the needs of the brothers and sisters were met. To achieve this, leaders were chosen, roles and responsibilities were delegated. Hence the social and institutional characteristics of the parish community as we know it today gradually took shape.

Parish mission

Local parishes can focus their own activities around the same four-fold priestly mission of Jesus through specific actions:

  • 1. Prayer and Worship - Through these we fulfill the sanctifying mission of Christ.
  • 2. Christian Education - Here we fulfill the mission of Christ the herald.
  • 3. Christian Service - In this way we fulfill the mission of Christ the servant.
  • 4. Church Administration - In this way we fulfill the role of community builder. We attend to all the material, financial and organizational concerns that enable parishes to maintain their community of faith, love and service.

These four areas represent a simple, yet comprehensive means that allows each of us to be part of Christ's mission, to extend His priestly ministry into the world and to be a part of Him today. Carrying out these areas of mission in our parish requires participation and cooperation among everyone.

Let me then offer some challenges which I would suggest parishes must address in each of these areas of mission and ministry.

1. Prayer and Worship

The whole Church, baptized in Jesus, shares His priesthood and therefore has the privileged responsibility of worshiping God by joining in the celebration of the Eucharist and other sacraments and by personal prayer.

As has already been indicated, increasingly our Catholic people have been assuming liturgical roles in the Church. Many priests, parish staff and parishioners have responded positively and creatively to my request that each parish have a liturgy committee or team which seeks to plan meaningful liturgy in which each person is well prepared for the role he or she is called to exercise.

In my 11 years as Bishop I have witnessed significant improvement in the quality of liturgical celebrations throughout our diocese. I would, however, make certain recommendations for improvement.

Recommendations

I encourage our priests and deacons to make the Sunday homily the focal point of the week and the priority in their ministry. People earnestly desire well-prepared preaching which is both scripturally based and applicable to contemporary realities. It is important, then, to read the Sunday scriptures early in the week and to pray and meditate over the readings.

As part of their preparation, some homilists have found it beneficial to meet with a group of parishioners during the week to discuss the readings from their perspective, as well as to receive constructive feedback as to how well the content and the delivery of the homily are accepted by the congregation.

Whatever method the homilist employs, my point is that there is no more important responsibility that the ordained minister has than to break open God's word in meaningful and relevant ways to the weekend worshiping community.

I also underscore the importance of the fundamentals in liturgy, of those essential ingredients whose absence will vitiate the most creative liturgical planning. For example, there should be greeters or ushers at each weekend liturgy who truly communicate a sense of welcoming and a spirit of hospitality. This quality of welcome and hospitality should also be reflected in the attitudes and the demeanor of all the other liturgical ministers.

The liturgy itself should be well choreographed with each person knowing the role he or she has, the time to exercise that role and the way in which his or her role is coordinated with that of others. It is imperative that ordained ministers not assume or usurp liturgical roles and responsibilities which properly belong to the laity.

Good music is critically important for a meaningful participatory liturgy. This requires musicians who are well rehearsed and cantors who are well trained in leading the congregation in song. Lack of congregational participation in song remains the most glaring deficiency in the liturgies throughout our Diocese.

While this is due in some degree to people's lack of appreciation of the communal nature of our worship and of the value of song as prayer, it is more attributable, I believe, to the failure to facilitate congregational singing by choosing quality music appropriate to the congregation; to inadequate music rehearsal with the congregation before the celebration; to the lack of trained cantors to lead the congregation; and to the tendency the choir has at times to dominate, and thus discourage, congregational singing.

I believe, too, that the quality of music in parish liturgies could be improved if professional musicians were adequately compensated for their services. Just renumeration would do much to attract and retain trained musicians.

I would note further that many of our parishes have too many weekend liturgies. This unnecessary multiplication of masses often contributes to a rushed celebration and to a diminished sense of community. It is frequently the reason why there cannot be musicians and a sufficient number of trained liturgical ministers at each Eucharist. I would urge every parish, therefore, to review carefully the need for each weekend liturgy and to schedule Eucharistic celebrations in a way that will insure fuller congregations and a less hurried and more participatory observance or worship.

I am also afraid that at times we rely too much on the Eucharist as the only form of prayer in our Church, When we Catholics plan any type of communal celebration, invariably the Eucharist is the first and often the only option suggested.

Certainly, the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Christian life and always will be such. There are, however, the other rich forms of liturgical prayer and devotions which are appropriate for gatherings of the faithful. In particular, I commend the Prayer of the Hours as a magnificent treasury of prayer for the entire parish community.

Finally, I stress that our parish liturgical celebrations can be meaningful prayer only to the extent that they are nurtured and fueled by the personal prayer of each parishioner. Liturgical celebrations, in other words, are not and cannot be a substitute for the responsibility each Christian has to develop a deep, intimate personal relationship with the Lord through regular and frequent personal prayer.

The nature and style of that prayer, I believe, are relatively unimportant -- be it meditative or charismatic, be it reflecting on the sacred scripture or communing with nature, be it reciting the rosary or making a novena. What is absolutely essential, however, is that we pray frequently; otherwise our lives will be empty and our action futile.

2. Christian Education

Christians are unable to be heralds of the Good News they have received unless they reflect on that faith which is theirs and explore how that faith can be lived appropriately in their own lives as well as communicated effectively to others. This reflection and search to live out faith is an ongoing process and it requires education and formation throughout the entire life-cycle.

On the day I was appointed Bishop of Albany, in response to a reporter's inquiry, I stated that "religious education, at all levels, particularly among adults, is the greatest need we have in our Diocese."

Eleven years later, I reaffirm my assessment that there is no task which is more vital, critical, or urgent today than that of imparting religious truths and transmitting religious values not only to our children but to all. In this secularistic age where fundamental beliefs, values, and traditions are being questioned, ridiculed or rejected outright, all within the Church need updated teaching or instruction and ongoing formation which make God's living word relevant and meaningful for our everyday lives.

Unfortunately, for too long our Church religious education programs have been perceived as an activity or thrust designed primarily, if not exclusively, for the young. Yet, just as our relationship with the Lord must be an ever growing, ever evolving, ever maturing one, so too our interaction with the religious education and faith formation which nurture this relationship also must be a dynamic one, open to new information, to creative approaches and fresh insights.

Always learning

Consequently, each member of the Church has the responsibility to seize opportunities to learn and understand more about the teaching of Christ and His Church and its implications for the life situations in which we find ourselves. Otherwise our faith understanding will remain fixed largely at the catechism level of our childhood. Such a level, while sufficient for a younger age or a different time, is hardly adequate to cope maturely with the complex faith and moral problems of the present.

As a matter of fact, it may be precisely because so many adults have not kept pace with the changing ways, forms and symbols for expressing our faith in the light of contemporary realities or because we have not developed a comfortability in discussing or sharing our faith experiences with others that so many of our young today have not found in the Church meaningful answers to their probing questions or have not observed in its members spirit-filled role models who speak and witness in ways which challenge, inspire and invite emulation.

Parent's role

Parents, in particular, have a special responsibility for continued faith formation and education because children learn their fundamental faith insights and religious values in the family. That is why our religious education programs today strive to be parent-centered. The classroom instruction or the formational experiences offered by the school or parish can at best complement or supplement that which is learned from the parents.

A recent study of 200,000 religiously educated children, for example, concluded that the most significant factor in determining religious and social behavior is not that of their formal religious instructions as such, but that of parents' discussing religious and moral matters with their children in the home.

This primary role which parents have in faith formation is also the reason we place such great emphasis upon parental involvement in baptism, Eucharist, penance and confirmation programs. Without parental understanding, cooperation and reinforcement the good seed sown in the classroom will not receive the nurture it needs to grow and flourish into mature faith.

Religious education

If the parish is to address adequately the faith-formation needs of all its members, then it must have a comprehensive approach to religious education - directed to the person in his or her concrete life circumstances and to the total parish community.

The Catholic school and religious education program are vital means of educating and forming our young in faith but they cannot be the sole religious education and faith-formation opportunities which the parish offers.

Rather other formal programs like adult religious education and scripture study courses at the parish or regional level, or extra-parochial programs like Marriage Encounter, Pre-Cana, Cursillo, as well as opportunities to build religious education and faith-formation programs into parish organizations like the parish council, the home-school organization, the Rosary society, the Legion of Mary, the St. Vincent de Paul Society or various youth and senior citizen groups, must be utilized to impart to parishioners the ever-relevant teaching of Christ and His Church and its applicability to their daily lives.

Critical areas

As we look at the specific challenges in religious education which confront our Diocese, I would cite five critical areas which must be addressed aggressively.

1. Our own experience in the Diocese with Renew and the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults as well as the experience of other Dioceses and parishes throughout the country reveal that small faith communities within the larger parish community can be an excellent means for fostering adult religious education and faith formation.

These smaller communities break down the depersonalization which is so prevalent in our society at large. They create a sense of belonging or esprit de corps and provide the opportunity for people to explore their faith in a warm, caring and supportive environment.

I am convinced that such small faith communities are the wave of the future. Whether organized in neighborhoods, or around people having particular interests like those of the elderly, young adults, professionals, business persons, housewives, single parents, the separated and divorced, families with special children etc., these small communities become a powerful vehicle for stimulating faith, for fostering spiritual growth, for providing support and affirmation, for developing leaders, for promoting evangelization and for outreach to serve the needs of the wider parish and community.

I encourage parishes and parish councils, therefore, to view the formation and support of small faith communities, as a basic style of parish life. I ask our Diocesan Office of Religious Education to continue its efforts to provide training and resources for parish staffs, council members and parishioners in their efforts to develop and sustain small faith communities.

2. Our consultation leading to this updated pastoral letter revealed that parents, pastors and concerned Catholics throughout our Diocese are deeply troubled about the failure to transmit our faith heritage to the younger generation. Many expressed the fear that today's youth seem to lack an understanding of the foundations of our faith and in particular that many youth drift away from the Church after confirmation or grammar or high school graduation.

Others expressed the concern that the faith formation offered in our Catholic schools and parish religious education programs is not sufficient to combat the messages about human dignity, self-worth, sex, alcohol and drug usage, the value of possessions, the purpose of life, the foundation for morality and the very existence of God which our youth receive constantly from peers, the media and society at large, messages which frequently are contrary to our Catholic Christian values.

What is needed, it seems, is greater outreach to youth beyond our formal programs of faith formation in Catholic schools and parish schools of religion. The problem, however, is that most do not know how to approach the issue. Some people say we need a youth minister or a parish youth committee to address the pressing needs of teen and young adults in a way that will help them better understand and interpret Christian values. But what the committee will do and who is equipped to undertake the task remain a puzzle.

Also, with bare-bone budgets and other liturgical and educational priorities, many parishes are unable to meet the need to hire staff for the task. Furthermore, there is a dearth of trained youth ministers even if the finances were available. There exists, too the very real problem of finding the time to hold parish or regional programs for youth, given the competing demand of after-school activities, athletic events and job responsibilities.

These problems, both real and perceived, deserve our immediate attention. I ask our Diocesan Office of Religious Education to help parishes in their efforts to develop feasible programs for youth which can be conducted by the parish itself or in the region. I also charge this Office with the task of continuing and further developing its programs of training adult and peer leaders for this important ministry.

Peer youth ministry, in particular, has been too long neglected; yet it holds great promise for the future. Young people need to know that they are the Church, not the Church in training but the Church here and now with great gifts to offer. Youth too are part of God's priestly people and should be invited and challenged to share in the collaborative ministry to the Church.

Consequently, I encourage administrators of our Catholic high school and parish high school programs to take advantage of the training process and programs offered through our Diocesan Office of Religious Education and through other groups which facilitate and support peer youth ministry.

3. If our parishes are to meet the faith-formation needs of their people, especially adults, we must utilize modern communications more fully. Our Diocesan Office of Catholic Communications now has the capacity for developing local video tape recordings which can be used in schools, religious education programs, adult education sessions and ministry-formation programs.

I ask the Communication Office to prioritize their efforts in video tape production with a particular view to serving the adult education needs of our parishes. This should be done in close coordination with our Diocesan Resource Library and other diocesan departments which serve the formational needs of parishes.

"The Evangelist" remains a prime source of up-to-date news, information and commentary about events, trends, developments and movements affecting the life of the Church. It is a major tool I have as Bishop to communicate with the entire Diocese and to present a unified vision to our local Church.

Presently, "The Evangelist" is the best bargain of any Catholic newspaper in the State, with an annual subscription rate of $10.00. For 50 weeks a year, "The Evangelist" is available to every Catholic home providing 10 to 12 pages of Catholic news, all for less then the price of a postage stamp.

Some, however, cannot or, in most cases, choose not to pay the annual subscription fee. Since I consider the newspaper a prime means of faith formation, especially for adults, I have continued the practice of my predecessors which requests that each Catholic home receive "The Evangelist." Where the subscription is not cared for by the parishioner, it becomes the responsibility of the parish community to subsidize this expenditure. I envision this subsidy as part of the parish responsibility of adult faith formation and in many cases of evangelization. Often "The Evangelist" is the only link between the recipient and his or her faith community.

I make three requests regarding "The Evangelist":

  • I ask each recipient to pay the annual subscription fee.
  • I ask pastor and parish council members, especially members of the finance committee, to look upon the parish subsidy to "The Evangelist" not as a burden to be endured and perhaps abandoned or deferred in light of other parish fiscal restraints, but as an opportunity for proclaiming the Good News. I ask people to write to the editor or to me to share constructive criticism as to how "The Evangelist" may better serve its readers. I want our Diocesan newspaper to continue to be an effective vehicle of communication and adult education. This goal will be assisted greatly by grass-roots input.

4. Our Catholic schools are in great difficulty as a result of spiraling education costs, declining enrollments and fewer religious personnel to staff the schools. Many schools have been closed or consolidated. Many of our remaining schools are in dire need of repairs, maintenance projects or renovation. Our school buildings, along with all school buildings throughout the country, are subject to new and very costly and stringent asbestos regulations. Fewer of our grade schools are any longer parish schools but are schools serving students in a given region of a city or county. Many parents find that the Catholic school tuition is beyond the means of their pocketbook.

These harsh realities have created a crisis of confidence about our Catholic schools and have left many wondering if, indeed, there is a future for our Catholic schools. Despite all these problems besetting our Catholic schools, I believe that Catholic school education remains a unique way of forming Christian community, of preaching the Gospel, of nurturing faith, of transmitting Christian values and of enabling our young and their parents to appreciate their baptismal call to be a priestly people.

Indeed, I contend that there is no other current institution within the Church that can do more than can the Catholic school toward accomplishing the priestly mission of Christ and more toward establishing a Catholic identity and shared values system in a secular society which so often rejects the influence of God and religious values.

Furthermore, as our Pastoral Letter, Economic Justice for All, points out so well, Catholic schools have and must continue to have a special role to play in educating the poor and disadvantaged. Our schools also offer built-in opportunities to accomplish the work of evangelization. They enable us to reach persons who might not otherwise have contact with the Church or who have strayed away from the practice of their faith.

That is why I indicated in the pulpit letter read in each parish last Spring that I have a firm commitment to the Catholic schools in our Diocese. At the same time, I cannot ignore the fact that a major influx of new money will be required to provide competitive salaries for our teachers, to offer tuition assistance for elementary and high school students so that more families can send their children to our Catholic schools and to offset capital expenses for repairs, maintenance, and renovation of our school facilities.

I charge our Diocesan School Board and Office, therefore, with the urgent task of implementing both the strategic action plan and the regional plan which were developed recently after broad-based consultation throughout the various regions of our Diocese. In particular, I ask our School Board and Office to formulate tuition, parish subsidy and budgetary policies which reflect the growing regional nature of our schools and to develop, in conjunction with local school boards, a comprehensive public relations and recruitment program which will enable us to present the Catholic school story in the best fashion possible.

I ask our pastors and parish staffs to be supportive of Catholic school education and to encourage parents and students to avail themselves of the incomparable benefit of a quality Catholic school education.

In a special way I ask our parents to remain committed to Catholic school education. Your belief and confidence in our Catholic schools remain the key to their continued existence. If you do not appreciate their value or if in your fear for their future, you fail to enroll your children, then whatever efforts we make at the parish or diocesan level will be in vain. I cannot guarantee that every school which presently exists will remain intact, but I am convinced that with parental commitment and involvement we can maintain a system which will insure that the precious heritage of a Catholic school education remains a possibility for a large number of our young people in the days ahead.

5. Our parish religious education programs are a vital vehicle for faith formation in those areas where there are no Catholic schools and for those students enrolled in public or private schools. Our religious education directors, coordinators and catechists, as well as the teachers in our Catholic schools, are doing an outstanding job of imparting the core teaching and values of our Catholic faith, of preparing young people for the sacraments of Eucharist, reconciliation and confirmation and of forming young people and adults in an understanding of faith which can enable them to live their faith in our modern world.

We are faced, however, with a critical shortage of professional religious education personnel. Some parishes, moreover, especially in the rural areas of our Diocese, do not have the fiscal resources to hire professional personnel, to train volunteers or to provide adequate facilities and teaching materials.

Thus, I ask our Diocesan Office of Religious Education to continue developing and implementing their comprehensive plan for catechist formation and for the establishment of regional catechetical centers which can assist our smaller parishes with their training and resource needs. I also ask this Office to develop an evaluation tool or instrument which will enable parishes to assess the quality and effectiveness of their religious education programs and to make necessary improvements. Conversely, I ask our parishes to take advantage of the many fine training programs offered through our various diocesan offices.

To address the challenges facing our Catholic school and parish religious education programs as well as the pressing need for ongoing adult education and formation in our Diocese, I have commissioned a study of possible funding options which will assist in determining how we can best meet the extraordinary funding requirements which are necessary if the Church is to provide quality faith formation and Catholic school programs for the 1990's and beyond. I ask your prayers for a beneficial outcome of this study process.

3. Christian Service

Like Christ himself the Church's approach to the human family must be holistic, that is, concerned not only about people's faith or spiritual needs but also about their social needs and the conditions and social environment which affect their human development or lack thereof. As Pope John Paul II points out in his magnificent encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, through its social mission and ministry the Church needs to promote the cause of human dignity, to ease suffering and pain, to advocate for a more just, loving and peaceful society and to help people to experience God's presence in their powerlessness and suffering.

The Catholic Church in the United States and in our Diocese through our hospitals, social service agencies, parish-based programs and fraternal or social organizations has had a marvelous track record of bringing the healing ministry of Jesus to the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the sick, the elderly, the unwed parent, the addicted, the imprisoned, the widow or widower, the separated or divorced, the unemployed, the immigrant, the mentally ill, the developmentally disabled, and to those at the margins of society. It is an achievement of compassion and caring concern for human dignity of which we can be justifiably proud.

In 1978, I asked each parish to form a service committee to address the growing social needs which can be found in our urban, rural and suburban communities alike. I am pleased that many such committees were formed either to initiate or to coordinate or expand the existing parish services to those in need. Furthermore, many parishes have been cooperating with the leadership of our Diocesan Office of Health and Social Services, our Commission for Peace and Justice and our Office for Human Development Organizing by becoming local sites for their programs or by promoting and coordinating at the local level advocacy on behalf of state, national and global issues of social justice.

Everyone's duty

Most Catholics, I believe, realize that service to people in need is an integral part of the Christian life which must be reflected in the activities of one's parish as well as in one's own personal actions. Christian service, in other words, cannot be delegated for the most part to professional social workers and health care providers, but is the responsibility of each member of God's priestly people. Daily I see dramatic evidence of that recognition in our parishes and in the activities of our people.

We must appreciate, however, that our direct service on behalf of people in need, beneficial and indispensable as it may be, is not enough in the complex world and society in which we live today. Rather these services must be complemented by a social development thrust such as that offered by the Campaign for Human Development and Catholic Relief Services, wherein people are encouraged and enabled to organize for self-help and by a social-justice thrust which seeks to address the root causes of poverty and powerlessness in our world and society.

As Christians, in other words, we must not merely be content with helping people in their hour of need by applying band-aids to deep wounds or with helping people better adjust to their suffering; but equally, if not more importantly, we must be willing to confront those persons and those institutions which oppress, manipulate and destroy others - be it the Church, the government or the business community. This is precisely what our Holy Father Pope Paul VI meant when he stated: "We in the Church must shift from a policy which seeks to alleviate the results of oppression, to one that seeks to eliminate the causes of oppression."

Many, I realize, are frightened by this challenge because they believe it may entail becoming involved with politics or because it may thrust them into the risky area of controversy where they and their ideas may be challenged, ridiculed or rejected. The fact that this type of Christian action is threatening for many Catholics is underscored by the Notre Dame Study of Catholic Parish Life which indicates that only four percent of Catholic parishioners are engaged in issues of social justice.

Agenda items

More and more, then, I encourage our parishes and individual Catholics to put the world on their agenda. Issues such as abortion, the death penalty, war and peace, racism, sexism, consumerism and the quality of national and international life are not purely mundane or secular matters to be left to the politicians or theoreticians; rather they are issues laden with moral values and ethical dimensions which Christians individually and collectively have a serious moral obligation to address.

The key, I believe, to people being motivated to accept this challenge is the linkage which exists, and which must be made, between the liturgy and social justice. Our union at liturgy with the members of Christ's body the world over demands that we give expression to that unity by helping the suffering members of that Body who are overcome by the oppressive conditions and unjust structures which bind them.

In a similar vein, when I sent the 1978 pastoral letter to Archbishop Jadot, the Papal Representative to the United States, for his information and comment, he responded with a very complimentary letter and a constructive criticism. The Archbishop observed that We Are His People paid little, if any, attention to the needs and concerns of the Church beyond our Diocesan borders. He urged me in the future to have a greater sensitivity globally to the needs of the Church and suffering humanity.

Sister diocese

Archbishop Jadot's fraternal reminder was right on target. Consequently, I have been searching for some tangible way to create a greater awareness of the fact that we are members of a global family and to give concrete expression to that awareness. An excellent way to do this, I think, is to follow the example of other dioceses in our country which have entered into a "sister relationship" with a diocese from the third world. While such relationships vary from diocese to diocese, generally they include

the sharing of Church personnel, ordained, religious and lay, visits and exchange programs and support of particular projects or ministries within the "sister diocese."

Given the growing presence of the Hispanic community in our country and the fact that our future as a Church and nation is vitally intertwined with that of our brothers and sisters in the Southern half of our Hemisphere, I am suggesting that we pursue a relationship with a diocese in that part of our globe.

I am asking our Diocesan Office for the Propagation of the Faith, our Spanish Apostolate and our Commission for Peace and Justice to explore further this possibility, with a view to the selection of a "sister diocese" and with specific recommendations concerning the nature of the relationship that would exist.

I believe that such a venture would benefit our own Diocese immensely and would create among our people a greater sense of mission-mindedness and a better understanding of the pressing social issues of poverty and injustice which afflict millions of our neighbors in the Southern half of our continent. I ask the prayers of the entire Diocese for the development and success in implementation of this important undertaking.

Looking beyond

I would also expand this theme of "looking beyond our own borders" by encouraging our parish communities to develop greater linkages with our Catholic hospitals, nursing homes, child care facilities and other social service agencies and organizations such as our Diocesan Commission on Aging or our Diocesan Commission on Criminal Justice. Too often there is not the networking which should exist between these various components of our Diocesan family.

Closer relationships could be mutually beneficial, providing more volunteers and community outreach for our institutions, as well as more concerned parishioners, knowledgeable about the root causes of the social issues these institutions seek to address, and, therefore, more likely to become advocates for social change.

Similarly, wherever possible, I would encourage our parishes to work ecumenically and on an interfaith basis in providing services or promoting social justice issues. There is no specific Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Orthodox or Muslim way to combat drug abuse, to alleviate unemployment, to care for the hungry and the homeless or to reverse the arms race etc. Hence, for the clarity of their witness and the effectiveness of their service, in the area of social ministry, parishes should collaborate on an ecumenical or interfaith basis.

Recognize all

I offer one concluding suggestion regarding this theme of "looking beyond our borders." I would encourage parishes which have volunteer appreciation events for parishioners who render service to the parish, to include among those recognized not only parishioners who give direct service to the parish as such (e.g., teachers in the school, catechists, lectors, musicians and eucharistic ministers etc.) but also parishioners who render acts of charity, service and justice through their involvement with community endeavors not under parish auspices (e.g., activists for issues of peace, anti-abortion, human rights, scout leaders, little league volunteers, or fund raisers for community service projects, etc.).

Such recognition, I think, would reaffirm the point I made earlier in this pastoral letter that the primary role of the laity is in exercising ministry for the transformation of society. Together with ecclesial ministries, then, the parish, should be acknowledging and celebrating these ministries of service to the world and society.

I realize that to respond to all the social service and social justice needs which exist today can seem at times to be an overwhelming task for the parish community. I ask our Office for Human Development Organizing, then, to be the lead agent in working with our parishes, diocesan departments, offices and various commissions, our Catholic Charities agencies, the wider religious community and the broader community at large in order to develop, over time, more systematic and coordinated means of identifying critical issues for action, of promoting timely and effective responses and of providing the materials, information and training necessary to sustain and strengthen grassroots service and advocacy.

4. Church Administration

It is said that philosophy is the "queen of the sciences" because it is the handmaid to all the others. Similarly, I would suggest that Church administration is the "queen of the ministries" because it is ordained to provide the ingredients, the personnel, fiscal and material means, which enable the other ministries to function.

Church administration is a genuine ministry, one of the few specifically mentioned in the Scripture (1 Cor. 12:18). It serves to build up the Christian community and to provide the wherewithal for God's people to exercise their priestly ministry.

As our society becomes more complex, the importance of Church administration looms larger. Computerization, comprehensive personnel policies and benefits, professional budgetary and accounting procedures, planning and prudent management of records, investments and properties are all an integral part of church life today at all levels. Without these skills and resources the mission of the Church is severely impaired.

For the past several decades, our Diocese and its parishes have moved from a "mom-and-pop-store" operation, if you will, to an up-to-date system of management based upon sound business principles and practices. Lay persons, successful in the world of business and finance, have been extremely helpful and generous in assisting the Church to modernize. Often times it has been in the area of Church administration that bishops, pastors and school principals have at first come to recognize, to appreciate and to become comfortable with the value and necessity of collaborative ministry.

Observations

As I assess the status of Church administration in our Diocese and its parishes I would make the following observations"

  • FIRST, there is the tendency, at times, to allow financial considerations to become the determining factor in defining the mission or to become the sole, or at least dominating, criterion in setting Diocesan or parish goals and priorities. Certainly, finances are an undeniable reality which must be weighed carefully in developing programs and services; but the vision and the plans of those responsible for financial management and administration must be harmonized with those of the entire faith community and must always be in accord with gospel values.
  • SECOND, many of our pastors and parish staff devote a disproportionate amount of time to administrative tasks, tasks for which they are not always well suited or trained, and tasks that detract from other roles and responsibilities which by virtue of ordination or ministerial formation are more properly theirs. I encourage our pastors and other staff persons to relinquish those administrative duties which can be better and more appropriately performed by others.

    In some instances, parishes should consider hiring a full-time business manager. Where this is fiscally impossible, consideration should be given to a business manager serving a cluster of parishes. More thoughtful and creative discernment of how church administration is exercised in our Diocese and its parishes, I believe, will improve both the quality of administration and of ministry.
  • THIRD, I would encourage those parishes which have not done so to move towards computerization of finances, record keeping and census data. Any administrative unit in our society today which is not computerized is rapidly in danger of becoming obsolete. For some parishes this may create some short-term hardships, but the long-range gain is incalculable.
  • FOURTH, as our Diocese approaches its Sesquicentennial Anniversary, I believe we need a Diocesan-wide census. Quite frankly, the data concerning the number of Catholics in our Diocese and other vital information about their socioeconomic background and specific needs are at best an off-the-cuff "guesstimate." A more accurate, in-depth Diocesan census would better enable us to do planning for our parishes and to develop programs and services which are better targeted for the population being served.

    I ask our Diocesan Planning Office, our Vicar for Religious and the Director of our Stewardship Office to work with our Diocesan Pastoral Council and Presbyteral Council to assess this issue and to recommend what method or approach would best serve the needs both of our Diocese and its parishes.
  • FIFTH, historically, our Diocese and its parishes have survived on the weekly offertory collections and donation or pledges made to special projects like the building or renovation of a church, school, convent, rectory, hospital or nursing home. Little thought and effort have been given to promoting planned church-giving wherein people are provided with opportunities to benefit their parish or diocese through wills, trusts, insurance, securities and property gifts, to name just a few. Consequently, unlike the institutions of many other faith communities, neither our Diocese nor its parishes and institutions have significant endowment which can benefit the overall mission of the Diocese, the parishes or specific aspects of that mission.

Several years ago we initiated such a planned giving program entitled Planning For His People. It is designed to encourage people to think about ways in which they can assist the Diocese, their parish or some church-related program through a remembrance in a will, or as the beneficiary of an insurance policy or through some other vehicle which can be mutually beneficial to the individual, one's family, and the church. To date, we have had some very generous benefactors who have responded to this program. I do not believe, however, that this program and its great potential have been explained and promoted sufficiently.

I ask our Diocesan Stewardship Office to revitalize this effort by developing strategies and materials which will provide our people with the opportunity to benefit the mission of the church through the vehicle of planned giving.

TWO STRATEGIC PRIORITIES

The foundational themes of this pastoral proclaim that the life of the Church is most vividly experienced in the parish and that the way to the development of the parish is commitment to collaborative ministry. If, however, this vision of our parishes as communities of collaborative ministers is to become a vibrant reality, then I would suggest that at the Diocesan level we must have two strategic priorities which facilitate the vision.

Collaborative Ministry

The first of these priorities is rooted in the recognition that collaborative ministry is not something that just happens. It must be articulated clearly, so that everyone understands the vision; it must be prepared for carefully, so that people, especially in leadership, have the skills to function in such a model; and, therefore, it must be nurtured and implemented patiently and sensitively.

Our ordained ministers and other parish staff, lay and religious, are the key for promoting this vision and its implementation at the local level. If they are to do this well, however, they not only must understand the theology of collaborative ministry but also must learn the skills of ministering themselves in a collaborative fashion and of enabling others to do so. If the parish leadership does not function in a collaborative fashion, in other words, it is most unlikely that the wider parish community will gain this facility.

Therefore, I propose the following four steps to lead us toward collaborative ministry:

1. I ask our Consultation Services Center, in conjunction with our Diocesan Department of Pastoral Formation and Services and in consultation with our pastoral departments, to offer workshops and other programs which will help our parish staffs to gain the skills they need to minister collaboratively and to empower others to do the same.

2. For the vision of collaborative ministry to be realized, we need to provide those desiring to minister with the education and formation resources they will require to serve well. This will necessitate the development of a broad continuum of educational and formational opportunities for our people.

To minister effectively, some, for example, will need to earn a professional degree at the undergraduate or graduate level in theology, sacred scripture, religious education, pastoral counseling or other related disciplines. Some, to exercise their desired ministry, will need to take required courses which will enable them to be licensed or credentialed by some appropriate diocesan body. Some will need to take workshops or mini-courses to acquire the appropriate theological knowledge and pastoral skill for fulfilling their ministry.

All will need access to ongoing theological and pastoral education appropriate to their background, experience and ministerial responsibilities. All will need retreat and other formational opportunities which enable them to grow spiritually.

Some of these opportunities, for example, in basic adult religious education or in training for lectors, eucharistic ministers, ministers of hospitality, or ministers for marriage preparation can be offered by the parish or at the deanery or region level. Other opportunities, like formation to be a lay minister in the parish or certification as a catechist, youth minister, or pastoral care worker or preparation for the diaconate, can be offered by the diocese. Still other opportunities, for example, preparation to become professional teacher, religious education director or pastoral counselor, can be acquired at the college or university level. There is also a wide variety of combinations of the above which may accomplish the goal. Furthermore, many of these programs, can offer joint formation for priests, deacons, religious and laity, which in itself prepares for and models collaborative ministry.

My point is that to achieve the vision of collaborative ministry will require the availability of a number of formal and informal educational and formational programs. Presently some of these opportunities are available in a piecemeal fashion; others are simply non-existent.

To develop, to coordinate and to secure adequate funding for a comprehensive continuum of education and formation opportunities for priests, deacons, religious and laity offer a monumental challenge but one which must be met quickly. I am asking our Diocesan Offices of Pastoral Planning, Pastoral Formation and Services, and Religious Education to work energetically to develop a unified plan which both provides for and models or reflects collaborative ministry.

3. Although it is implicit in the previous point, we need some overall diocesan policy or guidelines which will specify who or which church entity finances these educational and formational opportunities. Historically, a substantial, if not the entire, portion of funding the education and formation of our priests, deacons and religious has come from the Diocese or religious communities. Frequently, lay people have had to fund their own education or have received some modest subsidy or assistance from the parish or other church entity where they serve.

If we are serious about collaborative ministry, therefore, we must be equally serious about assisting the laity to meet the expenses associated with their education and formation. We must also look at patterns and policies for funding the ongoing education and formation of those already serving in ministry. This is a complex task which will require a new way of thinking and the development of new fiscal resources.

I ask our Diocesan Comptroller, our Directors of the Offices of Vocation, Clergy Education, Priests' Personnel, the Diaconate and Religious Education as well as for our Vicar for Religious and Director of the Consultation Services Center to serve on a task force to research this vital issue and to recommend a long range plan and policy guidelines designed to meet this critical need.

4. Collaborative ministry will flourish best when our parish and diocesan staff also operate in a collaborative fashion both among themselves and in their interaction with collegial bodies (for example, the parish council at the parochial level, the Presbyteral Council and the Diocesan Pastoral Council, and the boards of our various diocesan offices and departments at the diocesan level).

Since leadership in modeling collaborative ministry is so important, I am committing myself to undertake an evaluation of my own collaborative style in working with staff, boards and collegial bodies; and I invite the directors of our various diocesan offices, departments and commissions to undertake a similar evaluation of their collaborative relationship with staff, boards and other diocesan departments. I am asking our Director of Human Resources to be of assistance to me and to those diocesan directors who undertake this evaluation.

I hope that these recommendations will help to advance the cherished goal of a universally ministering church in our Diocese of Albany .

Greater Linkage

The second strategic priority which must be met if the vision of collaborative ministry is to become a reality is that of greater linkage between the programs and services offered by our Diocesan offices and departments and the felt needs of our parish communities. The Diocese is the sum of its parishes and our Diocesan offices and departments exist to serve our parishes, not vice versa. It is in the parish that the Eucharist is celebrated, that people are prepared for the Sacraments, that faith formation is offered, that human needs are served and that Christian community is experienced.

Certainly, at the diocesan level, this is well recognized and truly respected. Many of our diocesan staff have served in parishes and will do so again. They are most sensitive to and appreciative of the realities of parish life and are most desirous to be of assistance to parishes.

Sometimes, however, a gap can develop between the needs perceived at the diocesan level and the needs which are experienced at the parochial level. Several years ago, Bishop Albert Ottenweller of Steubenville addressed this issue at a meeting of our National Bishops Conference. He suggested that people at the parish level often feel that they are at the bottom of a huge funnel. Everyone in the church - the Pope, Cardinals, National Catholic Offices in Washington, the Chancery office, the Diocesan agencies - all pour their favorite projects, programs, suggestions or directives into the parish funnel.

Indeed, Bishop Ottenweller's image was so compelling that it prompted one pastor to write his bishop as follows: "Reverse the funnel relationship. Find out what kind of assistance and programs we need rather then using us as objects of your pet programs."

This suggestion that the Diocese provide the kind of programs and assistance which the parish needs was an oft-repeated theme of the consultation among pastors and parish representatives which preceded this updated pastoral letter. Quite frankly, this is the goal of our Diocesan departments as well, and overall they do an excellent job in fulfilling that mission.

In fact, it should be noted that many of the programs and services that people believed should be developed or provided by the Diocese already exist and are available, but for some reason this information remains unknown at the grassroots parish level. All of this merely proves that effective communication is an ongoing problem in society at large and for every institution including the Church, and that we must work continually for improvement.

Improved communication

There are, I believe, three present efforts which will help to effect this improvement in communication.

1. Our Diocesan Offices and Departments have formed a Services to Parishes Committee which is working to build a common philosophy of services to parishes based upon the goal of mutual cooperation, support, benefit, understanding and trust between Diocese and parish. This committee, in other words, is striving to develop, a better integration of the various efforts of diocesan offices and departments so that services can be rendered to parishes in a more creative, coordinated and cohesive fashion.

2. Our Diocesan Pastoral Planning Office has developed a planning process which now provides an annual opportunity for deans, pastors and representatives from each parish to surface the pastoral needs which exist in their parish or region and to articulate the services desired. This input is then made available to our Diocesan Departments as they develop their programs and services for the forthcoming year.

The Planning Office and Budget Review Committee evaluate departmental requests for financing in light of their responsiveness to the needs and services surfaced at the parochial level. Parish needs, therefore, become the driving force for the development of programs, plans and priorities at the diocesan level. A summary report of this process is made each year at the Fall Parish Council Convening of parish councils so that the parish and diocese have a more unified vision of where we are and where we are going together.

This planning process is still in its infancy stages of development, but as it evolves, I am confident that it will contribute to greater mutual communication and accountability between the Diocese and its parishes as well as to more effective networking among parishes at the deanery and regional level.

3. This Fall, I am beginning a program of visitation to each of the 200 parishes in our Diocese. These visits, preceded by prayer and careful planning at the parish and diocesan level to insure the best utilization of our time together, will consist of meetings with the pastor and parish staff, with the parish council and parish trustees, with school principal, religious education director and key parish volunteers, where deemed appropriate, and will conclude with an evening parish forum open to all parishioners.

These visits will provide me with the opportunity to share my vision, hopes and concerns and to learn firsthand the hopes, dreams, problems and concerns of parishioners and those who serve them. I am asking the dean and diocesan pastoral council representative in each deanery to accompany me at the meeting of the parish council and at the open forum with the parishioners so that they can better understand and articulate the needs and concerns of those whom they represent on our diocesan collegial bodies. I am looking forward to this visitation program with great enthusiasm and ask your prayers for its success.

I am hopeful that these three initiatives I have cited will serve to strengthen the linkage between diocese and parishes and to reaffirm the important theme of this past year's Bishop's Appeal, namely, that we are "One Church, One People."

SIX CHALLENGES

The final section of this pastoral letter will address six additional challenges that demand priority attention in the immediate future.

1. Parish Reconfiguration

The need for a change in the configuration and staffing patterns of many of our parish communities is becoming more acute. As we look to the future of our 200 parishes in the Diocese of Albany, two irrefutable facts must be faced squarely.

First, the shortage in vocations into the ministerial priesthood and religious life is a current reality in our Diocese. Presently we have 262 active diocesan priests serving the Church at Albany, a net decline of 58 active priests over the past ten years. Since 1982, including both retired and active priests, we have experienced a total loss of 81 priests, due to death (36), retirement (22), resignations (21), or transfer out of the Diocese (2). In this same five-year period we ordained 19 diocesan priests and we have had five priests transfer into the Diocese. Our net loss, therefore, is that of 57 priests.

As we look to the immediate future, the personnel crunch will get even worse. During the next five years, for example, we will have at least 23 priests retire. This projection does not take into account losses due to unexpected death before retirement or resignation from priestly ministry. At the same time our present seminary enrollment projects only 12-14 priests being ordained in this five-year period. It should also be noted that religious communities are coping with similar personnel challenges.

Over-churched

This picture of the dramatic reduction in priest personnel is compounded by the fact that many of the cities and even some of the smaller communities in our Diocese are simply over-churched. Some parishes, for example, were established at a time when travel was a problem or when language or ethnic needs had to be served, but in many instances these factors are no longer contemporary realities.

Our population base has shifted from the city to the suburbs so that many of our urban parishes are serving much smaller numbers of parishioners. At the same time, in many instances expanding suburban parishes have only one priest for 1,000 to 1,500 families..

These personnel and population realities, coupled with the aging and under-utilization of many of our Church buildings, schools, convents and rectories, necessitate that we rethink the most equitable and economical use of our personnel and physical resources so that we can best serve the needs of the Church as we prepare to enter the 21st century.

Facing change

I realize full well that change is never easy and that it becomes particularly traumatic when change affects one's parish community. There are so many cherished memories associated with the place where people have gathered for weekly worship and the rites of passage such as baptisms, marriages and funerals of beloved family and friends or where people have attended school and received religious instruction.

When people have formed closely knit communities based upon language, ethnic customs or neighborhood ties, it is most painful to think about closings, mergers and consolidations or about different staffing patterns and different ways of rendering and receiving pastoral services.

Any change, then, must be approached with the utmost sensitivity and with a view to preserving as far as possible natural communities and established customs and traditions. All of this, however, must be done within the framework of what is practically feasible and pastorally reasonable. It can only be accomplished, in other words, by shedding narrow parochialism and by becoming receptive to the ministry of others than the traditional pastoral-care-givers in the Church.

I have appointed a special task force coordinated by our Diocesan Office of Pastoral Planning to gather the data and options we need in order to face this critical challenge and to make recommendations for the future. Specifically these recommendations will include criteria for determining a parish's viability as well as criteria for staffing. I ask your prayers for this critical undertaking as well as for your openness, cooperation and understanding as we seek to develop parish planning that will best serve the common good.

2. Vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life

The need for greater promotion of vocations to the ordained priesthood and religious life is obvious. As I have already indicated, vocations to the presyberate and vowed life have declined dramatically. While this picture is balanced somewhat by the burgeoning new ministries of permanent deacons and laity, these emerging ministries, precious and invaluable as they are, cannot serve as a substitute or replacement for vocations to the priesthood and religious life because the ordained priesthood and the vowed religious life are absolutely essential and indispensable ministries for the Catholic Christian community. Without priests there can be no Eucharist and without Eucharist the core of Catholic Christian life is removed. Without religious and their vowed witness to the values of poverty, chastity and obedience and to the special charism and spirit of their founder and foundresses, an invaluable dimension of Christian life is lost to the Church.

Priests and religious, in other words, exercise that catalytic ministry of leadership and of service which enables and empowers the entire Church to be a priestly people.

Fostering vocations

It is imperative, therefore, that vocations to the priesthood and religious life be fostered and promoted vigorously and that we assess with a sense of urgency what can be done to reverse the recent decline in vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

It must be noted, however, that the task of fostering vocations to the ordained priesthood and religious life is the task of every member of Christian community, not the exclusive responsibility of clergy and religious.

Pastors, parents, teachers, catechists, campus ministers, deacons, family members and parishioners must be alert to call forth vocations to the priesthood and religious life as we approach the next decade and the next century. Accompanying that call must be prayer, penance and encouragement on the part of the Catholic Christian community and an openness on the part of young people to give careful discernment to whether God is asking them to serve Him and His people as a priest or religious.

I have commissioned our Department of Pastoral Formation and Services to formulate a comprehensive vocation-awareness program rooted in the priestly call given to all God's people, but focusing in a special way on the call to ordained ministry and the vowed life. This program is presently being pre-tested and once it is finalized I request that it be implemented in every parish, school, religious education program and college campus in our Diocese.

I am convinced that prayer and creative attraction will yield generous men and women who will follow in the footsteps of the dedicated priests and religious who have graced our Diocese so nobly throughout our 141-year history.

Supporting vocations

Sustaining vocations to the ordained priesthood and vowed life is just as important as attracting such vocations. I encourage our priests and religious, therefore, to draw upon the resources which our Diocese and the various religious communities provide for support, such as our Diocesan Consultation Service Center, the Ministry to Priests Program and support groups for priests and religious.

Furthermore, I urge our laity to be affirming and supportive of present clergy and religious by avoiding unrealistic demands and expectations and by expressing signs of appreciation such as offering a word of encouragement, a smile of recognition, a nod of approval or a note of gratitude.

Such personal gestures of appreciation and concern for priests and religious as persons can be an effective antidote to those factors which lead to anxiety, discouragement, frustration and disillusionment in their ministry and will be a tremendous source of support and affirmation for them.

3. Family

The contemporary family is under tremendous societal pressure. Today is a challenging time and the family - in all its diversity - is responding with flexibility, faith and courage. Some stark statistics highlight these societal forces and factors which tend to erode or debilitate the family's traditional role as the prime unit of Church and society.

  • Nearly 50% of all marriages in the United States today terminate in divorce and approximately one million children a year now suffer from a breakdown in the nuclear family.
  • It is estimated that 52% of all children born today will wind up living with only one natural parent before reaching adulthood.
  • One out of every eight births are out of wedlock, especially as the rate of teenage pregnancy borne of loneliness and lovelessness continues to rise astronomically.
  • Some 250,000 children living in foster care homes, over a million are runaways annually and one out of every nine gets in trouble with the law before the age of 18.
  • For women, the reality of some of those statistics, combined with growing economic pressures and rising educational costs in many instances make working, for mothers, a necessity not a choice.
  • The mobility of our society frequently creates a sense of roothlessness, as grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, who used to play such an important role in family life, are often but pictures on a wall or once-a-year visitors.
  • Further, the fact that we are living in a society whose music, art and literature communicate hedonistic, materialistic, and secularistic values, which are so contrary to the gospel message upon which marriage and family life are founded.

All of the above serves to underscore the jeopardy in which the family finds itself and to confirm the contention of the Bishops of the United States that "families today are hanging on by their fingernails."

Family importance

Despite these bleak realities, the fact remains that the family is the primary community where we discover what it means to be a human being and where our faith is first learned, experienced and tested. It is the place where deep interpersonal relationships are formed and lived out. It is the place where mutual respect, intimacy, fidelity, warmth, trust and understanding are most likely found. It is the basis of stability for most people's lives. It is the primary context wherein people develop their personalities, crystallize their sexual identity and form those moral and spiritual values which give shape and direction to their life's journey.

That is why the Vatican Council spoke of the family as the "domestic church," the church of the home, and why our Holy Father Pope John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio has stated that strengthening and developing pastoral care for the family must be a priority in today's church. Indeed, our Holy Father noted that "no plan of pastoral work at any level must fail to take into consideration the pastoral area of the family" (Familiaris Consortio par. 70).

Unfortunately, however, the Church which should be the prime supporter and advocate of the family often has devised policies and practices which have a negative impact upon family life. Paradoxically, the most generous and religiously active families are often at the greatest risk. For example, the mother may be called upon to serve as a lector at the 9 a.m. Liturgy, while the father ushers at the Vigil Mass. And the daughter is asked to be a Eucharistic Minister at the noon Liturgy. The unintended result can be that of preventing the family from worshiping together as a unit and from having a family day together on the weekend. Also, many parish activities are traditionally and properly segregated by gender, age and status. At times, however, this practice may have the unintended negative effect of dividing family relationships.

Furthermore, many diocesan and parish programs are geared to serving individuals, like the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, scripture or faith-sharing groups and retreat experiences for youth, the engaged, the separated and divorced. Often, however, these programs fail to take into account how the individual's participation in such programs can be enhanced or hindered by family attitudes and reactions.

Family perspective

It is important, therefore, that we seek to examine all of our parish and diocesan policies, programs, services and activities from a family perspective.

A family perspective is a holistic approach to promoting an authentically Christian understanding of the family, to addressing the multi-faceted realities of contemporary family life and to fostering a partnership between the family and those institutions of Church and society which should be supportive of families in fulfilling their mission and their responsibilities. A family perspective asks the Church to minister to the family as a system, not as a collection of individuals. It also encourages the view of families as collaborators with other social institutions, not merely as the recipients of services.

I am asking our Family Life Office to develop practical instruments or tools to assist our Diocesan departments and parishes, schools and religious education staffs to be sensitive to a family perspective in the formation of all their policies, programs, services and ministries. The strength and well-being of the family is essential for a healthy Church and society, and the Church should be in the forefront of promoting that well-being through a family perspective.

In this regard, I am pleased by the Partners Project which our Family Life Office is developing in conjunction with other diocesan departments. The Project seeks to strengthen the partnership between family, church and society in order to better support the family as the Church in miniature and to assist the family in becoming an effective agent of service and justice. Partners seek to inform and educate, to network and refer, to advocate and respond to social issues while promoting a family perspective. I encourage the continued development of this Partners Project and ask our parishes and families to explore its rich potential.

4. Women

The recent consultation for the development of a Pastoral Response to Women's Concerns for Church and Society, both within our diocese and throughout our country, reveals that many women in our Church and nation, of all generations and socioeconomic backgrounds, experience gender discrimination and suffer from the evil of sexism.

In society there is the growing phenomenon of the feminization of poverty wherein women of color (Asian, Black, Hispanic and Native American), women who are the sole provider of their children, and elderly women increasingly find themselves living at the margins of society and constitute the largest single category of persons living below the official poverty level. Domestic violence is on the rise. In the work force women frequently receive unequal pay and unequal opportunity for hiring and advancement. They are often stereotyped as emotional and incapable and are denied access to certain professions or educational opportunities.

In the Church, many women feel patronized and undervalued. Although, as the Notre Dame Study of Catholic Parish Life reveals, the majority of the staffs and volunteers in our parishes are women, many of these women do not feel that they and their gifts are fully respected. They do not perceive that they are "Partners in the Mystery of Redemption" (the title of the forthcoming pastoral response).

While women are amazingly loyal to the Church and its teaching, many do not feel heard or consulted as members of the priestly people of God, especially in areas which most affect their lives such as the Church's teaching on human sexuality and reproduction. They are pained by exclusive liturgical language and non-inclusive practices in the Church. Many yearn for expanded opportunities for ministry and ministerial formation. A significant number do not accept or embrace the Church's teaching which prohibits the ordination of women to the ministerial priesthood and are convinced that a change in that teaching is the only way to obtain full participation in the Church.

Response needed

I believe strongly that these and other social and ecclesial concerns of women are a major and pressing pastoral challenge confronting us as a Church. The recent Apostolic Letter of Our Holy Father, entitled Mulieris Dignitatem, underscores this point. Our failure to address these issues sensitively, candidly and aggressively will, I believe, have grave consequences for our Church and society.

While responsibility for this challenge belongs to the entire Church, especially to its ordained ministers who are in the position of leadership and decision-making and who, consequently, hold the key to change, I am asking our newly created Women's Commission to be the lead agent in monitoring our efforts in the Diocese to study and implement at all levels the pastoral challenges outlined in the Bishops' still evolving pastoral letter addressing women's concerns.

In particular, I think we need to insure inclusive language in our liturgies; and wherever appropriate and permissible, equal access to all roles and responsibilities in the Church which do not require ordination; full representation and participation on our collegial bodies at all levels; and the development of an authentic Christian feminism which respects the sacred dignity and fundamental equality of women, as well as their unique gifts, insights and charisms.

5. Evangelization

Our recent diocesan consultation reveals that evangelization (although often not expressed in that particular terminology) is a major concern of Catholics in our Diocese. It seems that everyone knows someone, a family member, a neighbor, a friend or co-worker who is either unchurched or an estranged Catholic. It is also apparent that the process or methodology of going about the task of evangelization is foreign or fearful to many of our people, priests, deacons, religious and laity alike.

Although the call to evangelization, or bringing the Good News to others is at the heart of the gospel message and is entrusted to each member of God's priestly people, our efforts in this regard have tended to be rather weak, sporadic and woefully inadequate.

Many Catholics, for example, have interpreted the mandate of Jesus, "Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:18), as the exclusive task of the ordained and vowed, and consequently have absolved themselves of any responsibility in this regard. Others identify evangelization with the overly aggressive and coercive proselytizing of some denominations or sects and are quite repulsed by the process.

Most, however, are just plain uncertain about what needs to be done and/or uncomfortable in doing it. For some reason we Catholics tend to regard our faith-life as a very private affair. Outside of Mass, religion class, teaching our young their prayers or formal activities sponsored by the Church, we have a great reluctance to approach matters of faith. This is especially true in the United States where the old adage "One never discusses religion and politics in polite company" is so deeply engrained in our nation's psyche.

Evangelizing

What is needed, therefore, is a greater awareness on the part of each Catholic Christian of his or her call to be an evangelist and a greater comfortability in sharing one's faith with others, especially in informal settings like the home, the workplace and the neighborhood.

Of course, a major component in the work of evangelization must be the faith life of the individual Christian. A strong commitment to the Lord Jesus and to the ongoing relationships He has called us to share with the Father and the Holy Spirit must always be the foundation, motivation and means of evangelization. There simply can not be a substitute for this personal faith commitment.

That is why during this past decade our Diocese through its parishes sponsored the Always His People program and Renew. Both of these endeavors were envisioned as preparatory, if you will, for an outreach beyond our own practicing membership. Based on the premise that "you cannot share with others what you do not possess yourself," these programs were designed primarily to strengthen the faith-life of our Catholic faithful as a precondition for the ongoing work of evangelization.

RCIA process

That task must now be undertaken with zeal, determination and the commitment of financial and personnel resources. In 1972, Pope Paul VI promulgated the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) as a way to catechize candidates for membership in the Catholic Christian community. In 1986, the Bishops of the United States made this Rite normative for reception of new members into our Church.

The RCIA is a major tool of evangelization which by Diocesan policy is to be initiated in each parish of our Diocese. Not only is it a process for introducing new members to our faith community and for forming them in the liturgical and sacramental life of the church, but it constitutes an ongoing process of renewal for the entire parish.

In many respects the parish's commitment to the RCIA will mean a new way of being Church and will highlight the absolute necessity of the concept of collaborative ministry which has been outlined in this pastoral letter. The RCIA requires that many parishioners become involved in roles as sponsors, catechists, godparents and prayer partners, and that the entire parish community, as a priestly people, be an agent of evangelization.

I realize that developing the liturgical and catechetical potential of this Rite is a challenge for our parishes. I ask each parish to begin, however, or to intensify the efforts that are already underway; and I charge our Diocesan Task Force on the RCIA in conjunction with our Diocesan Offices of Religious Education and Prayer and Worship to provide the necessary direction and resources for this vital undertaking.

Our Diocesan Committee on Evangelization has also been studying models to promote evangelization throughout our Diocese at the parish level. These approaches are directed both to the unchurched and to fallen-away Catholics. The Committee has been careful to harmonize its efforts with those promoting the RCIA and I am assured that their work is complementary. I encourage parishes, then, to avail themselves of the programs, training sessions and resources offered by our Evangelization Committee.

Membership

As a final reflection on evangelization, I note with deep concern that membership in our Diocese is increasingly white, middle class and graying. Blacks, Hispanics, indigent whites and young people are notable by their absence.

I realize the fine efforts our Black and Hispanic apostolates and our inner-city parishes are making to attract the poor and minorities; and as was noted earlier, everyone is concerned about how to reach our teenagers and young adults.

This critical need, however, cannot be the sole realm of a few specialists like youth ministers or the staff of the Black and Hispanic Apostolates and our inner-city parishes. Rather it is a challenge for the whole church, especially the challenge of shedding the vestiges of racism and classism which we often harbor personally and institutionally, and the challenge of presenting ourselves as an inclusive church where all are welcome, and all have ownership regardless of race, color, gender, age or socio-economic background.

6. Stewardship

As the priestly people of God we have the responsibility to insure that the Church at the parish, diocesan and universal levels has the spiritual, social and educational resources necessary to fulfill the mission of Jesus, the herald, servant, sanctifier, and community builder. The gift of personal time and talent is an indispensable resource but in today's complex society so also is the gift of money. It becomes the sine qua non for employing the professional staff who serve our parishes and other church institutions; for maintaining our churches, schools, convents rectories and other social and pastoral agencies; and for providing food, clothing and shelter for our suffering brothers and sisters in need both at home and throughout the globe.

As I communicated this past summer, however, both at the Diocesan and parish levels we have not kept pace with the growing financial demands which are being made upon us. Last year, for example, our Diocese operated with a deficit of $515,000.00 and 15 percent of our parishes also ran in red ink. While personnel and programmatic cutbacks are being made at both the parish and diocesan levels to address these deficits, and efforts are underway to curtail or to eliminate the duplication of services, I am convinced that in most cases the solution to the problem is not retrenchment but better communication and accountability.

Declining donations

A recent study by Bishop William McManus and Father Andrew Greeley entitled Catholic Contributions: Sociology and Policy reveals that although American Catholics earn on the average over a $1,000.00 a year more than their Protestant counterparts, Catholic financial contributions to their Church are much less than those of Protestants. For example, on the average, Protestants contribute $580.00 to their Church annually as opposed to $320.00 for Catholics. Furthermore, Catholics contribute only 1.1 percent of their income to the Church while Protestants donate at the level of 2.2 percent of their income.

More strikingly, the study finds that the disparity between Catholic and Protestant giving is the result of the dramatic change in giving patterns of contributions to one's Church over the past 25 years. In the early 1960's, Catholics gave the same proportion of their income to the Church as Protestants contributed. In the last quarter century, however, the Protestant giving rate remains stable at approximately 2 percent of annual income while the Catholic rate has fallen from more than 2 percent to about 1 percent.

Why has this occurred? Is it that Catholics have become stingier or more miserly? I hardly think so. Is it due to the changing levels in Church attendance? No, because Protestant church attendance has declined significantly more than Catholic in this time frame but their level of giving has not. Is it because Catholics give to our schools rather than the Church? Statistics reveal that this is not the case because parents who send their children to Catholic schools contribute more rather than less to the Church than do other Catholics.

I believe that the decline in the pattern of Catholic giving to the Church is due primarily to the lack of communication and the lack of leadership.

Letting people know

From experience, I am convinced that when our people know the need and understand the case, they are always most generous. The response to this year's Bishop's Appeal, as well as to the Sisters' Retirement Fund, national collections and parish building and renovation projects, provides ample evidence of such. Unfortunately, I am afraid that I and many other Catholic Church leaders have not told the story as well as we can and should tell it. We have been too reticent to share all the facts, fearing that we may overwhelm our people or may project the image of being concerned solely about "the almighty dollar."

So information, fact sharing and accountability on the part of Church leaders are critically important for reversing the declining trend of giving to our Church. But, something more is needed; namely, the insights and motivation which will enable our Catholic people to see the connection between their donations and their faith and worship.

That nexus, I believe, is the concept of stewardship which is more than just an approach to fund raising but rather a way of life. It is a practical and tangible response to the call to be God's priestly people and to exercise collaborative ministry in the Church.

Biblical roots

For many Catholics, stewardship is an unfamiliar word but it is an idea which is biblically rooted. Quite simply it is a commitment in faith that responds to the scriptural call to work with and through each other to build the kingdom of God here on earth. It involves the three T's - the giving and sharing of one's time, talents and treasure in service to the Lord and to our brothers and sisters in need in the community about us.

Stewardship, in other words, is an authentic Christian life style. It is not something you leave at the door on Sunday morning and pick up the following week. Rather it is something you live everyday. It is a deep commitment to the person of Jesus Christ and to His call to discipleship. If we maintain that Jesus is our Lord and that we have committed our life to him, then we should do what He tells us. And what He tells His followers is to become involved and to share of themselves totally, not only of what they possess financially but, equally important, of their time and of the special gifts or talents they have received from God.

Stewardship, then, is not about money; it is about faith. Money is involved but only as an expression of faith, only as a way to translate one's relationship with the Lord, nurtured by prayer and the sacraments of the Church, into concrete action.

Two recommendations

As a guide for good stewardship in our Diocese from the perspective of leadership, accountability and communication in fiscal matters, I make two specific recommendations.

  • FIRST, I charge our Chancellor and Comptroller to continue to work with the existing Diocesan Finance Council and to oversee the establishment of Parish Finance Councils where they do not exist.

    I also charge our pastors to issue a yearly financial report to their parishioners as required by the Code of Canon Law. I further urge our Diocesan and local boards for schools, hospitals, nursing homes and social services to provide similar financial data to their constituents.

  • SECOND, I ask every Catholic family to embrace the concept of Sacrificial Giving to the Church. Sacrificial Giving is rooted in the belief that each of us has a responsibility and obligation to give not the "scraps from the table" but of "the first fruits" of our labors back to the Lord in Thanksgiving for the blessings God has bestowed upon each of us. It is only through the Sacrificial Giving of our time, our talent and financial blessings that we, the members of the spiritual family of the Church at Albany, can and will give form to the vision of this pastoral letter as we look to the 1990's and beyond.

In recognition of the fact that most of us have not fully embraced the concept of Sacrificial Giving as a standard by which to live, I recommend the following practical and General Giving Guide for consideration by every family as, together, we move toward a full embrace of Sacrificial Giving. For the next two years and beginning immediately, I ask every family to consider contributing, if at all possible, a minimum of $10 per week in the parish offertory collection and $2 per week to our diocesan Church through the annual Bishop's Appeal.

If such a guide were followed, I can assure you that our financial problems at the parish and Diocesan level would be greatly alleviated. It would bring us to the current level of giving in the churches of our Protestant neighbors. More important, it would double the funds currently available to support our parish and Diocesan activities and would insure that we would have adequate resources to expand parish ministries; to maintain our schools and religious education programs; to bolster family life; to do the work of evangelization; to pay our employees a just wage; and to make the Church's "preferential option for the poor" more than just a pious cliche or a lofty ideal but rather a lived reality.

CONCLUSION

In light of the needs I have articulated, the problems I have cited and the challenges I have raised in this revised pastoral letter, one might conclude that I am discouraged, apprehensive or pessimistic about our Diocese and its future. Quite the contrary, as I assess where we are and where we are going as a Diocese, I am filled with hope, confidence and optimism. Already much of what I envision is happening; and, hopefully, this pastoral letter will encourage and reinforce these efforts and stimulate others to emulate such.

Every generation in the Church faces its own unique challenges. We today are faced with the task of birthing the vision of collaborative ministry which the Second Vatican Council articulated. We do so in a time of great social upheaval when the forces of secularization are making inroads and eclipsing the Christian vision of life which has prevailed in Western civilization for centuries.

In the face of this challenge and the tension and pain it produces, some become discouraged and disillusioned. They experience only the confusion and turmoil borne of renewal and change; when age-old moorings have been cut off and set adrift, they conclude, consequently, that the situation is hopeless or impossible.

Quite frankly, I do not share that bleak outlook. I am convinced that we are living in one of the greatest periods of renaissance in the long history of Christianity. There are certain times in the life of the world and our Church when the Holy Spirit has been poured forth abundantly, creating a new vision and a new horizon which give shape and direction to humankind and civilization for generations to come.

We, I believe, are living in precisely such an age, in a new Pentecost; and as a priestly people, we have a golden opportunity to become involved at the heart of this reawakening, of being forerunners of the Church of tomorrow, of being molders and builders of new theological language and ecclesial structures which speak to our contemporary society and which insure a fresh hearing for the Christian message. It will take all of the zeal, talent, maturity, vision and love we possess if we are to respond to this call as God desires and as the challenge itself so urgently demands.

As we stand on the threshold of the new millennium, I hope that we will accept, embrace and fulfill this challenge for the honor and glory of God, for the sanctification of our brothers and sisters and for the transformation of the world and society in which we live.

Let us rejoice, then, because truly we are God's priestly people.

APPENDIX

The following provides additional quoted material from Archbishop William Borders' recent pastoral letter entitled You Are A Royal Priesthood. As previously noted, I recommend reading the entire pastoral for its timely and ample treatment of the concept of shared responsibility in contemporary parish life in the Church.

"Thus, when we speak of priesthood we must speak first of the priesthood which belongs to all who have been baptized in Christ Jesus. Consequently, when we speak of the ministry of the Church, we must speak of that priestly task and service which is primarily entrusted to the whole community of the baptized. For we are a priestly people, a community of priests of the kingdom, set apart for a ministry which is greater than any of us and which belongs to all of us.

"Two consequences of this understanding of priesthood as our common baptismal sharing in the life and power of Christ should be highlighted here. First, true ministry must be understood as being more than human activity or programs. Ministry is an expression of God's continuing call and presence in the life of His people. Ministry is what happens when people open themselves to God's saving power and purposes. As true priests of the Lord, we His people truly exercise the ministry given us when we allow our lives and actions to mediate His presence. For it is of the essence of our priestly role to be the mediator of another's healing power and not to pretend to be the source of that power. . .

"Second, a correct appreciation of the priesthood of the baptized serves to make clear that the mission which Christ has given His people, and the essentially priestly ministry by which it is carried out, belong first and primarily to the whole Church. The mission and ministry of the Church do not belong to any one group within the Church, which allows others to share in it. Nor is any one group in the Church closer to the 'full stature of Christ' than any other.

"Before any distinction of roles or offices in the Church, we stand as one family of the baptized. It is the community as a whole to whom is given the primary responsibility for the mission of the Church, and it is the whole community which stands as the first minister of the kingdom. Thus when we speak of the Church's mission and ministry to the world, we must be clear that we speak primarily of the whole Church and not only a part of it. It is the exercise of the collective priesthood of the baptized that most fully continues the sacramental presence of Christ in the World." (Origins 18, No. 11: 169-70)