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Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany


SEPTEMBER 21, 1978

My Dear friends in Christ, I take this opportunity to share with you some reflections on my vision of the Church in the Diocese of Albany after a year and a half of serving among you as your Bishop.

First, I would like to express my sincere gratitude for the warm welcome and willing cooperation you, the people of the Diocese, have afforded me since my Episcopal Ordination. Leaders can fulfill their task, which is a responsibility of service, only in an atmosphere of openness and respect. This I have experienced in superabundance. Your responsiveness has been a constant source of joy, hope and strength.

My Leadership Role among you flows from the mystery we call the Church, that divine reality inserted into human history through which God reveals to us and shares with us the riches of His life.

Because the Church is a mystery, 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.

Community involves a sharing of beliefs, experiences, ideals and values. "Those who believe share all things in common." (Acts 2:44)

Christian Community leads one to put aside selfish goals and private interests for the sake of the common good. It is based upon the willingness of all community members to accept responsibility, individually and corporately, for the way each lives, uses his or her talents and gifts, and responds to the needs and rights of others.

The early Christians celebrated their identity as a worshipping community in word and sacrament. "They devoted themselves to the apostles’ instructions and communal life, to the breaking of the bread and prayers." (Acts 2:42)

And the fruit of this sharing of word and sacraments was service to others. "None of their members was ever in want, as all those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring money from them to present it to the apostles; it was then distributed to any members who might be in need." (Acts 4:34-35)

The Challenge for us today is to rekindle within ourselves, within our Diocesan and Parish communities, and within the larger society, that spirit of worship, love and service that existed in the Apostolic Church.

To some, such a challenge may seem overwhelming given the complex nature of the world and society in which we live today. While it is true, however, that we can’t recapture fully the pristine simplicity of the Apostolic Community as described in the Acts of the Apostles, and while many of the structures of the early Church are no longer relevant to our contemporary setting, nevertheless the same divine call beckons us, the same Spirit forms us, and the same activity of worship and service must be at the heart of our response.

Shared Responsibility

The Second Vatican Council has given us, I believe, a principle that enables us to respond to God’s call and to fulfill His mission in our time. That principle is the concept of shared responsibility, a principle that is truly scripturally based, theologically sound and pastorally oriented.

Stated simply, shared responsibility (which also has been described as collegiality, co-responsibility and participatory involvement) means that each member of the Church, by reason of Baptism, has the right and the duty to participate in the Church’s mission to make Christ present here on earth and to spread the liberating truth of His Good News. All members of the Church - clergy, religious and laity - are thus called to be "Servants of Christ and stewards of the mystery of God." (I Cor. 4:1)

In seeking to understand this concept of shared responsibility, focus must be placed on the mission that is given to each member of the Church in the Sacrament of Baptism.

Through Baptism, every Christian is brought into an intimate, personal and abiding union with Jesus and with all other Christians. The Church, then, comprises a multiplicity of members who share a common sacramental dignity and equality. "We are brought in to the one body of Christ by Baptism in the one Spirit, whether we are Jews or Greeks, slaves or freemen." (I Cor. 12:13)

This sacramental dignity and equality unites Pope, bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laity in the one Body of Christ which is the Church.

Shared responsibility, then, means that, since the laity as well as the clergy and religious are all configured to Christ by Baptism and the other Sacraments, they all have the responsibility and opportunity of participating in the saving mission of Christ in the world.

The Second Vatican Council in its "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church" makes the point his way:

"Gathered together in the people of God and established in the one Body of Christ under one head, the laity - no matter who they are - have, as living members, the vocation of applying tot he building up of the Church, and to its continual sanctification, all the powers which they have received from the goodness of the Creator and from the he grace of the Redeemer."

While this concept of shared responsibility is neither new nor revolutionary from a scriptural or theological perspective, practically, it is one that needs to be relearned and experienced.

We are emerging from a period in Church history during which the responsibility for the mission of the Church was projected to be that of the hierarchy exclusively.

It was thought that the role of the Pope and bishops (and by extension, in popular understanding, priests and religious) was to preach, to lead and to sanctify, while the laity were to be taught, to be led and to be sanctified.

The laity, in other words, were looked upon as having a more modest, passive role to play in the Church, helping out only on a temporary, standby basis, when specifically called upon.

But the Second Vatican Council gives us an enriched understanding of the role each member of the Church is to have. In its "Constitution on the Church," the Council declared:

"The pastors, indeed, know well how much the laity contribute to the welfare of the whole church. For they know that they themselves were not established by Christ to undertake alone the whole salvific mission of the church to the world, but it is their exalted office to be shepherds of the faithful and also recognize the latter’s contribution and charisms that everyone in his own way will, with one mind, cooperate in the common task. For all must ‘practice the truth in love, and so grow up in all things in him who is the head, Christ.’ "

All, then - laity, religious and clergy - are obliged to offer time, talent and resources so that the mission of Christ in His Church might be fulfilled. This basic responsibility rests upon each one of us regardless of state of life or the differing roles we exercise.

Furthermore, this obligation of participating in the Church’s mission is marked by an interdependence which comes from the very nature of the Church as a community in Christ. St. Paul, in the twelfth chapter of his First Letter to the Corinthians, liked us to one body, each member dependent upon the other.

"The body is one and has members, but all the members, many though they are, are one Body; and so it is with Christ. It was in one Spirit that all of us, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, were baptized into the body." (12,13)

"The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’ any more than the head can say to the foot, "I do not need you.’ " (21)

We depend upon the Lord Jesus as the foundation of our Christian lives and we depend upon each other as members of the body of Christ. While we have differing roles and responsibilities, we are all under one head, Jesus Christ, and, through Him, we need and depend upon each other as brothers and sisters.

To put this another way: Every member of the Church has certain God-given gifts or talents that are to be used for serving Christ in building up the community around us.

Again, St. Paul states it very precisely when he says:

"There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit, there are all sorts of services to be done but always to the same Lord: working in all sorts of different ways in different people, it is the same God who is working in all of them." (I Cor. 12:4-7)

The message is clear. However humble our gift may be, it is needed. And while our gifts may be different, together, in their variety, they build up a Christian community by contributing to the sanctification and growth of others.

Shared responsibility is the proper discernment and exercise of these gifts in and through our worship of God, the proclamation of His message to others and our service on behalf of humankind.

To sum up: Responsibility for the mission of the Church is shared by all the baptized - ordained and non-ordained, vowed and non-vowed, teacher, carpenter, housewife, businessman, young and old, resigned priest and religious, parent, single person, child - all bound together by a variety of gifts and ministries, and all serving the one mission, the mission of our Lord Jesus.

Shared responsibility, then, is neither a luxury nor a concession. Rather, it is a necessary and perennial dimension of the life of the Church, exercised by those who are rooted in a living and loving relationship with Christ.

It should be noted that the concept of shared responsibility fully respects the fact that the Church is a unique community established by Christ into a hierarchic structure. The deacons, priests and bishops, joined with the Bishop of Rome as successor of St. Peter, have the specific responsibilities of their offices described in the laws of the Church.

This hierarchical structure, however, is to be exercised, not in a unilateral way, but in a collegial way with opportunities for the various members of the Church, in accordance with their gifts, talents and charisms, to participate in policies, decisions and mission.

The Pope is the head of the Church, but he acts in consultation with the body of bishops throughout the world.

The Bishop is the chief shepherd in his Diocese, but to fulfill his responsibility he needs the counsel and assistance of his priests, deacons, religious and laity in giving shape to the work of the Church, hence the formation of Priests’ Senates; Brothers’, Sisters’ and Deacons’ Councils; and Diocesan Pastoral Councils, to consult with and advise him on pastoral matters.

Extending this principle of collegiality to the grass-roots level, parish members are to have responsibility for the mission of the Church through the formation of Parish Councils and Regional or Deanery Councils.

Thus, all members of the Church are called to join in harmonious action with the Pope, their bishops and pastors, sharing with them their knowledge, talent and other resources for the development of God’s Kingdom.

My Episcopal Motto, "Rejoice, we are His people," seeks to affirm this truth and to invite all the faithful to make it a lived reality in our Diocese.

Change is never easy, especially change that affects our self-image, our roles and our ministries. To embrace this challenge and opportunity of shared responsibility will demand a certain shift in attitudes and practice on the part of all our people.

Let me address the major groupings within our Diocese and the special role I envision for each as this concept of shared responsibility becomes viable for our day.

To Priests

The Priests of the Diocese have been a special blessing to the Church of Albany. Over the years, you, my brothers, have labored with pastoral zeal and enthusiasm to promote the Christ life within our midst.

Your love and support for one another, your loyalty to the Pope and bishops of the Diocese, and your devotion to the people entrusted to your care have been the source of great inspiration and major factors contributing to the vitality of our Diocese.

The past fifteen years have in some ways been particularly difficult for you. Accustomed to one model of Church, you have been called not only to adapt to a new understanding of Church and ministry but also to be leaders in implementing it. Your patience, enduring zeal and willingness to face these new challenges have been and continue to be special graces and reasons for profound gratitude.

In the days ahead I need your continued cooperation. 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." (The Church, 28)

While your role is unique and indispensable, however, it is not and cannot be self-contained. Especially as we look to the future, you must be willing to share with the deacons, religious and laity of our Diocese many of the roles and ministries you have traditionally been required to exercise.

With other persons entering the sanctuary as lectors, acolytes and ministers of the Eucharist, or assuming responsibility for religious education, health care, social services and financial matters related to the life of the parish or diocese (many of which responsibilities were often viewed as your exclusive domain), there can well emerge questions about the proper role of the priest. As a result, there can develop the natural human reaction to cling to one’s own identity or vested interest. But, in point of fact, what is emerging, I believe, is not a challenge to your role or identity but an opportunity for greater service, an opportunity to explore the interrelatedness of all ministries of the Church and to facilitate their development.

More and more, then, I envision your role to be initiators, coordinators and facilitators of ministries, to help others to discover the unique gifts, talents and charisms with which they have been endowed by the Lord and to put these at the service of the whole body of Christ.

As leaders in the Church, in other words, you must have a deep respect for the gifts that the Spirit bestows in great variety and must strive tirelessly to unify this variety of gifts for building up the Kingdom.

As is pointed out in "As One Who Serves", the excellent contemporary commentary on the priesthood. "Your task might be compared to the conductor of an orchestra, trying to translate the vision of the composer into harmonious blends of sounds coming from a great variety of instruments, many of which you can’t play yourselves. For the truly effective leader is one who can develop the talents of others and coordinate their efforts so that they complement each other and produce a superior collective effort."

It would probably be easier and more convenient, both personally and ministerially, to continue to operate as in the past. But if this happens, the Spirit will be stifled, gifts will be unused or abused, and there will be perpetuated a model of the Church that is not in accord with the Gospel spirit or the mandates of the Second Vatican Council.

Your special role, then, is to be enablers and facilitators of all the gifts and ministries within the Christian community so that the Church in all its richness and multifaceted dimensions may be more visible in our Diocese. This special role complements the uniqueness of your role at the Table of the Lord. At the Table, you gather God’s People in all their variety together. Your role as enablers and facilitators is seen, thus, as the extension of your liturgical ministry.

To Religious

The Religious of our Diocese, both women and men, have made an invaluable contribution to the mission of the Church. Your magnificent legacy is evident both from the various apostolates in which you are engaged and from the diversity of gifts that you exercise, in our elementary and secondary schools, in our social service programs, in the hospital and nursing home field, in parish ministry, in religious education, in the retreat/prayer movements and in many other apostolates.

Also, your response to the call for renewal extended by the Vatican Council has been superb. I would venture to say that no group within the Church has responded more enthusiastically or seriously to this concept of shared responsibility enunciated in the Council documents that communities of women and men religious - at times with pain and tension, at times with confusion and groping, and at times with resistance and conflicts but always with the desire to be open and responsive to the Spirit moving in our times and with the goal to serve and to make the Church and your own communities the alive and vibrant instruments of faith, love and service that they are meant to be. For all of this, you have the profound gratitude of the whole Diocese.

In the immediate future, I would envision three special ways in which you can contribute to developing this concept of shared responsibility.

First, I would encourage you to continue to explore ways and means of inter-community cooperation. One of the great problems in today’s Church is regionalism and parochialism. We have to get away from an exclusive notion of "our school," "our parish," or "our community" and focus on common needs and mission. Each community has an individual charism which should be preserved and respected. At the same time, the blending of these charisms for the good of the total mission of Christ’s Church is essential in our times.

Through inter-community planning and staffing, you can set a tone or climate that will enrich the whole Diocese, and truly foster mutual cooperation and support.

Second, if people are to realize their gifts and exercise their talents on behalf of the Church, there is need for them to break from the depersonalization and life-style of excessive consumption, of wasteful depletion of resources, and of the affluent use of service and leisure that abound within our society today so that they can place themselves freely and selflessly at the service of the Lord and His people.

The Vowed Life you as religious embrace enables you to offer an irrefutable witness against consumerism and depersonalization by a life-style that is genuinely frugal and austere as evidenced by your disdain of money and power; by your simplicity of diet, clothing and transportation; and by your personal and communal work among the spiritually, physically and psychologically poor.

The ability to be an effective counter-witness to the dehumanizing and debilitating trends of the times has always been a special charism of religious communities. Such a dynamic witness is imperative today if people are to be moved from lethargy, indifference, and excess to embrace the full implications of their baptismal commitment to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God.

Third, I would suggest that women religious in particular can play a leadership role in advancing ministerial and decision-making positions for women in the Church.

The Role of all women, religious and lay alike, must be upgraded in the Church. We need to acknowledge the invaluable contribution women have made and are making in our Diocese, in our homes, schools, religious education centers, day-care centers, parishes and in various diocesan departments and agencies; and to make available additional leadership roles in education, pastoral service, liturgy and administration.

You who are women religious, by background and training, have a distinct role to play in forging the way for increased participation of women in the parochial, deanery and diocesan mission of the Church at Albany.

However, in doing so, I would caution that you not focus exclusively or possessively on the role of women religious or on the question of ordination for women, but that you be first and foremost advocates for new and expanded opportunities in the Church for all women.

To Permanent Deacons

The restored order of the Permanent Diaconate has been one of the most exciting and fruitful ministries to emerge in our post-conciliar Church. You who have accepted this call - and your families - have given generously and selflessly of your time and talent in preparing for ordination and in pioneering the implementation of this ministry in our Diocese.

In a very brief time, you have made your impact felt in our jails, hospitals, nursing homes and parishes, and in ministry among the poor, in rural areas, and to various racial and ethnic groups.

Your ministry flows out of your family life and work experience, and, in a unique way, bridges the false but all too frequent distinction that is made between the sacred and secular, between the sanctuary and the pew.

In developing the concept of shared responsibility, you have a role to play in witnessing to that ministry of service that is at the heart of the charge you received at ordination - to imitate Christ, "Who came not to be served but to serve and to offer His life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45)

You and your families are living examples of the type of participation and involvement that is called for in today’s Church. You demonstrate publicly and in an extraordinary fashion the possibility of blending family, work and community responsibility with a deep service-oriented commitment to the mission of the Church.

I hope that you will continue to expand your ministry in the days ahead into new areas of service that respond to the every-changing needs of God’s people, and in ways that avoid a new clericalism which would rob your ministry of its fresh character and belie the concept of shared responsibility.

To Laity

The Laity of our Diocese have been outstanding in their loyalty and fidelity to the Church and its work, responding generously and courageously to the many demands that are made of them to be the Church in action.

You, the laity, through your life of prayer, solicitude for your family members and friends, and generosity to the needs of the Church and the community around you, are a never-ending source of inspiration and encouragement.

Your openness to change, your hunger and thirst for things of the Spirit, and your willingness to sacrifice personally and financially for the demands of the Gospel have been truly remarkable.

You, in a particular way, are the target of this call to shared responsibility. As the Second Vatican Council explicitly states:

"The lay apostolate, however, is a participation in the saving mission of the Church itself. Through their baptism and confirmation, all are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord Himself. Moreover, through the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, there is communicated and nourished that charity toward God and man which is the soul of the entire apostolate. Now, the laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can she become the salt of the earth. Thus every layman, by virtue of the very gifts bestowed upon him is at the same time a witness and a loving instrument of the mission of the Church herself, ‘according to the measure of Christ’s bestowal.’ (Eph. 4:7)." (The Church, 33)

The call to shared responsibility is both a privilege and a duty, the privilege of being an integral part of God’s redemptive plan for humankind and the duty of revealing His love to others.

Yes, being Church, being a member of God’s people is an amazing grace and gives to each of you no matter what your call or state in life a great dignity and empowerment. I ask you to reflect frequently upon this.

Our world is filled with lonely, frightened, hurting people who feel lost, who need someone to share with them the joys, hopes, blessings and consolations of our Christian faith. The Lord is counting on you to mirror His kindness, His fidelity, His tenderness and His love to our sin-wounded world where alienation, disaffection and disillusionment abound.

Christ has guaranteed through the Spirit that His ecclesial presence in the world will continue, but this does not prevent the light of His Gospel from going dim in a particular area, for example, in a local parish or diocese.

Thus, the challenge is clear. You must work in cooperation with me and the priests, deacons, and religious of our Diocese to advance His Kingdom. You must be willing to pledge that which is mot dear to you - your personhood, time, talent and resources - and to invest these to make your life and the life of your parish and our Diocese a true reflection of Jesus and His way of life.

I pray that you will embrace this challenge zealously and enthusiastically, and that you will be patient with me and our priests and religious as we continue to implement this collegial model of Church in our Diocese.

Like all transitions, this move to shared responsibility for the Church’s mission will have its ups and downs, its successes and failures, but I am convinced that this is what the Spirit is calling us to, and that your willingness to accept this challenge is the key to our future.

While this concept of shared responsibility applies to all aspects of the Church’s mission, in our Diocese I would suggest three immediate areas of focus for its implementation: in the parish, in the family, and in the whole area of reconciliation and evangelization.

The Parish

The parish has been and will continue to be the center of the Church’s life. It is the spiritual descendent of the early Christian community that was described at the outset of this pastoral letter.

The parish is meant to be a group of Christians who pray and worship together and who extend that worship in their lives by helping each other with spiritual, emotional and financial support.

Today, with the isolation of the family, massive mobility, alienation and loneliness, there is less structure in our society for people to come together and to support each other through interdependence. Yet, the basis of Christianity rests on the requirements of mutual interdependence. The parish is where this interdependence would happen, where support systems for Christian living and Christian service must constantly be developed. Father Eugene Mainelli puts it this way:

"It is ultimately in the parish where God’s revelation and love and people’s efforts touch in a special and supportive community. All the movements of Christian life today - ecumenism, spiritual renewal, community action and social service, and Church reform itself - will take root and flourish if at all in the local communities of faith, the parishes." (Social Thought, Fall, 1975, Vol 1, No. 2)

While some predict the demise of the parish, I am convinced that the parish, be it territorial, ethnic, or by commonality of interest will remain the normal and usual way we as Catholics organize ourselves for Christian life and work.

This does not mean, of course, that all parishes must function in the same manner or that the style of parish life for the future must be predicated on the past. Forms of parish life must change and be ever-responsive to the changing communities they serve.

There will always be need, however, for tangible structures wherein people can experience the loving presence of the Lord and build community by sharing His redemptive and liberating love with others. That structure is the parish.

To achieve its purpose, the parish must provide a climate of mutual acceptance and support. The unique gifts possessed by every member must be promoted. The parish must demonstrate a collaborative relationship among all.

The parish council is the instrument or vehicle for insuring this collaboration. The parish council is both a ministry and the sign of a true Christian community. It is a partnership that gives witness, not only to what the parish is, but especially to what the parish is called to be. It shares in setting directions and it calls the people to walk in the way of the Risen Lord.

Already, in our Diocese, we have many active and fruitful parish councils. I hope these will continue to grow and flourish. I encourage members of existing parish councils constantly to review their purposes and their manner of functioning. At times, councils can tend to function routinely, doing what has been done in the past without evaluating the effectiveness of existing activities or looking to new challenges. Continuing needs-assessment, evaluation of programs and activities, and accountability for areas of responsibility are essential for an effective and alive parish council and parish community. I ask our Office of Pastoral Planning and our Diocesan Pastoral Council to be of assistance to parish councils that are seeking to grow and to revitalize themselves through goal-planning and evaluation.

I also ask that, in those parishes where councils do not exist, some process begin to insure the establishment of such. I strongly encourage that every parish of the Diocese have a functioning, truly representative parish council or its equivalent by 1981. Again, our Office of Pastoral Planning and our Diocesan Pastoral Council are requested to give leadership in this regard. A thorough process of education and parish wide consultation is the best way to begin this effort.

Parish councils are not intended to undermine or to usurp the role of the pastor or the parish staff. The pastor exercises a key role of leadership in the parish in the name and by the authority of the Bishop. together with the parish staff, the pastor has the responsibility for overseeing the development of the parish’s growth and implementing policy decisions emanating from the Church universal, the Diocese and the parish. But the pastor and his staff can best fulfill this responsibility when a well-informed, spiritually-alive, truly representative parish council can offer its best counsel and advice.

As I pointed out previously, the pastor’s leadership role is more and more that of enabling and coordinating. He must facilitate the sharing of decision-making and the delegation of leadership for various parish responsibilities, services and activities. He should do this in consultation with his brother priests and with the religious and the laity of the staff. Through the convening of regular meetings, joint planning and evaluation, and regular sharing of information and experience, the parish staff under the guidance of the pastor can be a real model of shared responsibility and leadership for the parish council and the entire parish.

The ultimate purpose of every parish is to foster the development of the Christ life and to promote the mission of the Church. This mission has many aspects; no one of them may be isolated from the other, and every one of them serves to form and complement the others. For purposes of organization and communication, in our Diocese, we suggest that all parish activity be grouped under one of four areas of mission: Prayer and Worship, Christian Education, Christian Service, and Church Administration.

Prayer and Worship. The whole Church, baptized in Jesus, shares His priesthood and therefore has the privileged responsibility of worshipping God and joining in the celebration of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.

Every baptized member of the Church is part of the holy people. When we join together for the celebration of the Eucharist and the other sacraments, we do so not only as individuals, but also as a people joined in faith to our brothers and sisters. To become a prayerful, worshipping community is a most essential goal for every parish.

Within this worshipping parish community, different liturgical roles are performed. The laity are called to exercise various ministries, such as reader, cantor, choir, musician, artist, usher, server and minister of Communion. They are coordinated and led by the ordained priest who has the unique responsibility of providing prayerful celebrations that evoke a response of faith. It is his responsibility to pronounce the Eucharistic prayers at Mass, to absolve in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to administer the other sacraments and, along with the deacon, to proclaim the Gospel and offer fitting homilies.

The Liturgy itself is to be expressive of the needs in the parish community, the size of the congregation, age level, cultural or ethnic backgrounds, resources of the community, and much more. Parish liturgies must be responsive to people’s needs and reflective of their lives. Otherwise, the heart of parish life is severely crippled.

That is why liturgical planning is so important. It is essential that the priests, deacons, lectors, cantors, musicians, organists, artists and other liturgical ministers be well trained in their roles, and that the celebrations themselves be well planned and carefully coordinated. This is best achieved by an ongoing parish liturgical team which seeks to develop a climate of prayerful and joyful celebration.

I urge formation of such a team in each parish under the auspices of the parish council and I pledge myself to form a Diocesan liturgical team to be a resource and guide for local parish communities.

The Parish Liturgy team must concern itself not only with the Eucharistic liturgy, "the source and summit of the Christian life," but also with the fostering of other forms of prayer as well since, as St. Paul admonishes, "We must pray always."

Particularly noteworthy in today’s Church is the growth of t he Charismatic Renewal throughout the world and in our Diocese. This movement, which highlights the presence of the Spirit in our midst, and the centrality of Jesus in our lives, has much to teach all of us about the alive sense of praise, joy, hope and thanksgiving that we need to express in our prayers and worship.

I also applaud the efficacious prayer experiences fostered by the Apostolate of the Suffering in our Diocese. This apostolate provides a visible witness to the type of vital contribution that can be made by shut-ins and by those confined to hospitals and nursing homes.

A rich and reverent prayer life must be at the core of every Christian’s existence. Otherwise our life will be empty and our activity futile.

Karl Rahner has expressed the idea that, in a world with few institutional supports for religion, the only Christians in the future will be those who have an experience of God. Prayer, however, one may define it and of whatever style it may be, is the only way to gain that experience and to lead others to Him.

Christian Education. The foundation of every parish is faith in God. The growth and maintenance of that faith is the responsibility of every member of the parish community. Unfortunately, faith formation or religious education has been too often reserved only for children or students and for those who have the responsibility for formal teaching, namely priests, deacons, religious and teachers of religion.

However, no one of us ever stops developing. No one of us ever reaches total assurance on deep and troubling questions. No one of us grows so mature that we do not need reflection to renew once again our commitment to God, self and fellow human beings.

That is why our approach to religious education must be total - directed to the total person in his or her concrete life circumstance and to the total parish community.

That is also why I consider continuing religious education for adults - clergy, religious and laity - to be of critical importance in striving to implement the concept of shared responsibility.

The Bishops of the United States stated it well in their pastoral letter "To Teach as Jesus Did" when they defined the continuing education of adults as being "situated not at the periphery of the Church’s educational mission but at its center."

In the past, the parish has tended to concentrate its religious education efforts on one or two approaches - a school, a religious education program for public school youngsters, an annual or semi-annual adult discussion course or seminar. These approaches have served, and continue to serve, the ends of Christian education. But, good as they are, they constantly need to be re-assessed to ascertain if they are really still preaching the Good News effectively and exciting people to a love for the Lord and each other.

Furthermore, varied and flexible programs must be developed. It has become very clear that there are teachable moments in each person’s life. We must seize upon those moments to address the person in the name of Jesus and His message.

The liturgy, for example, can be a prime source of deepened faith understanding through message and worship. Sacramental preparation programs provide a similar opportunity.

Parish communities must also search for ways to provide religious education and faith-sharing in each apostolate and ministry. Youth groups, fold-music ensembles, prayer groups, altar boys, lay ministers, senior citizen groups, PTAs, parish council sessions, Altar Rosary and Holy Names societies, Cursillo groups and Marriage Encounter circles, all provide fertile opportunities to share the meaning of religion in the life of their members.

Experiences of faith formation such as Search, PET, days of renewal, retreats, Engaged, Marriage and Family Encounters, also offer great opportunities for growth and development.

I would note, too, the superb contribution our Diocesan newspaper, The Evangelist, makes in providing for our people up-to-date news and commentary about trends, developments and movements in the life of the Church. I cannot recommend highly enough regular reading of this weekly as a major tool for one’s continued religious education.

We must be more than informed about our faith, however; we must also realize our responsibility to share it with others. People have this responsibility on different levels:

1. Each one of us must be willing to search out opportunities for ongoing formation through reading, study and courses, and to share with family, friends and neighbors our own convictions of faith.

2. Parents have a special and inalienable responsibility to share their faith with their children. Although Catholic schools and parish schools of religion exist to help fulfill this responsibility, they cannot substitute for it. This responsibility will be most fruitfully filled by lives in Christ.

3. The pastor, parish staff and parish council have the responsibility to see that a variety of formal and informal faith-formation programs such as are described above are available for all segments of the parish community. In this regard, I am especially grateful to the religious and laity who teach in our parochial schools and parish schools of religion. Their willingness to update themselves and to bring the teachings of Jesus to others is one of the precious treasures of our contemporary Church.

4. The Bishop and his offices for schools and religious education must provide overall direction and guidance. Regional boards for religious education and school boards participate in this responsibility in a special way. So, too, do those who teach in Diocesan and private Catholic high schools, our Catholic colleges and in our campus ministry programs, brining the Gospel message to these special settings.

To assist in developing that total approach to education, parochially, regionally and Diocesan wide, mentioned earlier and envisioned in the Bishops’ pastoral "To Teach as Jesus Did." I have commissioned a task force to study and propose potential models for total education and I have asked our planning office to assist the task force with this study.

I recognize the crisis that confronts our Catholic schools today. They have had a very special place in nurturing the faith of our people and in transmitting Christian values. Increasingly, however, inflation, declining religious personnel and dwindling enrollments have necessitated the closing of some schools and the consolidation or reorganization of others.

It is obvious that the cherished ideal of a Catholic school education for every Catholic child is not and cannot be a reality. But it is also obvious that there is need in our pluralistic society, an increasingly secular one at that, for a system of education that seeks to integrate religious truths and values with life. Our Catholic schools provide that alternative.

I encourage our people to support our Catholic schools by enrolling their children and by personal and financial sacrifices required to ensure that the vitality of our schools is not a faded dream but a pledge for the future.

I also ask our Diocesan School Board and Office and all regional and parochial school boards to continue the exploration of concepts, such as negotiated tuition, grants in aid, clustering and shared facilities, so that the most prudent use may be made of our financial and personnel resources. In particular, I ask that ways be developed to insure that financial criteria do not exclude the poor and disadvantaged from sharing the rich heritage of a Catholic school education.

Christian Service. In addition to being a community of faith and worship, the parish must also be a community of service, a community of caring and sharing, made up of people who seek to reach out to the poor, sick, aging, isolated and alienated.

The Synod of Bishops in 1971 reminded us that efforts on behalf of justice are a constitutive element of the Christian life, as much a part of it as the proclamation of God’s word and the celebration of the Sacraments.

The service dimension of the Christian life needs to be strongly emphasized. Many of us grew up with the notion that political, social and economic issues had little, if anything at all, to do with living our faith. Social involvement and efforts on behalf of justice were looked upon as either unrelated or peripheral to the core of our faith, as something optional that could be accepted or rejected at one’s pleasure.

However, in our times, we have been reminded that our personal and communal lives, like the life of Jesus, must be characterized by a profound concern for people in their concrete human situation, a concern rooted in a response to the Father’s love that finds its full expression in our love for and involvement with our fellow human beings.

We have been told, in other words, that a ministry of service and justice must be an integral and essential part of every Christian life, and part and parcel of the life of every Christian life, and part and parcel of the life of every parish community. The Vatican Council, for example, stated that, "The joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of all, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, should be the hopes, griefs, anxieties of the followers of Christ." (Church in the Modern World, 1)

And the popes of this century, as well as statements of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, have reminded us repeatedly of needed programs for peace, respect for life, civil reform, responsible use of the world’s resources, disarmament, the elimination of drug abuse, care for the mentally and physically handicapped, legislation safeguarding the rights of the family, neighborhood preservation and many other concerns that flow from our social involvement. These programs must be directed not only toward the alleviation of human misery, but also toward changing those forces that cause such misery; toward what is referred to as "systemic change."

Our Diocesan Office of Health and Social Services and our Commission for Peace and Justice have given visionary leadership in this area. But these efforts will be effective only insofar as they are translated into tangible programs and actions in the lives of our people, especially at the parish level.

Each parish community, then, should have a committee or group to deal with these social needs in cooperation with others parishes, other churches and synagogues, and the Diocesan and community agencies established to deal with such issues.

It is the responsibility of a parish social service or social action committee to call critical social needs to the attention of parishioners and to facilitate their participation in programs to alleviate them. In all this, we must affirm our resolve to serve not only the needs of the parish but also the needs of the larger Diocesan, national and world communities.

Over the years, members of parish-based organizations, such as the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Legion of Mary, the Rosary Society and Holy Names Society, and other Church-related groups such as the Knights of Columbus, the Knights of St. John, the Catholic Daughters of America, the Ladies of Charity and the Catholic Women’s Service League, have responded personally, compassionately, and productively to human needs.

More recently, however, given the antiseptic, computerized society in which we live, with its greater emphasis on governmental and Church bureaucracy, there has been the trend to a pocket-book mentality toward service and charity, with as little personal involvement as possible. The government, professionally-staffed Church organizations or United Fund agencies have increasingly been looked upon to do the job in the field of human services, relieving the individual and the parish community of their responsibility for Christian service.

Such an approach has been well intentioned; in practice, however, it has far too often contributed to polarization and alienation. It has isolated young from old, the well from the ill, the mentally stable from the emotionally troubled, the incarcerated from the free, the affluent from the poor, the well-housed from those in slums, the favored majorities from the depressed minorities. There have been notable exceptions, but, for the most part, each group has grown a universe apart from its opposite, with the comfortable segment increasingly isolating itself physically and mentally from getting involved beyond writing a check or paying taxes for welfare appropriations.

As a result, people at all social and economic levels, I believe, are fed up and disillusioned with our social condition. They yearn for and are willing to invest themselves in a thrust that will involve individuals, families, parishes and the Church as a whole in a truly personal ministry of love, concern and help wherever it is needed - in our hospitals, nursing homes, jails, inner cities, rural communities, and local neighborhoods, and among young and old, rich and poor, black and white, brown and red, educated and uneducated.

Therefore, I challenge all our people to do this type of personalized service and selfless utilization of their time, gifts and talents on behalf of others. I ask that this service thrust be parish-based even when it is ecumenically or regionally oriented.

Further, I call for the development of a Diocesan Service Corps composed of individuals willing to give from one to three years of their time to volunteer for a service commitment in one of our parishes or parish-oriented projects.

I am commissioning a task force composed of members from the Diocesan Office of Health and Social Services, Campus Ministry, Chancery and Stewardship Office to address the issues of recruitment, placement and finances, and to establish a model to be operational by 1980. I believe that the need for such is pressing, that people, especially young adults, will volunteer, and that such a corps will be a dynamic stimulant to all our people to exercise the call to service that is addressed to each of us.

I am convinced, especially given the dehumanized and depersonalized climate that prevails in our society today, that the more visible and viable our ministry of service becomes, the more credible and attractive our ministry of word and Sacrament will be.

Church Administration. If there is one area of Church life that we may tend to underestimate or even belittle, it is the ministry of administration - that ministry which deals with the proper management of finances, property and resources so that the worship, education and service ministry of the Church might be fulfilled.

Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians refers to administration as one of the gifts given to the Christian community, along with prophesy, teaching and others (I Cor. 12:28). The prudent exercise of this gift or charism is of critical importance if the overall mission of the Church is to be accomplished.

The administrative task in every parish grows larger and larger each day, as aging buildings need repairs, as new ones must be constructed, as mandatory personnel benefits change, as Church and governmental structures demand more accountability, as schools and religious education costs rise, and as parish giving and fund-raising activities struggle to keep pace with soaring inflation.

As a consequence, more and more effort and energy must be directed to these pressing matters. Unfortunately, the pastor and other parish staff increasingly find themselves devoting their labors to these efforts, detracting proportionately from their other pressing responsibilities.

This is unfortunate because pastoral staff frequently become demoralized when so much of their energy is consumed in administrative and fund-raising matters to the detriment of other vital areas of parish life, and because most parish staffs do not have training or expertise in the fields of budgeting, building maintenance and administrative procedures.

Administration, then, is a crucial ministry which must be shared, especially with competent lay people. It requires a commitment of people with expertise in planning, finances and management to lend their gifts to the fulfillment of the parish mission. Also to be considered is a willingness to share resources, personnel and other advantages on an interparochial, regional and ecumenical basis.

It should be stressed that the administrative component must be harmonized with Gospel values and overall diocesan and parish goals so that administrative concerns do not themselves set priorities but are addressed within a context of the parish’s overall mission.

What I seek to underscore is that the parish must be the hub and center of the Church’s life - a life that is shared with all members of the community whose unique and indispensable gifts and talents are essential to the mission of the Church.

To highlight my concern for, and commitment to, the vitality of parish life, I pledge myself to visit the parishes of the Diocese over the next four years, apart from the regular cycle of Confirmation. I will seek out the opportunity to discuss with the pastor, parish staff, parish council members and the entire parish community their views about the vision of parish life herein proposed, and to assess and evaluate the implementation of such at the local level.

Also, to insure ongoing action and communication between the Bishop’s office and the parishes, and to stimulate interparochial planning and cooperation, I ask that, in addition to the formation of parish councils, regional (or Deanery) councils be formed. I request the Diocesan Pastoral Council to oversee the development of this concept.

I believe that my role as chief shepherd will be only as effective as the advice and counsel I receive. The Diocesan Pastoral Council is designated as the chief advisory board to the Bishop in his Diocese. But this collegial body will function adequately and responsibly only insofar as it is in dialogue with and truly representative of active parish and regional councils.

What is called for, then, is shared responsibility at the parish, regional and diocesan level, so that we - Bishop, priests, deacons, religious and laity - are truly a people on pilgrimage together who cooperatively and collaboratively seek to advance the kingdom of God here on earth.

All this is involved in the term stewardship: the use of one’s time, talent and treasure on behalf of the Gospel. That is why our recently created Office of Stewardship is so important: to assist parishes, in conjunction with our Office of Pastoral Planning, in assessing needs, recruiting people and developing the financial resources to fulfill the ministry of word, sacrament and service.

There are two other special emphases I would envision for the immediate future to enhance parish life and to spark this concept of shared responsibility, namely, family life, and reconciliation and evangelization.

The Family

If the parish is the foundation of the Church, the family is the cornerstone of the parish. As a matter of fact, there is a reciprocal relationship between the natural family and the parish family; these two basic units of our Church and society are called to be in ministry to each other.

The family is the Church in miniature. Therefore, the Church, especially at the parish level, must try to minister to families with renewed understanding, compassion and competency to help family members grow and serve others. In so doing, the Church herself will be revitalized and enriched.

The Call to Action Conference, sponsored by the United States Bishops in 1976 as part of the Church’s Bicentennial observance, revealed that family-related issues were the foremost issues surfaced from among thousands of pastoral and social concerns that were identified. Our people, then, are looking to the Church as the preeminent institution in our turbulent society to help couples and family members deal with the challenge of family life such as divorce and separation, premarital and extramarital sexual activity, out-of-wedlock activities and juvenile delinquency.

The Church's primary responsibility in this regard is to help families experience God's love through a prayerful, spirit-filled parish community of faith and charity - and to encourage the involvement of families in Christian service to other families in the parish and to the entire community.

The Church, in other words, must articulate the message of Jesus as revealed in the Scriptures and as shared through the Church's tradition and sacramental life. But, at the same time, the Church must recognize that ministry to and for families must essentially involve a ministry of the laity - a ministry by families.

The key to family life, them, is to be found in the family itself becoming aware of its Christian mission. The family must become an active agent within the Church for renewal and change; it must foster caring and sharing among its own members which then spills over into the same type of loving, caring concern in the wider community.

In this way, there is a true complementarity between parish and family - the parish supporting families spiritually and sacramentally in their efforts to live in fidelity and peace, and challenging families to heroism and grater holiness by becoming centers of apostolic service; and families, in so responding, making the message and the mission of the parish more credible and attractive to others.

Over the years, our church has had a rich heritage of support for family life. Our parishes, our schools and religious education programs, and our system of social service and health care, have served many important purposes but none more important than that of supporting the family, enriching it through contacts with other families, affirming it through preaching and sacrament, and bolstering it through programs of education.

Today, we face new problems and new challenges. We don't have all the answers, but we do have the framework, the value system and the faith-dimension within which viable, creative options can be developed.

Therefore, I ask our Family Life Commission and those vital movements such as Marriage Encounter and Cursillo, which have proven so effective in strengthening marriage and family life, to assist our parish families with resources and programs that will promote personal, social and spiritual family growth and that will combat those utilitarian, materialistic and hedonistic forces that challenge the integrity of marriage and family.

Specifically, we need to offer comprehensive programs providing long-range as well as immediate marriage preparation for young people, fostering family activities in parishes, ministering to hurting families, advocating public policy that will enshrine the family as a cornerstone of society, affirming the ethnic and racial character of various families, and encouraging greater experiences for married couples, single parents and functioning family units.

A special ministry to separated and divorced Catholics must also be developed. Too often, these members have been neglected by the Church causing them to live painful, lonely lives, sometimes alienated from their spiritual home when remarriage has occurred. Renewed efforts must be made to assist these suffering brothers and sisters in their particular plight.

It pains me to learn how many Catholics are misinformed about the status of divorce and separated Catholics, and how many myths exist about the grounds for a Church annulment, the cost of pursuing such and the length of time for the process.

I ask our Diocesan Marriage Tribunal to continue its efforts to assist those who seek annulments. I further ask all those in pastoral positions to be sensitive to the divorced and remarried, to acquaint them with the rights and opportunities available for them, and to create among all our people a climate of understanding.

I also ask our Family Life Commission to develop support groups for the separated and divorced at the parish or regional level, especially for single parents, to provide them with the spiritual and emotional assistance they need to cope with their particular problems.

In focusing upon family life, I don't mean in any way to ignore or downplay the vocation of those who lead single lives. Theirs, too, is a unique vocation within the Church and a witness to the Christian life in a special way. Most single persons, however, are part of a family system in which they can use their gifts and receive love and support. Parishes, nonetheless, must be sensitive not to exclude singles from their programs and activities, and must have a special concern for widows and widowers. I am most pleased by the renewed activity of our singles group in the Diocese and encourage the growth of this type of movement throughout our Diocese.

There are two special contributions I would ask families to make to the larger Church. The first is for parents and family members to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and to encourage family members to consider these indispensable vocations in the Christian community. The family is the domestic Church. It is in the home that the Christian life is most fully lived and experienced. It is from this context that vocations must emerge.

Second, I believe that the family is the place where the Church's concern about respect for human life can most effectively be taught and appreciated. The loving interaction of family members can best convey the inherent value of every human life and underscore that this value is determined not by what a person does or produces, but rather by the simple fact that each person has been called into existence by God and is loved by Him.

In the life cycle of family members, there is an unparalleled opportunity to give living witness to our belief in the sacredness of human life: in the unborn, the young, the sick and the aging. Yes, the family is the best school for conveying information about sex, communicating caring attitudes toward the poor and disadvantaged, and showing respect for life that is less than perfect.

If our families can communicate this respect for human life at each stage in the life spectrum, then the problems of abortion, illegitimacy, and injustice at all levels will be substantially reduced.

Reconciliation and Evangelization

The other major emphasis I envision permeating parish life and making the concept of share responsibility come alive in the immediate future is the call to reconciliation and evangelization.

There are thousands of Roman Catholics in our Diocese who need to hear anew or afresh the Good News of our Lord, Jesus Christ. They differ widely in their degree of commitment to, and living of, their faith. Those Roman Catholics actively living and practicing their faith need to hear a message of hope and encouragement; they need to be nourished in their living out of their faith commitment. Those who are tepid in their faith need an invitation to come and know the Lord in a more intimate and personal way. And those who are alienated from their faith, for whatever reason, need to hear a word of welcome and healing.

There are many within our community who have fallen away from the practice of faith. This could be for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they find themselves in a situation which they believe separates them from the Roman Catholic community. Perhaps they feel they were insulted by a priest, or religious, or lay person. Or perhaps they have difficulty in understanding some of the Church' moral, doctrinal or social teachings, or in accepting the changes which have come about. We, as a community, need to reach out to these brothers and sisters in a gentle, loving way.

In addition, there are untold numbers in our Diocese who are totally unchurched, belonging to no ecclesial community, never having heard the message of Jesus. They need someone to share with them the hopes, joys, blessings, consolations and challenges of our Christian faith.

What is needed is both reconciliation within our own membership, and evangelization to the unchurched who so desperately need to hear the saving message of Jesus.

I firmly believe that the time is ripe for such a thrust. Some may argue that we should wait for the day when our own house is in better spiritual condition, when all our Diocesan and parish communities are models of what has been outlined in this letter, before reaching out in such a fashion. However, the Christian community has never been in perfect order and never will be until the Parousia. We are pilgrim people who are always on need of reform, who always fall somewhat short of the mark as we wait for the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Until that day, we must live in joyful hope, sharing as best we can the Good News of His Kingdom.

To launch this approach, I designate Lent of 1979 as a time for reconciliation within the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany. I propose to reach out to as many members of our Diocesan community as possible by conducting a Diocesan retreat during the week of March 26, using the medium of television.

The specifics of this program will be explained at a later date. But I envision this to be a program directed to and involving all our people, priests, deacons, religious and laity, practicing and alienated. My role as Bishop will be to set the tone, to offer the call to reconciliation and recommitment. But the response to this call must be at the parish or regional level. This is absolutely essential for impact and follow-through.

If such a program is to be a success, it will require the application of the concept of shared responsibility. Our priests, with the aid of deacons, must present the program in their parishes and be available for discussion, counseling and sacramental ministry. Our religious must prepare those whom they serve in their apostolates to hear this call and be ready to assist them in making their response. Our laity must minister to one another in a peer-to-peer approach to arouse interest and enthusiasm. And all of us must be willing to prepare our hearts to receive God's word and to respond to the movement of the Spirit among us.

I ask, then, that our people begin immediately to pray for the success of this program and that all cooperate fully so that, personally, we might become better followers of our Lord and that, communally, we might be more ardent evangelists in a world that is hungering and thirsting for His message.

A detailed and specific treatment of our relations with other churches and ecclesial bodies does not fit within the scope of this letter. Where it was appropriate, however, I have alluded to the possibilities of ecumenical and interfaith collaboration. It is my abiding hope that all our efforts will be exerted as much as possible in the spirit of ecumenism, that is, with concern for Christian Unity and with attention to cooperation with all persons of good will.


In conclusion, I express the hope and prayer that the directions presented in the Pastoral Letter will serve as the basis for prayerful reflection and constructive reaction on the part of all our people.

This Pastoral Letter is presented, in the spirit of shared responsibility, not as the final word but as a direction and as a stimulus to discussion, dialogue and action. Some may think that the considerations presented here are moving us ahead on our pilgrim journey too quickly; others may think that the directions presented do not move us forward quickly enough. We must remember, however, that the Church is not and cannot be the community any one of us wants it to be. Rather, through our honest and prayerful interaction with one another, we hope it will become that community of faith. Love and service described in the Book of Acts, and which the Spirit, in His own inscrutable ways, is guiding it to be.

Let us rejoice, then, that we are His people.

Devotedly yours, in Christ,

Howard J. Hubbard

Bishop of Albany