Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Greetings in the Lord’s peace during these late summer days! This edition of the DovNet newsletter takes as a focus the theme from our Bishop’s Pastoral Plan that was announced in May: “Of one heart and mind.” The scriptural source for this theme is Acts 4:32-35, which reads in full:
“The community of believers were of one heart and one mind. None of them ever claimed anything as his own; rather, everything was held in common. With power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great respect was paid to them all; nor was anyone needy among them, for all who owned property or houses sold them and donated the proceeds. They used to lay them at the feet of the apostles to be distributed to everyone according to his need.”
This is a beautiful and challenging picture of early Church life, isn’t it? One of the great manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s work among the early Christians was this kind of unity and selfless concern for one another, united in the love of Christ. Our Bishop is calling us to seek the Lord for this kind of growth today in the face of challenges in our diocese and in our parishes.
I think that all of us who have been touched by the renewing power of the Holy Spirit in the Charismatic renewal and in other ecclesial movements have had a taste of this kind of unity. Participation in great charismatic conferences and retreats can often bring a glimpse of so many different people deeply united in Jesus, bearing with each other in love, serving humbly and gratefully. When we surrender to the action of the Holy Spirit day by day, the transforming love of God can heal selfishness, move us to share our gifts and work together despite differences, seeking the glory of God more than our own self interests. We know this is a lifelong process of conversion….
The prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper can become our own prayer: “that all may be one as You, Father, are in me, and I in you; I pray that they may be one in us that the world may believe that you sent me.” (John 17:21) Our unity is part of being a credible witness to Christ and our disunity becomes an obstacle to others. With over 33,000 different Christian denominations in the world today (and more coming each year), we need so much the Holy Spirit’s action to help us move toward being of “one mind and one heart.” But right within our own Diocese, parishes, and prayer groups there is room for growth in this unity that can then better reflect the light of Christ. I’d like to look at a few parts of our Bishop’s pastoral letter to see how we can be part of the Lord’s answer to our challenges and respond to the call of our Bishop.
In the first part of Bishop Sample’s Pastoral Letter (May 18, 2007 in the U.P. Catholic), he mentions some of the positive signs of a vibrant Church in our Diocese:
“There are great signs of hope and vitality in many of our communities. In many of our parishes and missions, the life of the community starts with the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice, the ‘source and summit of the Christian life’… but then extends beyond that to reflect a vibrant and spirit-filled community that serves past the parish borders into a true life of service to the wider local community. In some places, the Catholic church is the center of life and unity for the whole community of the city, town or village.”
When there are many prayerful, faith-filled, Spirit-filled members of a parish, it more often can resemble that description. So many of you are likely present not only at Sunday Masses but daily Masses, drawing your strength and love from the Eucharist, and witnessing by your participation in a love for Christ and His Church. Many of you serve in a variety of ministries that build up the local parish and community. Active prayer groups and individuals committed to a deep life of prayer are intercessory powerhouses and active apostles that help build parish life. By practicing our faith with deep love, humility, and generosity, we contribute to that vibrant unity in the Spirit.
Our Bishop goes on to acknowledge the ‘shadows’ discovered among people of our diocese in statements like: “You can’t put us with them,” or “If we need to build, we must build on neutral ground”, or “If you close us, we will leave the Church, rather than join with a neighboring Catholic community.” To this he responds:
“What this reflects is a lack of understanding of what it means to be part of the diocesan and universal Church, a Eucharistic community… When our own particular parish or mission church becomes everything and the only thing to us, then we have lost something very important a sense of what it means to be a disciple of Christ in his Body, the Church.”
I remember a wise Bishop talking to our college seminary once, speaking about how to prepare for future challenges and changes in the Church. He said something like this: “If you’re committed just to certain systems and programs, to structures and buildings, it will be hard because those things will change from time to time. But if you’re committed most of all to the person of Jesus and His Church, you will do OK He does not change.” That piece of advice comes to mind with our own Bishop’s observation the need for understanding more fully what it means to be a real disciple of Christ in His Church, committed deeply to Him. The more that we are growing in that kind of committed love for the Lord and His Church, we’ll better weather the storms of change.
We may be able to help our brothers and sisters who are struggling with various changes in their parishes and missions by our kindness and listening, by our understanding and charity, and especially by our own witness to trust in Christ and focus on Him beyond what is changing. How we listen to and speak about others, needs to be done with an ear to the Spirit, and marked by charity, avoiding gossip, slander, detraction, and rash judgments… especially if we are hurting due to some changes we’re facing personally, too!
The freedom of obedience to those the Lord has set in authority over us in the Church is a key factor to building unity, also. This has been a saving factor in the Charismatic renewal always remembering the protection the Lord gives us in being under authority. We need to pray for growth in this attitude as well as pray for our Bishop, pastors, and others in authority in regard to parish life. Obedience grows out of humility, and humility frees us from the basic sin of pride that is the root of most problems we face…
Our Bishop mentions two special areas of need and concern that again those in the Charismatic renewal and other ecclesial movements can respond to: the need for promoting vocations and youth ministry. He writes:
“The responsibility for promoting priestly, diaconal, and religious vocations belongs to all of us. It is not the exclusive responsibility of the bishop, vocation director, or priests. Parents must be especially positive and attentive in encouraging their children to be open to the possibility of a vocation to priesthood or religious life. Sadly, many families seem indifferent or even negative to such a possibility…
A special concern and challenge for us all concerns our young people, especially those from middle school, through high school and into college. We must give special attention and energy toward helping them stay connected with the Church. They must be formed to understand their vital role in the Body of Christ, and at the same time they must be helped to see how living their faith in the midst of the world is essential to their call to be disciples of Christ.”
It’s usually in vibrant parishes and prayer groups that vocations to priesthood and religious life are fostered when the Lord is known and loved, the desire to serve Him generously is fostered. I remember how important my own involvement in the prayer group in my hometown area was in helping me to discover the Lord’s call to priesthood. I found loving encouragement from my parents and also from prayer group members who affirmed the gifts they saw God had given me. God is raising up new shepherds and servants from places where He is loved and honored. You’ll read in this newsletter an article by Marty Flynn, now a seminarian for our diocese, coming from an environment of vibrant Christian love in his family and prayer group!
In this newsletter you’ll also find an article about the recent “Steubenville North” Youth Conference sponsored by “Yahweh’s Yoopers.” It is a great example of the outreach and ministry to our youth and by our youth that answers some of the concern for our young people. How many young people in our diocese have been drawn deeper in their Catholic faith by participation at Steubenville conferences, by Youth Encounters, through Youth 2000 weekends, by being part of prayer groups and solid youth groups in parishes! How many of you have served generously as CCD catechists, leading young people closer to Christ… Young people alive in Christ have a very special witness ability for ministry to other young people, both their peers and younger children. It’s great to see that kind of dynamic growing and we need much more!
Our Bishop ends his pastoral letter by emphasizing our mission and its source:
“Our mission is to contemplate the face of Christ and then show his face to the world as members of his Church, the universal sacrament of salvation. We contemplate his face in our prayer and participation in the sacramental life of the Church…. Our mission flows from the great mystery of the Eucharist.”
We are so blessed to be able to receive and worship our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, to adore and contemplate his face in Adoration and prayer! May we allow the Lord to transform our hearts and minds through these gifts and graces so that we become more “of one heart and mind” right where we are, building up the Body of Christ in our diocese. God bless you all deeply!
in the Hearts of Jesus and Mary
From the Diocese of Marquette Michigan, U.P. Catholic Charismatic Newsletter (Summer, 2007)