May 2, 2014

Rejoice in the Lord

Pope Francis challenges us to move beyond our comfort zones

Archbishop Joseph W. TobinThere’s something prophetic about Pope Francis. Imagine John the Baptist with a hearty smile preaching God’s “endless mercy.” He doesn’t hesitate to call attention to the ways that we are soft, lazy or self-indulgent, but he does it in ways that give us hope and encouragement.

We are called to be better, the Holy Father says. We are meant to do more—and be more—than simply stay inside where it’s safe and warm. We’re called to “go forth from our own comfort zones” in order to be missionary disciples for Christ (“Evangelii Gaudium,” #20).

We tend to think of missionaries as other people (not us), who have a special calling and unique gifts. We have come to think of missionaries as clergy, consecrated religious or lay people who travel to distant lands and endure many hardships in order to preach the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ.

Pope Francis tells us that this image is not wrong, but it’s incomplete. We are all called to be missionaries, disciples of Jesus Christ who bring his Good News to others—in our homes and workplaces, in our parishes and neighborhoods, and in our personal contributions of time, talent and treasure to the Church’s worldwide mission.

“Before all else,” the Holy Father says, “the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others” (EG, #39).

Since I arrived in Indiana nearly 18 months ago, I have been asking the question, “Where is God opening a door for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis?” This is another way of asking where the Holy Spirit is calling us to go as missionaries for Christ. I have spent a lot of time listening to people in all regions of central and southern Indiana. I’ve also tried to listen to what the Lord is saying—to me and to all of us—about the challenges we face as we seek to evangelize God’s people here at home and throughout the world.

During this time of listening, I have come up with more questions than answers. Here are some of the questions that have emerged as I have tried to hear what the Holy Spirit is calling us to be and do as a missionary archdiocese:

How can we more effectively evangelize the young Church? How can invite our youths and young adults to experience God’s love for them and in turn to reach out to others?

Married couples and families are struggling today as never before. What are we called to do to strengthen marriage and family life for the sake of millions of individual men, women and children and of society as a whole?

What about the strangers in our midst—especially the growing number of immigrants and refugees? How are we called to welcome them, and to learn from them, as our sisters and brothers in Christ?

Our archdiocese is home to many incarcerated prisoners in local, state and federal prisons. How can we move beyond our comfort zones to make sure that they hear the message of God’s boundless love and mercy?

While we are a local Church (an archdiocese), we are also an integral part of the global community (the universal Church). How can we broaden our horizons and help serve the needs of our brothers and sisters who are far away from us?

How can we help parishes in our archdiocese (both recently established communities and older parishes) who are saddled with debt? Can we find creative ways to free them from these burdens for the sake of our common mission?

The Gospel challenge to “go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19) has both a local and a global dimension for us. As Pope Francis says, “The parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility.” Similarly, the Holy Father calls dioceses like ours to undergo a form of “missionary conversion” (EG, #28-30).

Where is God opening a door for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis? We may not know the details, but the direction is clear. We are being invited, and challenged, to move beyond our comfort zones and to be missionaries for Christ.

During this Easter season, let’s pray for the gift of joyful gratitude for Christ’s death and resurrection which have set us free to serve God and one another. Let’s also pray that the Holy Spirit will enlighten our minds and hearts so that we can do God’s will always. †

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