July 4, 2014

Rejoice in the Lord

Connected in the Spirit: The missionary option

Archbishop Joseph W. TobinDuring the remaining weeks of the summer, I want to offer some reflections on the question I have been asking since I arrived here in central and southern Indiana more than 18 months ago: Where is the Holy Spirit opening doors for us? In these reflections, I want to include some thoughts about the process we call Connected in the Spirit.

Clearly God is calling us to look closely at the number, location and staffing of parishes in the 11 deaneries of our archdiocese, and this is one of the main purposes of Connected in the Spirit.

But I believe the question about where the Holy Spirit is opening doors for us is broader and perhaps even more challenging than this, so I want to discuss the important issues we face here in the context of our overall mission and purpose as an archdiocesan Church.

In his apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Pope Francis has some challenging things to say to bishops, priests and all who have pastoral responsibilities in the Church.

We are not to be closed in on ourselves. We are not to use the sacraments or Church teaching on morality as clubs to beat people with or chase them away from the community of faith. Mercy, love for the poor, humility, a welcoming spirit and a genuine and enthusiastic proclamation of Gospel joy should be our defining characteristics.

The Holy Father urges us to be “Spirit-filled evangelizers” (#259), and while the work of evangelization should take place everywhere—including our homes, our workplaces and the public square—the parish has a special role to play in giving witness to the joy of the Gospel.

Pope Francis writes, “I dream of a ‘missionary option,’ that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself”(#27).

I can’t imagine a clearer articulation of our mission as parishes and as an archdiocese. We are called to be missionary disciples, and whatever changes we make in our structures must unquestionably be for “the evangelization of today’s world” and not for “self-preservation.”

The Holy Father goes on to say that “the parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community. While certainly not the only institution which evangelizes, if the parish proves capable of self-renewal and constant adaptivity, it continues to be ‘the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters’ ” (#28).

Through the collaborative, “bottom-up” process of Connected in the Spirit, we are being challenged to exercise greater flexibility in the way we structure and staff parishes. Our primary purpose is to proclaim the Gospel as “missionary disciples” who witness to Gospel joy. Our goal is not self-preservation, although we do have to be responsible stewards of the human, physical and financial resources entrusted to our care.

Pope Francis reminds us that we are called to be “the Church incarnate in a certain place, equipped with all the means of salvation bestowed by Christ, but with local features” (#30). The Holy Father goes on to say that both parishes and dioceses are challenged to step outside of their comfort zones, and to be ambassadors for Christ both close to home and in the farthest corners of the world.

When I recently announced the results of our deliberations in the four Indianapolis deaneries as part of Connected in the Spirit, I noted that we are now working with three distinct models or structures for parish communities: merged, linked and partnered. I plan to discuss each of these models in the coming weeks, but what they all have in common is our sincere effort to realize Pope Francis’ dream of a “missionary option” for our parishes and our archdiocese.

Let us ask the Holy Spirit to continue to accompany the planning process of Connected in the Spirit, so that all of us may be missionary disciples who give eloquent witness to the joy the Gospel. †

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