August 4, 2017

Christ the Cornerstone

Our archdiocese is called to missionary conversion

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Each particular Church, as a portion of the Catholic Church under the leadership of its bishop, is likewise called to missionary conversion. It is the primary subject of evangelization, since it is the concrete manifestation of the one Church in one specific place, and in it the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and operative. It is the Church incarnate in a certain place, equipped with all the means of salvation bestowed by Christ, but with local features. … To make this missionary impulse ever more focused, generous and fruitful, I encourage each particular Church to undertake a resolute process of discernment, purification and reform”
(Pope Francis, “The Joy of the Gospel,” #30).

This is my first weekly column for The Criterion, and I have to admit that I’m a little nervous. I have promised to work closely with you, the Catholic people of central and southern Indiana, to build on the foundations established by previous archbishops.

One of these “foundations” dates back to 1992 when then-Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein began writing a weekly column, “Seeking the Face of the Lord,” for this newspaper. For nearly 20 years—except in the case of serious illness—he never missed a weekly column!

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin continued this tradition with his weekly column, “Rejoice in the Lord.” For nearly four years, the archbishop (and, later, cardinal) shared with the archdiocese his reflections on a variety of subjects.

During my time as a pastor in the Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky., and then as Bishop of Evansville, Ind., I looked forward to receiving The Criterion in the mail and reading the archbishop’s weekly column. Never did I imagine that I would one day be responsible for this important instrument of teaching and evangelization!

A bishop must always foster what Pope Francis calls “missionary conversion” in his diocesan Church, following the ideal of the first Christian communities, in which the believers were of one heart and one soul (cf. Acts 4:32). To do so, the bishop will sometimes go before the people, pointing the way and keeping their hopes vibrant. At other times, he will simply be in their midst with his unassuming and merciful presence. At yet other times, he will have to walk after them, helping those who lag behind and—above all—allowing the flock to strike out on new paths.

Regular communication between a bishop, his priests and his people is critical to the success of this mission of fostering dynamic, open and missionary conversion. That’s why—following the example of my predecessors—I look forward to these weekly columns.

The publication date for the first column is Aug. 4, 2017, the Memorial of St. John Vianney, the Curé of Ars, who is known as the patron saint of parish priests. This great saint, a simple and holy man, once observed an old man sitting alone in his parish church for many hours. When the curé asked, “What can you possibly be telling God all this time?” the man answered, “Nothing. I just look at him, and he looks at me.”

That kind of prayerful but wordless communication is rare, but it teaches us something very important: Presence is the most powerful form of communication. Being with God and with each other says more than individual words can ever say.

St. John Vianney expressed this kind of loving presence when he prayed for the conversion of his parish and said he would undergo any suffering that God would send to him. This is what Pope Francis calls “accompaniment,” the ministry of being—with broken and wounded members of our families, our parishes and communities, and especially our sisters and brothers who are poor and vulnerable—on the “peripheries,” the margins of our society.

On this feast of the patron saint of parish priests, I believe it’s important for me to say that as a bishop I’ve made a commitment to communicating with, and being present to, our priests. It is also important for priests to gather with each other—and with their bishop—as a presbyterate.

When a bishop and his priests are growing in holiness together, they are in the best possible position to effectively preach the Gospel, celebrate the sacraments and serve the pastoral needs of the people entrusted to their care as spiritual guides and fathers.

Through the intercession of St. John Vianney and our patronal saints, St. Francis Xavier and St. Theodora Guérin, may Christ the Cornerstone continue to bless the Church in southern and central Indiana, now and in the years ahead! †

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