I. Introduction: New Beginnings
It was nearly five months ago that I was installed as the 16th Archbishop of Baltimore. Providentially, my installation occurred on the cusp of the Year of Faith which will official commence this coming Thursday, October 11th, the 50th anniversary of the opening of the II Vatican Council in Rome and the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The focus of the Year of Faith and the world-wide Synod of Bishops (which also convenes in Rome this coming week) is the New Evangelization.
In these still early days of my service as your Archbishop, people sometimes say to me, “Archbishop, what’s your strategic plan?” Sometimes that question is asked with anticipation, sometimes in trepidation, and sometimes in the hope that I brought with me from Connecticut a magic elixir that would solve many of the problems and challenges we face.
Perhaps the most un-strategic thing a new Archbishop could do is to launch a strategic plan before he knows the people he has been sent to serve and most magical solutions really are too good to be true. Instead, with you and for you I must open my own heart anew to the Person of Christ and to the faith of the Church. Together, we must be renewed in faith so that we may proclaim the faith with fresh conviction and power and thus find the wisdom to do that which is best so as to build up the Body of Christ in the City of Baltimore and the nine counties of the Archdiocese, including all its parishes, schools, charitable institutions, and programs. Thus, the Year of Faith with its focus on the New Evangelization really is the most wise, prudent, and indeed strategic way we can begin together. For the New Evangelization is not simply a program or a set of initiatives. Rather it is the very heart of the Church’s identity and mission.
II. What Is the Year of Faith and the New Evangelization
But what is the New Evangelization? A few nights ago, a priest friend of mine had dinner with a wonderful young couple. This is a couple that really practices the faith and seeks to live the teaching on marriage and family found into today’s readings. When my priest-friend brought up the subject of the Year of Faith and the New Evangelization, the couple had to admit that they had never really heard of either. Thank goodness this couple belongs to another diocese!
But I’ll bet many people are in the same situation. Even though it has been a part of our church vocabulary for a long time, many people do not know what “evangelization” means and still less what it means for their own lives of faith. Pope Benedict XVI has dedicated his papacy to turning this around. And I’ve asked for the grace to make this the foundation of my service as your Archbishop.
Evangelization has to do with really accepting the Gospel and then courageously and lovingly sharing the Gospel with others. The new evangelization doesn’t mean that we’ve invented a new Gospel, that somehow we’ve changed the Good News of what the Lord taught and did for us into a message that is more in keeping with the tenor of the times. No, it’s not a new Gospel we’re looking for; rather, it’s newness of life –it’s a newness of faith, a new confidence in the Church’s faith, and a newfound readiness to share that faith, confidently and joyfully with others. To echo today’s Gospel, it’s asking for the grace to develop the heart of a child so that we might be with Jesus and bring others to Jesus with trust and love.
III. Three Perennial Tasks
A journalist tells this story. He found himself at a dinner party where the faults of the Catholic Church was the hot topic of discussion. Throughout this discussion he remained uncharacteristically silent. At length his silence was noticed so a fellow-diner said to him, “Well why do you keep going to that Church?” He answered, “What else is there? I believe in Christ’s true presence in the Eucharist and I do not want to live my life without his presence in my life. All I can say is pray with faith and you’ll receive the answers you need.” Then it was that all his dinner partners fell silent.
This story illustrates all three of our tasks as believers and as a community of faith not just in the Year of Faith but for the rest of our earthly lives. The first for the Year of Faith is to believe. Clearly the journalist had a relationship of faith and love with Lord Jesus coupled with a genuine understanding of the mystery of the Eucharist. As Pope Benedict has written: “Only by believing does faith grow & become stronger.” And first & foremost “faith is choosing to stand with the Lord so as to live with him.” When we respond to the grace of the Holy Spirit to open our minds & hearts to Christ, then the truth and beauty of what the Church believes and teaches shines forth. And as we pray over Scripture and reflect and study what the Church believes & why, we come to know the Person of Christ more and more deeply and we come to claim Him as “the way, the truth, and the life.” So our first task is to believe in Christ by standing with him, while growing in our knowledge and understanding of the Church’s teaching.
The second task for this Year of Faith and indeed for our lives together as Catholics is to become utterly convinced of the coherence, truth, beauty, and goodness of all that the Church teaches with respect to faith and morals, including those moral and social teachings that are often counter-cultural, such as the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexual morality and the sacredness of human life from the moment of conception until natural death. We are called to assent to what the Church teaches, not merely with an intellectual nod, a knowing smile, or a passing glance—but rather to become utterly convinced that these are the words of everlasting life. Our faith must not occupy merely a compartment in our minds and hearts but rather must shape the way we think, the decisions we make, the words we say, and the quality of our relationships at home, in the parish, at work, and with friends.
And third, we must be prepared to share our faith with others,
to bear witness to the faith credibly not only because we know and understand the faith but because we love the faith, because we have walked through the door of faith, the door which leads to Christ and to everlasting life. When people see in us a faith that is whole and entire, a joy that is genuine, a courage that is palpable – then, with the grace of the Holy Spirit they too might find the courage to return home to the Lord and to the Church or maybe to open their hearts to Christ and the Gospel for the first time in their lives. These are three tasks that will occupy my mind and heart as your Archbishop and these are the three tasks which God has laid before us so that this great Archdiocese can build on its marvelous legacy and truly live up to its name, “The Premier See”!
IV. Faith and Culture
The split between faith and culture grows more noticeable with each passing day. And we rightfully bemoan the secularism that is overtaking the land we love. Yet, let us not use this growing secularism (and the selfishness it breeds) as an excuse either to be lukewarm in our own faith or to cease fighting the good faith. As a colleague and friend of mine, Archbishop Carlson of St. Louis, put it: “How did the early Church survive and thrive in a hostile culture … how did it come to pass that the Church is still a living reality, but the roman Empire lives only in history books?” he asked. “It was the witness of believers!”
Through the intercession of Mary Our Queen and through the fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, may we be united as one in opening our hearts to Christ and to the Church’s faith, may we assent to the faith with every fiber of our being and may we bear credible and united witness to the faith for the glory of God, for the good of the Church, and the salvation of souls!
May God bless us and keep us always in His love!