Michael C. Barber, SJ
Lots of people are asking what my New Year's resolutions are. Like many, top of my personal list is "lose weight" and "exercise more." I would also add "pray more" — or rather "rely more and more on God's Providence, and not my own ability."
That's what Pope Francis means when he frequently exclaims, "We are not Pelagians!" It's not a form of being vegan or vegetarian. It means we trust in His mercy and His power to save us — and our diocese — in all our spiritual and temporal needs.
Based on that total reliance on Christ, and listening to parishioners, priests and the larger Oakland/Alameda/Contra Costa community for the past three years, I would like to offer my vision and goals for our Diocese of Oakland.
1. We need to pay way more attention to "The Sunday Experience." Sunday Mass, and everything associated with it: an intelligent and inspirational homily, sacred music that communicates the presence of God, friendly and warm hospitality. Some of our parishes do a good job of "building community" — but so does a Raiders game.
We do the "horizontal church" well, and that is important — but what about the "vertical" dimension of worship? Celebration of the Sunday liturgy should be a personal and communal encounter with Jesus Christ.
Pope Francis said that every Mass should be like the experience Peter, James and John had at the Transfiguration. They were so overwhelmed at the beauty, mystery and transcendence of Jesus, they exclaimed, "It is good for us to be here!"
How many of our parishioners can say that on Sunday? Many young people say "I'm spiritual, but not religious." Is their spiritual thirst being satiated through our Sunday worship experience?
2. We need to continue to emphasize the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. The "Year of Mercy" has been a big success in our diocese, from people coming back to Confession to be reconciled with God after many years, to students and young people who have discovered the joy of helping the poor and destitute.
The Catholic Church is always having a "Year of Mercy." It is what we are and what we do. If you feel dry in your faith, or feel God is hiding Himself from you, go down to Catholic Charities or St. Vincent de Paul and help at the soup kitchen. Or come on Sunday mornings to People's Park in Berkeley and help serve breakfast to the homeless with the Catholic Worker volunteers.
You will feel grace and mercy flow from heaven to earth through you. Even if you are in a rest home and can't get around much any more, you can be an apostle of prayer in your own room by taking out the rosary or Bible or Magnificat missalette, and praying for our Church, world and diocese. Or you could go to a funeral Mass of someone you don't know who is being buried from your parish. One of the spiritual works of mercy is "Praying for the Living and the Dead." Or you could volunteer to teach CCD in your parish. Or go with a group to visit a hospital or county jail. Or help sponsor a refugee family.
I applaud the efforts of teachers in our Catholic schools, youth groups and Confirmation programs who teach and model the Corporal and Spiritual works of mercy.
Our diocese is alive with opportunities to serve the poor, the sick and the suffering. Just ask your pastor.
3. We need to form our people as Missionary Disciples. It is not enough just to practice our faith on our own. The Catholic parish is not just the place where we receive our own spiritual nourishment.
If we only attend for our own benefit, then after a few years, we may be the only one left in the pews. Look at the number of parishes that have closed across the United States in the past 20 years!
We need to spread our faith. We do that by sharing it — by communicating the joy and consolation we have received from Jesus with others. Our parishes have to move "from maintenance to mission."
That is why the largest department in our diocese is not "fundraising" or "finance," but "Faith Formation and Evangelization." That is why we spend so much of your generous contributions from the Annual Appeal on classes for Adult & Youth Faith Formation, and providing training for lay ministry.
How can we practice Pope Francis' call for engagement with social justice if we don't know what the social teaching of the Church is? How can we grow in our spiritual life, if we don't know how to pray?
These three goals are all interconnected. A young woman who came to our diocese's first meeting to plan our new Safe House for victims of human trafficking decided to return to Sunday Mass because of the outreach of the Church to these suffering women. Children who attended Mass and heard a homily on the Year of Mercy decided to do a class project serving food to the homeless. Worship, Mercy and Evangelization are the three essentials your priests and I propose as we move forward as a diocesan family.
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