In this column last month, I wrote to you about the process by which the ninth Bishop of Rochester will be chosen by Pope Benedict XVI, a process that will begin with the submission of my letter of resignation to the Holy See on my 75th birthday in July 2012, as provided for in the church’s canon law.
In that column, I also shared my fondest hope that we not slip into a passive mode and cruise along, but that we take full advantage of the time it will take to fully transition to a new bishop, whose selection can and often does take many months after my letter is received in the Vatican.
Truly, this moment in our history provides a privileged opportunity for our ongoing renewal both as individuals and as a community of faith. As we stand on the bridge between all that we know and have experienced and our hopes and dreams for the future, I think now of the Greek word kairos. Translated, the word means a special moment or period in which one is afforded the opportunity to achieve something special, the proverbial "golden opportunity," if you will.
For us, the kairos moment, this golden opportunity, is the chance to know better and more deeply who we are, what we stand for, and how we relate to one another and to God. This can only help us move with more confidence and sense of direction as we forge ahead across the bridge to a new tomorrow.
Several months ago now, I shared with our Presbyteral Council a tool we developed to help our pastoral leaders meet some of the challenges now and in the future. The goal of this tool was to help our leaders continue to provide effective ministry with vigor and relevance in our ever-changing times, to assess that effectiveness, and to develop high-performance standards of leadership, ministry and parish vitality.
The tool was based on four pillars of excellence of what we consider an "ideal" parish or what we consider four necessary elements of vibrant parish life: the evangelization and ongoing teaching of adults and children; the centrality of our worship in our lives as Christians; a sense of mission; and our fulfillment of that mission through service to others, especially to the poor.
These measures involve leaders and ministers asking probing, reflective questions related to effectiveness of a parish’s liturgy, its preaching, and the quality and consistency of religious education of both adults and youth; the degree to which the Eucharist, sacramental celebration and prayer are truly central in worship; whether a faith community has a focused mission and how it is fulfilled; how it helps people live out their ongoing conversion as Christians; and to what degree a community lives out Jesus’ call to serve others.
As a way of promoting reflection during this time of transition, I think the same kind of questions can be turned around, if you will, and asked of each of us as both individuals and as participating, invested members of parish communities.
Indeed, I would encourage not only individuals but communities as well to reflect on the four pillars I outline above concerning our faith: how we learn it, how we celebrate it, how we share it and how we live it.
How do we learn and pass on our faith? As adults, are we open to learning more? Are we active participants in the religious education of our children? Are we teaching our children to pray? Are we good examples for our children in our own practice of our faith, such as attending Mass? Are our children familiar with our foundational Catholic prayers? Can we do better at encouraging our young people to make prayer a vital part of their lives? Do we foster and nurture in them a love of the sacraments?
How do we live our faith in this day and age? Are we doing it well? How do we deepen and strengthen it? Are we living one of the core values of our faith by reaching out to others in need, especially the most vulnerable among us? Are we sensitive to these needs and willing to share our time, talent and treasure to help?
How do we share our faith with others, answering Jesus’ call that we be "salt and light" for the world? Do we use our faith to illumine the lives of others? Do we live our faith not just at Mass but in our family life, our treatment of loved ones and friends, in our workplaces? How might we better exemplify the title "Christian?"
Are we active participants in our faith community’s worship or do we attend merely as an obligation? Do we hunger for the Eucharist? Outside our liturgical experience at Mass, are we united with the Lord daily in prayer and with other pilgrims on this spiritual journey? How do we work to develop community -- the community that sustains us not only when times are good but especially in times in which they are not? How do we nourish such community and communication in an age in which our messages are often drowned out by much media noise or reduced to short bursts, "texting" and "tweets?"
I hope these questions are helpful to you and to your community. They are not meant by any means to suggest that you or we do not do these things well, but are intended to guide all of us to do these things better, for ourselves, for our church and for Christ.
Peace to all.