By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
In season and out of season the Lord calls us to grow in wisdom, knowledge and grace as his disciples. This is the work of conversion, faith formation and ultimately, holiness. On a rolling timetable during this season of the year our Catholic Schools, Adult Faith Formation Certification, Religious Education programs, R.C.I.A., Sacramental preparation, scripture courses, Faith Formation Days, retreats, Safe Environment training and more, resume with great zeal and hope.
Our Diocesan Vision of Inspiring Disciples, Serving Others and Embracing Diversity is renewed once again. This external manifestation of beehive activity rests upon a summer full of well-deserved rest, review of the past year and planning for the new season. The work of faith formation is a 12-month quest and I am eternally grateful to all who remain on the path hearing the call of the Lord Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Earlier this year on March 19, Pope Francis opened a door for all who are engaged in the mission of evangelization and faith formation with his Apostolic Exhortation, “Guadete et Exultate (Rejoice and be Glad), the Call to Holiness in the Modern World.” This inspiring and readable exhortation begins with the Saints who encourage and accompany us, and the Saints next door.” Of course, the former is the Cloud of Witnesses already around the throne of God, as described in the letter to the Hebrews and the book of Revelation, and the latter refers to family members, neighbors, parishioners and friends. One of the gems of this document is the section on the Beatitudes that is a compass for all disciples to embrace the Lord’s mind and heart.
Our Catholic Schools have chosen the Beatitudes as central to this year’s focus. Another golden opportunity for diocesan leadership is our fall convocation whose theme is “Forming Intentional Disciples.” Sherry Weddell, the author of the landmark book pertaining to intentional disciples, and a national speaker in demand, accepted our invitation to our three-day convocation because of our Diocesan Vision to Inspire Disciples-Serve Others-Embrace Diversity. Kudos to our Continuing Formation Committee for this exceptional outcome.
The above is a remarkable package of faith formation and evangelization, but I want to reflect upon what for all of us is the source and summit of all formation, evangelization and holiness, the Mass. During the past five weeks the Church throughout the Catholic world has proclaimed the Bread of Life discourse from the sixth Chapter in Saint John’s Gospel. Today was the culminating dialogue between Jesus and those who were struggling to understand his shocking words. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
The Eucharist, Word and Sacrament, the real presence of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is life-long formation for all disciples. We in the Catholic world have the gift and mystery of Eucharistic faith that has been our food for the journey on the path to eternal life. I encourage all in faith formation to never tire of fully integrating everyone in faith formation into the sacramental life of the Church, especially the Eucharist. Word, worship, community and service are the total package of what it means to belong to Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life, the Master Teacher draws us to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit.
As the miasma of the sexual abuse crisis envelops the Church once again let us not forget that one of our critical pastoral priorities is the Gospel mandate to be forgiving, healing and reconciling communities. Evangelization and faith formation are not possible without repentance and conversion. Thanks be to God, the Church has planted many of these seeds which have grown and continue to flourish in all our ministries. The priority for healing and reconciliation are the victims of sexual abuse and their families, and we must never tire of restoring life through God’s mercy and justice at the foot of the Cross. Thank you to all who daily foster safe environments for our children and young people and who accompany victims who are on the path of healing and hope. Nothing is impossible for God, because God is love.
By Bishop Joseph Kopacz