New Life: The promise of change

A message from Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.

10541aEvery year, I meet with all the pastors and priests in each of the Diocese’s four county vicariates.  These visits afford me, as Diocesan Bishop, the opportunity to share some thoughts with the priests and to invite any questions from or discussion with them.  They are also the occasion for the priests themselves to renew their friendship and fraternity with one another, beginning with prayer and followed by an enjoyable supper.  I was very happy and grateful this year that so many priests made time in their schedules to attend.

My remarks to the priests assembled in each county focused on two main and related topics: the financial state of the Diocese of Trenton and its parishes and effective planning for the future for the Diocese.  Regarding finances, I spoke about diocesan parish assessments, the Annual Catholic Appeal and the “Faith to Move Mountains” Endowment Campaign which is in its quiet phase.  Regarding planning, I spoke about a Diocesan-wide initiative I am planning to launch in December.  There are many things I’d rather talk about with the priests than money but we live in the real world and our works and ministries require financial support.

Sharing our Catholic faith and preaching the Gospel really cost nothing.  We could do both on a street corner, in a shopping mall or in any other place where people gather.  That is, after all, the way our Church began.  But, two thousand years later, the Church is much more than street preaching and has grown into a world-wide community of faith embracing well over a billion people.  Doing all that the Catholic Church does today costs a lot.  And Catholics have come to expect these services in the practice of their faith.  They need to support them as well.

The Catholic Church all over the world is divided into dioceses and the dioceses are constituted by parishes.  Throughout this universal community, our Catholic faith is, indeed, shared and the Gospel is preached.  The Catholic Church of the 21st century looks very different than the ancient Christian communities.  It has grown.  It has proclaimed the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ.  It has consistently reached out to serve the needs of the poor more than any other institution.  It has endured longer than any other organization in the history of the world.  I would more than suggest, I believe deeply that the long life of the Catholic Church is the result of and reveals the presence and work of the Holy Spirit, promised to the Church by the Lord Jesus himself before his Ascension.

Has the long history of the Catholic Church always reflected the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ?  We know that the answer is “no.”  But the saint is really the sinner who keeps trying.  The Catholic Church is a community of sinners who “keep trying.”  And we have the promise of the Lord Jesus himself that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16: 18).”

The world in which, to whom and for whom the Church was founded and given by the Lord Jesus would be unrecognizable today to the apostles and the first Christian communities.  The truth of the Lord Jesus’ message has not changed.  But the ways the Church makes that truth accessible to every successive generation have, indeed, changed.  They have always changed through the centuries.  And they always will.  Not the Lord Jesus Christ.  Not Truth.  Not the Gospel. Not the Catholic Faith.  But the ways that the Church presents these changeless, timeless realities to the world change and have to.  Those “ways” are in our hands.  The question that faces us today is not “whether to change” but, rather, “how to change” in ways that are faithful to the truth and message of Christ and his Church and, at the same time, relevant and life giving to the people of God as they are, as we are, now.

I spoke to the priests of our Diocese about the financial support needed to move the Diocese and its parishes forward, to continue to grow and expand our ministries forward, to face the practical realities of our spiritual endeavors now and forward in the years ahead of us: the Annual Appeal and the “Faith to Move Mountains Endowment Campaign.”  If these are not successful efforts on our part, the challenges that result will be hard to overcome.  It’s that serious.

But finances are only one part — albeit a substantial part — of what we face.  I announced to the priests a diocesan planning initiative that I will begin on the First Sunday of Advent that will involve the entire Diocese: every parish; every priest, deacon and member of the faithful.  Together, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, we will map out our future as a Diocese and as parishes so that sharing our faith and preaching the Gospel may continue in ways that work and can be sustained.  The Diocese simply cannot continue “business as usual.”  To think otherwise is naive and unrealistic, at best.  We cannot close our eyes or stick our heads in the sand.

It is my hope and prayer that, working together, we in the Diocese of Trenton can own and embrace the future with eyes wide open and hearts and minds as well.  It is my hope and prayer that, working together, we in the Diocese of Trenton can avoid the bitterness and rancor that has accompanied similar initiatives in other places.  It is my hope and prayer that, working together, the generosity we ask for from the faithful of the Diocese will continue to support the services and ministries we offer them and that we will strengthen and improve through effective planning.

As Diocesan Bishop, I believe it is better for the entire community of faith in the four counties of the Diocese to get out in front of the change and participate in it rather than become victims of it.  The Catholic Church in our Diocese is about to begin another exciting chapter in its history.  May this moment give us and our faith new life, in Christ Jesus, Our Lord.