What I Have Seen and Heard
Published: December 6, 2007
I’m back at work, and I have returned with a profound experience of the love and prayerful support of so many people in our Archdiocese! I have endeavored to acknowledge receipt of cards, e-mails, letters, flowers, fruit and gift baskets, and other expressions of well-wishes—I am certain that I have overlooked or even misplaced some, and I apologize for that oversight. Nonetheless, I thank all of you sincerely for your overwhelming kindness and support. My calendar will begin to resume some of its normalcy, but I can never adequately respond to all of the kindness and prayerful encouragement that I have received. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
I began to take up again my responsibilities this past weekend with a scheduled meeting of our Archdiocesan Pastoral Council. What a wonderful gathering of people from throughout the Archdiocese of Atlanta we have in this pastoral assembly. They represent the great diversity of this local Church. They come from throughout our territory, they represent the religious attitudes and opinions of the folks here in North Georgia, and they are lifelong Catholics, more recent converts to Catholicism, professionals, homemakers, clergy and religious, and people with very divergent opinions. Yet there was a striking unanimity of concern regarding one of the topics on the agenda for the Saturday meeting—the Church’s need to improve our mission of evangelization both locally and throughout our country.
Welcoming people into the Church, welcoming people back to the Church, drawing people who live on the periphery of the Church closer to the heart of the Church all fall under the general topic of evangelization. And everyone at the Pastoral Council meeting seemed to have an opinion and a story to tell of how the Church could do a better job in this vitally important work. A recurring theme under this broad topic was the issue of how to keep the Catholics that we already have within the Church. Each of these concerns rightfully belongs under the heading—evangelization.
Belonging to an organized religion is not always depicted in a positive light in today’s world. Organized religions are often portrayed from a very negative point of view in the media. In such an environment, the work of evangelization is made even more difficult. All, however, is not doom and gloom—the RCIA is a bright facet of this local Church and of many, many parishes throughout the United States where this ritual of welcome and sacramental initiation has proven to be an important activity. People enter the Church at Easter with a joy and an enthusiasm that is energizing not only for the new Catholics but for the entire parish family. The RCIA is a source of hope for all of us. Yet so much more needs to be done.
When young adult Catholics approach the Church to plan for a future wedding, we need to welcome them, to rejoice with them, to encourage them, even as we may have to challenge them to grow in their understanding of how our Church views marriage which may well differ greatly from how society views marriage. How we approach them at that happy moment can result in a triumphant welcome home or a final farewell. The Council spoke about the fragility of the moment when Church tradition often encounters contemporary expectations. Sometimes we do it right—other times we fail to make the most of a moment of possibility.
I recall a conversation that I had with a disgruntled Catholic gentleman several months ago. Again it dealt with how he had experienced the Church at a very fragile time in his life—during the process of an annulment procedure. Our Archdiocese was not very sensitive, or at least he felt that the person who represented the Church was not responsive to his situation. This gentleman now lives as a member of another religious community. I apologized for what may have been a serious pastoral misjudgment because that was the appropriate thing for me to do. It was not a moment to quarrel over issues that I could neither prove nor disprove.
What was most important for me to convey to this gentleman was that the Church wanted him to come home. And that’s one more dimension of evangelization.