My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, with this edition of the Southeast Alaska Catholic I am pleased to present to you my latest pastoral letter, “To Know, Love And Serve Jesus Christ Through His Body – The Church.” This pastoral letter is a result of the Diocesan Synod that took place November 21-24, 2013 at St. Paul the Apostle Church. As you may recall, representatives from around the Diocese gathered for this event and discussed a number of resolutions that came from individuals like yourself either through the mail, the parish staff or during one of the town hall meetings I conducted during the Year of Faith. The Synod was a tremendous moment filled with good discussions, sacred liturgies and a renewed commitment to the mission of the Catholic Church here in this diocese. All of this was done to help chart a course of direction for the Diocese of Juneau and Southeast Alaska.
The Diocesan Synod revealed that the Christian faithful of the Diocese of Juneau care deeply about alienated and inactive Catholics and desire to bring them back into the family of the Church. It also revealed that the New Evangelization, especially the missionary and catechetical dimensions, are essential to the renewal of the Church in Southeast Alaska. The New Evangelization is to be the foundational reference point for our commitment to the ministry of Christ and the Church. It calls us to embrace the mission that focuses on the conversion of souls to Christ through joyful fidelity to the Catholic faith with the same zeal illustrated by the early apostles. This will require an analysis of our ministerial efforts to determine what we need to do to be faithful to the call of the universal Church for a New Evangelization here in our local diocese. This commitment must be oriented toward fostering and promoting occasions to encounter or re-encounter Christ, and must be oriented toward receiving the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic faith in Christ ever more fully. In every aspect of pastoral ministry in the Diocese of Juneau, we must ask ourselves how to encourage and foster relationship with Christ and never assume that this task is finished, for any Christian, let alone those who do not yet know Christ.
Following the direction of Pope Francis, these efforts of New Evangelization are to be demonstrated in a couple of ways. First of all, in the area of ordinary pastoral ministry, to inflame the hearts of the faithful. Included in this category are those members who have a lively faith and desire to grow ever stronger in their relationship with the Lord in communion with their brothers and sisters – all the while, seeking to serve others in love.
The second area includes those baptized persons whose lives do not reflect the demands of baptism. In this area are baptized people who no longer have a meaningful relationship with the Church, who have fallen away from the faith or have rejected the essential aspects of the faith and no longer experience the consolation of faith.
And lastly, there are those who do not yet know Jesus or have always rejected Him. In this area we can think of many who self-identify as atheists and/or some on the extreme side who are publicly oppositional to Christ and the Church. This area would include those seekers who in their own way truly seek God but have not yet received the Word through the Church. All of these, according to Pope Francis, have a “right” to hear the Gospel.
In each of these areas Christ is waiting for us and we must, relying on both traditional and new ways, and animated by a spirit of zeal and love of God and neighbor, accompany others into an authentic and ever deepening encounter with Christ as the Church. Before any discussion of initiatives or programs we must remember that Christ is the first and supreme evangelizer and that the fundamental reality of evangelization is encountering him as Lord and Messiah, the fulfillment of the Old Testament. God, the Holy Trinity, is the source and end of the New Evangelization, and it is through Jesus that we enter into the life of the Father and the Holy Spirit. The call of the New Evangelization is most fundamentally a prompting for wayward peoples, often times those who have maintained an understanding of Christian faith, to return to the Gospel anew.
It is my hope that we will together come to know, love and serve Jesus Christ through His Body – the Church.