| A dominant and recurring theme for the work of the USCCB is the New Evangelization. In light of the priority initiatives for the USCCB, a three year strategic plan was adopted assisting in integrating the New Evangelization into the life and mission of the church in the United States. The New Evangelization must be a sustained over a period of time when people can be re-energized and re-engaged with their Catholic faith. This always begins with a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and leads to a stronger commitment to his church and its mission in the world. The current Year of Faith really presents a doorway to the work of this evangelization initiative, New Evangelization: Faith-Worship-Witness. Each of the three years will address one of the topics .
Focus on Faith (2013-14): Beginning with the opening of the Year of Faith, these initiatives focus on helping Catholics and church ministers deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ,
increase their knowledge of the teachings of the church, strengthen the formation of ministers, gain a greater confidence in the Gospel lived through the church community.
Focus on Worship and Parish Life (2014-15): The focus here is around
increasing sacramental practice and
creating parishes as welcoming communities. This includes specific outreach to strengthen marriage and family life, increase Mass attendance and participation in the sacrament of penance.
Focus on Witness (2015-16): These initiatives center around the priority
initiatives on the Life and Dignity of the Human Person, with specific projects to support efforts to strengthen and encourage the role of the laity as witnesses in the public square, helping laity understand and become engaged as evangelizers and witnesses to Christian faith.
Within this framework, special attention will be given to young people,
inactive Catholics, marriage and family life, the life and dignity of the human person, and religious liberty.
Among other initiatives voted on was the approval of the first bishops’ document on preaching in thirty years. At the heart of evangelization the ability to connect the Catholic faith to daily living, revealing the heart of Christ’s love and mercy. This document, “Preaching the Mystery of Faith: The Sunday
Homily,” encourages priests and deacons in their own homily preparation and to connect the Sunday homily with people’s daily lives.
A “Pastoral Exhortation on the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation,” was approved by the bishops. This pastoral exhortation though not intended to be a catechetical resource on the sacrament, is instead an invitation to all Catholics — bishops, clergy and laity — to participate in the sacrament, highlighting the Holy Father’s teaching of the connection between the sacrament of penance and the New Evangelization. It will be made available in pamphlet form prior to Lent 2013 for a wide dissemination through parish bulletins, print publications and social media meant to assist in diocesan initiatives involving the sacrament of penance and evangelization during the Year of Faith.
A thirteen page document on the state of the economy, “The Hope of the Gospel in Difficult times: A Pastoral Message on Work, Poverty and the Economy,” was rejected because of its length. An overall feeling that the USCCB already has a document on the economy which shares our Catholic teaching prevailed. A shorter, pamphlet type document may be in the offing.
Endorsement by the bishops was given for the advancement of the process of canonization for Dorothy Day,
co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. Prior to her conversion to God’s mercy and forgiveness and to Catholicism, Dorothy, an agnostic and social activist, lived in a relationship outside of marriage and had an abortion. As she grew in her Catholic faith, she began to discover how the Catholic faith and social activism were intimately connected and thus the Catholic Worker Movement began. In March 2000 Pope John Paul II granted the New York Archdiocese permission to open this cause, allowing her to officially be called a “Servant of God” in the eyes of the Catholic Church.
Among other decisions made by the bishops not previously explained:
*There was the approval for a national collection to be taken up every three years beginning in 2013 around Veterans Day supporting the Archdiocese for the Military Services.
*Support was given for a full-time
position to assist the USCCB Subcommittee on Native American Affairs, funding provided from the Collection for Catholic Black and Indian Missions.
In conclusion, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York addressed the bishops challenging them to undergo their own conversion and renewal through the sacrament of penance. He exhorted, “This is the sacrament of the new evangelization, for as Pope Benedict reminds us, ‘We cannot speak about the new evangelization without the sincere desire to conversion. We cannot engage culture unless we let him (Jesus) first engage us, we cannot dialogue with others unless we first dialogue with him, and we cannot challenge unless we first allow him to challenge us.’ Reconciliation ‘brings us sacramentally into contact with Jesus, who calls us to conversion of heart, and allows us to answer his invitation to repentance — a repentance from within that can then transform the world without.” Cardinal Dolan also noted, “We need the sacrament of penance because we are profoundly sorry for our faults, failures and our sins, serious obstacles to the new evangelization. But then we stand forgiven, resolute to return to the work entrusted to us — as evangelizers of the Gospel of mercy.’”
Not a bad thing for all of us to reflect upon during this season of Advent. God bless you all.