Bishop Hying

If Church is to flourish, we must commit to missionary discipleship

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on March 11, 2018


            Perhaps the strongest temptation of any organization or individual is to find a comfort zone of functionality and pretty much stay there. We all resist change at some fundamental level. The challenge of remaining static, however, is that the social and cultural reality around us is constantly moving, often times at dizzying speed. A company that clings to its dated marketing plan, its tired brand mark and a leadership that has retired in place is doomed to extinction.

            These same dynamics of growth and change versus complacency and stasis also apply to the Church. Our American culture has experienced such seismic shifts in terms of communication, technology, sexuality, gender, disposable income and mobility, to analyze just a few factors, that the society many of us grew up in 40 or 50 years ago is almost unimaginable today.

            We cannot continue to organize parish life, preach, communicate to our parishioners and the wider public, form our young people in the faith or call forth vocations using the methodology of the 1970s or the pedagogy of the 1980s. If we are going to reach our younger brothers and sisters especially, we need to re-imagine how we do things and seek the input of the upcoming generations.

            Here are some sobering statistics concerning religious viewpoints in the United States. Nationally, 23 percent of American adults self-identify as atheists, agnostics, or nothing in particular. Thirty-five percent of adult millennials (Americans born between 1981 and 1996) are religiously unaffiliated.

            Here in the Diocese of Gary sacramental practice has declined dramatically. From 1997 to 2016, the rate of marriages compared to the Catholic population in our diocese declined 61 percent; infant baptisms declined 48 percent; First Comms declined 30 percent; adult conversions to the Catholic faith declined 47 percent.

            These numbers clearly show that a significant portion of our Catholic people, for a complexity of reasons, have essentially disengaged from the Church and the faith.

            The entire effort of our synod process has been a desire for renewal and transformation. The Father sent Jesus Christ to save us from sin and death, calling us to become his children, a new creation, heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven. This messenger and message constitute the greatest and most surprising Good News that we could possibly hear and embrace.

            The Gospel does not change; how we proclaim its saving power and live out the reality of the Church does. The compelling and challenging question before all of us remains: How do we invite, evangelize, catechize, pray love and serve in imaginative ways that will win the hearts of our beloved brothers and sisters who think the Church has nothing to offer them, are simply not interested in religion or have been wounded or marginalized by others?

            Currently, every parish in the diocese is working hard on formulating a synod plan, which is custom designed for its particular culture and needs. We have asked each pastor to form a planning team, which is working hard with the help of a parish consultant from the diocese to look at the strengths, weaknesses and deficits of the local faith community and then to choose some of the priorities from the diocesan synod to flesh out pastoral initiatives for the parish.

            I am encouraged and hopeful as I see the steady progress being made and the loving commitment of so many parish leaders to this process.

            We are also working to imaginatively create the diocesan component of the synod implementation plan, focusing on one fundamental initiative in each of the eight ecclesial areas to support the good work and constructive plans of the parishes.

            Already on all levels within our diocesan offices and programs, in our parishes and schools, in the lives of families and individuals, I see and hear a fresh enthusiasm to grow in our relationship with Christ and to help our local Church to flourish. Many good and dedicated people are working very hard to spread the love of the Lord throughout our diocese. I find all of this effort inspiring and beautiful because people are drawing closer to God.

            We are all hungry for Christ! He is the answer to all of our deepest questions about life, our most basic desires for love, peace and understanding and our profound need for healing, forgiveness and salvation. All of the activity throughout the diocese will only reach fruition if we fall deeper in love with the Lord, give witness to our faith in ways that change the lives of others and bring them to Jesus Christ and his saving Gospel.

            We cannot afford to simply go through the motions of faith. If the Church is going to thrive, flourish and serve as a mighty force for mercy, forgiveness and love in the next 50 years, we must radically commit to a missionary discipleship that embraces both God and every person who crosses our path.

            In my prayer, I often go back to the witness of the first Christians, who were so effective in their evangelizing efforts. I get the sense that they passionately spoke to every person they met about this Jesus, what he taught, what he did and how his cross and resurrection changed their lives.

            May the Holy Spirit renew our passion for Christian witness, proclamation and service!


       + Donald J. Hying

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