Rising very early before dawn, Jesus left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)
This past Sunday, in a letter read by parish leaders in all of our parishes, I communicated to you a major new initiative for our diocese — an initiative that I pray will change all our lives and reinvigorate our spirituality individually and as a community. I want to explore this topic in a little more detail here.
To reiterate, beginning in Lent 2008 — the 140th anniversary of the Diocese of Rochester — I am inviting you to enter with me into a time of renewal — a multiyear initiative that will involve every one of our faith communities and, I hope, every one of you.
Why a spiritual renewal? Why now?
As I said in my letter, these past few years have been challenging for our church and our diocese:
* A changing economy and shifting demographics have altered our parishes dramatically.
* The resulting pastoral planning has been truly painful as we consolidated, merged and closed churches.
* The abuse scandal has offended and discouraged many of the faithful.
* Vocations to the priesthood and religious life are few.
* Mass attendance is down.
* Some find us helplessly polarized between those who are impatient for further change and those who fear the complete erosion of our treasured past. Some say we have lost our focus. One commentator, in a best-selling book, dubbed Catholics “a people adrift.”
At the same time, I sense that, through all this, our faith has remained strong. You, like me, are fully committed to ensuring that our beloved church will be strong and vibrant now and for the future enrichment of our children and many generations to come. Yet, I also sense that, given these challenges, we long, as Jesus often did, to step back from the normal and find rest and restoration through thought and prayer.
So I believe now is the perfect time for renewal. I have asked Father Peter Clifford, pastor of St. John of Rochester Church in Fairport, and Maribeth Mancini, director of our diocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, to serve as cochairs of the renewal. I am grateful for their service.
It will be a very special and important time to deepen our relationship with Jesus, our Lord and Savior, and to more fully learn and practice what true discipleship means. This is, after all, what is truly crucial to our lives as Catholic Christians. So I invite you to enter a multiyear commitment to nourish what is most important — a personal relationship with Jesus, through prayer and Scripture and as members of a community of believers.
To that end, a team of lay people, priests and pastoral ministers is designing tools and program options that will be made available to us through our parishes over the next several years to assist us in this process. While details will be forthcoming, I invite you now to open your heart to become more truly his disciple and to lend your involvement and energy as opportunities unfold.
I can tell you that we have already planned a special religious retreat, led by myself, to be available on DVD and the Internet early in Lent 2008. The idea of this “electronic” retreat, if you will, is for you to be able to take part in your parish and, if you wish, in smaller groups at home with your family.
In addition, we will encourage as part of the renewal a pilgrimage to involve as many Catholics as we can, as well as deep and satisfying study of Scripture. Through the materials we will be developing and disseminating, you will be able to explore the Word as perhaps never before. I promise you that you will be richer for it.
Later on in the renewal, we will concentrate together on discernment of the gifts God has given each of us, with the goal of more deeply practicing as individuals and as a community of believers the rewarding life of stewardship. We hope to conclude our renewal in 2010 with a major, large-scale gathering to celebrate, in a venue that can hold many thousands of people.
I am very excited about the days ahead. I pray you will be, as well.
Peace to all.