With Pentecost Sunday being celebrated in the Catholic Church this Sunday, June 12, today Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley issued a Pastoral Letter on Evangelization entitled “A New Pentecost: Inviting All to Follow Jesus.”
Cardinal Seán began the letter by stating, “Pentecost is often called the birthday of the Church because it is the day the members of Christ’s Church were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to boldly proclaim the Gospel, which means Good News. Three thousand were baptized on Pentecost. From that day forward, the followers of Jesus began to fulfill the command to make disciples of all nations, through baptism and apostolic work. Without Pentecost, the Christ event would have remained imprisoned in history. Pentecost is the moment of empowering. The disciples are called to live in Christ’s Spirit and do His works. We are called to do so ourselves today.”
Pastoral letters are a means for bishops to guide those in their dioceses in aspects of Catholic teachings, worship or social concerns. Bishops have three key responsibilities in the Church: to teach, to sanctify and to govern the diocese to which he is assigned by the Pope. Issuing Pastoral Letters is one important way a bishop fulfills the teaching aspect of his ministry. More than any single homily, letter or directive of a bishop, a Pastoral Letter invites the clergy, consecrated religious and laity of the diocese to give prayerful and careful consideration to the content of the letter. In his 26 years as a Bishop, Cardinal O’Malley has written more than a dozen Pastoral Letters on topics such as the Gospel of life, strengthening marriage, combating racism, remembering Kristallnacht, forming stronger families, and promoting vocations.
In this 5,258-word Pastoral Letter, Cardinal Seán writes that evangelization must be the first focus of the Church in the Archdiocese of Boston. “The Church exists to evangelize, to share the Good News with all people. We are called to do many things in the Church, but our primary mandate given by Jesus and powered by the Holy Spirit is to evangelize. Correspondingly, every Catholic is asked to make it his or her own responsibility to reach out and encourage others to join with us in Christ’s family, the Church.” He highlighted the excellent Archdiocesan and parish ministries that care for the material needs of others, such as feeding the hungry, providing shelter and material assistance, visiting the sick and prisoners, and remarked, “I pray that each of us in our Catholic community will also practice the spiritual works of mercy (those that care for the soul) with as much fervor.” He added, “Evangelization is a central way we incorporate the spiritual works of mercy into our lives and the activities of our parishes.”
The Pastoral Letter follows the successful Catholics Come Home outreach initiative launched this past Lent. He wrote, “We are now in the post-television phase of this campaign, but we cannot relax our efforts to invite and welcome people back. In the same spirit of confidence and optimism that characterized this Lenten initiative, I ask you to continue to pray for those who are away from the Church, that their hearts may be opened to respond positively to our invitation. Continue to invite them to return home, reminding them that God has placed a longing for Him in their hearts and explaining that the community of faith suffers from their absence. Through one-on-one and parish-based initiatives, continue to listen to their questions and concerns and to ease their feeling of estrangement, born of years, maybe even decades, away from the life of the Church. Please share with them your own story of living the faith.”
Cardinal Seán praised the work of parishes and parish leaders for their efforts during Catholics Come Home and highlighted the central role parishes play in the work of evangelization. “If the Church exists to evangelize, the parish is the chief venue where that activity must take place. Our parishes must be true centers of evangelization.” He emphasized that “the work of evangelization cannot succeed if it is seen as the work of clergy and parish staff alone. Every one of us by our baptism and confirmation is called by Jesus to participation in this mission. Jesus is waiting for us to be willing to serve as an instrument to help Him lead others to joy, peace and love in this life and the next.”
He also wrote that long-term pastoral planning efforts in the Archdiocese are geared toward strengthening our parishes to carry out the work of evangelization. “One of the most important manifestations of vibrant parish life is having the resources and the spirit to evangelize, and particularly to reach out to those who have left the Church. I have asked our Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Commission and our Pastoral Planning Office to propose strategies to improve the capabilities and resources for parish-centered evangelization activities as we look to strengthen and renew our parishes and archdiocesan outreach ministries.”
Cardinal Sean devotes one section of the Pastoral Letter to discussing the upcoming changes in the Roman Missal as an opportunity for evangelization, particularly about the centrality of the Sunday Mass. He also includes a section on how new Church movements and ecclesial communities are bringing “vitality to the life of the Church. They are a sign of great hope for the Church in the new millennium.”
The entire Pastoral Letter can be read at www.BostonCatholic.org/PentecostLetter. Printable copies of the Pastoral Letter are available in English, Spanish and Portuguese. It was also published in today’s Pilot, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston.