Volume 1 - Issue 7  



November 24, 2010

(podcast) The Role of the Laity in Ecclesial Forgiveness
  In this theologically rich and thought provoking reflection on forgiveness, Cardinal Stafford explores the modern emphasis on reconciliation, the truly Christian nature of forgiveness revealed by the Father in Christ and the laity’s role in the ecclesial participation in this forgiveness as an authentic means of Church renewal.

There is an intense and broad discussion in the world today about reconciliation. Since the 1960s, truth and reconciliation groups have been setup to help resolve
conflicts between warring nations or between ethnic or religious groups. Unfortunately, this emphasis on reconciliation has eclipsed the Church’s contribution of a true understanding of forgiveness. In fact, all too often the understanding of the Sacrament of Reconciliation has been understood as an exchange of promises between the penitent and God rather than a reception in faith of God’s unanticipated and undeserved gift of love and mercy to each individual person.

Cardinal Stafford explains that this was not always the case. In fact, the Medieval Church in its search for a new word to capture Christ’s overabundant or hyperbolic gift created the word, forgive, against the backdrop of the negative emphases found in ancient cultures and languages. To both the Hebrews and the Greeks, the forgiveness of sins by God was viewed as something negative – God’s letting go or forgetting of sins, or literally throwing them back. To the Christian, meditating on the centrality of Christ’s sacrifice and celebrating this mystery in the Eucharist whose central focus is forgiveness, the true meaning of forgiveness is revealed as an unasked for and unanticipated initiative by God directed to us when we did not deserve it. St. John writes, “God loved us, first.” The point here is that God gives before we ask. God’s forgiving grace is not a reaction or response to our asking but one that is an unexpected new act which opened up new possibilities on the horizontal level for our willingness to forgive others.

Therefore, the family and then the parish is to be itself the mediating structure of God’s forgiveness because it has been called to be the sacrament of universal salvation. According to Cardinal Stafford, every church should inscribe the words above its door, “Here, the truth is truly spoken.” Our confidence in God’s forgiving grace should be so deep that we can speak the truth about ourselves to one another and know that, through tough love, we will be accepted and forgiven.

For this to take place, we must be continually confronted with Christ’s words from the Cross, “I thirst.” Drawing upon his own experience both as a young priest and later with an encounter with Mother Theresa, these words, “I thirst” revealed to him that our God is a beggar God who seeks our consolation.

The whole Church, the Totus Christus, must participate in mediating this forgiveness to the world. Drawing upon St. Augustine, Cardinal Stafford outlines four ways that the laity can share in this ecclesial forgiveness:

  1. Fraternal Correction – the baptized in the exercise of their kingly role are called to correct one another; our natural desire for friendship and peace should cede to the Christian duty of fraternal correction;
  2. Forbearance – the baptized are called to a deliberate unwillingness to judge harshly even when provoked to do so;
  3. Tears – the baptized are called to shed tears for their own sins and for the sins of the community; and
  4. Intercessory Prayer – Like St. Monica who interceded for many years for her son, St. Augustine, the baptized are called to constant intercessory prayer.

In this way, the People of God will be renewed as they embrace more deeply God’s forgiving grace and share it with one another and extend it as a sign of hope and salvation to the world.Listen to the podcast

Good Steward Newsletter – November 2010
The Church is Called to Evangelize Permanently in Words and In Action
  The Church always evangelizes and has never interrupted the path of
evangelization. She celebrates the Eucharistic mystery every day, administers the sacraments, proclaims the word of life—the Word of God, and commits herself to the causes of justice and charity. And this evangelization bears fruit: It gives light and joy, it gives the path of life to many people; many others live, often unknowingly, of the light and the warmth that radiate from this permanent evangelization.
– (Pope Benedict XVI)
The Church always evangelizes, the Holy Father tells us, because it is the nature of the Church to give witness to the person of Jesus Christ and his saving message.

When we celebrate the sacraments, especially the holy Eucharist; when we proclaim the good news that God’s kingdom is in our midst, here and now; when we give generously to the poor and work to build communities of justice and peace in our world; we are evangelizing. The result? Light and joy, life and love, healing, forgiveness and peace.

Why do we hesitate to evangelize, to share our faith in God, to proclaim by the way we live that we are disciples of Jesus Christ? Why do so many of us fail to practice our faith by staying away from the Sunday Eucharist, the sacrament of penance and the common life of our parishes? Why do we give in to despair, nurture feelings of anger and resentment or buy-in to the false promises of a secular culture that tells us happiness can be bought or manipulated?

We know better. True happiness comes from living the Gospel, from following the commandments and the beatitudes, from serving others, and from being grateful, generous and accountable in our stewardship of all God’s gifts. Why do we fail to evangelize when we know that our Lord has commanded us to be his faithful witnesses and to make disciples of all nations? ...

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Where Does Mission Advancement Begin?
  The process we call mission advancement begins with understanding and a careful articulation of this received mission of the Church in the context of a particular diocese, parish, religious community, school or other Catholic organization. The Church is the same
always and everywhere, but the challenges and opportunities that individual Catholic organizations face vary according to different historic, economic, political and cultural circumstances. The first step in any mission-advancement effort is to provide members of the Catholic community with opportunities to reflect on, and better understand, the Church’s mission as it is expressed in the particular mission of each individual diocese, parish, religious community, school and Catholic organization. This process of raising awareness about the Church’s mission is itself a part of the work of evangelization because education about the Church must always also be a proclamation of the Good News of our salvation in Christ and an invitation to accept the Lord’s call to be his disciples and help transform the world in the concrete circumstances of their daily lives.

Who is responsible?

This process of “mission education” and evangelization is first and foremost the bishop’s responsibility, but it is a responsibility the bishop shares with many others, including his priests and deacons, with the leaders of religious communities, with the administrators of Catholic organizations in his diocese and with all baptized Christians. So, for example, when the superior of a women’s religious order invites her Sisters to reflect on and articulate their community’s mission, she is participating in the larger work of evangelization by calling attention to the distinctive charisms of her community and the ways in which the members of her order contribute to the proclamation of the Gospel through their prayer, the witness of their lives and their apostolic work.

Mission is not something we can afford to take for granted.

Too often, the mission of a Catholic organization is “assumed.” But how many Catholics really understand what a diocese is? Or how many know why religious men and women live the way they do? Or how Catholic organizations such as schools, hospitals and social service agencies contribute to “proclaiming and establishing among all peoples the Kingdom of God?”

Mission education is the necessary first step in any successful advancement program because understanding is the key to participation and engagement. That’s why planning for the future begins with a statement of mission. It’s also why it’s important for official communications should consistently remind Catholics of the overall mission of the Church and the ways in which dioceses, parishes, schools and other Catholic organizations participate in carrying out this mission.

Experience shows that if you help people understand what your mission is and invite them to participate through their prayers, their personal involvement and their financial support, they will give generously from the heart. On the other hand, even generous people will hold back (at some level at least) when they do not understand or do not feel a part of organizations whose purposes and accomplishments are unclear to them.

Successful mission-advancement programs strive to inform, involve, inspire and invite people to participate actively in the mission and ministries of the Church.

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Mission and Vision – The Heart of Strategic Planning
  Our first article on planning stated, “Planning begins by defining a clear mission – why we exist, and then articulating a vision – what we will do about it – that enables the organization to carry out its mission. Vision depends upon a clearly articulated mission and the fulfillment of mission depends upon a compelling vision. The vision is guided by the culture and context of the organization and built upon the gifts and passions of those within it. Obviously, mission and vision must be anchored in the specific call of God as well as the overall mission and vision of the Church.”

In the following paragraphs we would like explore further the nature, purpose, and creation of Mission and Vision statements. While this article is not intended to be definitive or exhaustive, our goal is to provide a framework for you to develop statements that are meaningful and compelling.


The Catholic Church is by its very nature missionary, called to take the good news of Jesus Christ to all people as recorded in Matthew 28:19-20. Vatican II explains that the pilgrim Church is missionary because “it is from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit that she draws her origin, in accordance with the decree of God the Father.” (Ad Gentes, #2).

It is this outward focus, or evangelization, that gives any organization its power and energy. Christ who is the head of the Church (Ephesians 1:22) sent us another “Helper”, God’s Holy Spirit (John 14:16) to lead the Church into all truth (John 16: 13). But Jesus goes further. He instructs the infant Church to wait and pray and assures them that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon them (Acts 1:1-8). It is from the Holy Spirit that the Church derives power and direction. Without the headship of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit we become just another charitable organization and lose the unique calling and mission that God has entrusted to us.

Aware that we are not up to this monumental task on our own, The Church reminds us that, “The Church, sent by Christ to reveal and to communicate the love of God to all men and nations, is aware that there still remains a gigantic missionary task for her to accomplish.” (Ad Gentes, #10) Thus it is essential for every leader and visioning team to be grounded in prayer, the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church. Mission and vision are not ours to create but ours to discover as they are revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. Our mission is greater than we are. It is beyond our intellect, strength or resources, and only attainable when grounded in the person of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.

A Mission statement defines why your organization exists and how it will contribute to God’s mission in the world. “The mission needs to be first and foremost in every decision made. It is the goal that must be kept in front of us at all times and cannot be subordinated to any other fact or circumstance whether financial, legal or operational.”
(Pat O’Meara)

Also remember the importance of the laity’s role. “The future of the Church, and today she has the greatest opportunities, depends upon whether laymen can be found who live out the unbroken power of the Gospel and are willing to shape the world.” Hans Urs von Balthasar, Razing the Bastions. The identification and inclusion of laypeople is critical to the future mission and ministry of the Church. As Pope John Paul II underscored in his apostolic letter, Ecclesia in America, “The renewal of the Church in America will not be possible without the active presence of the laity. Therefore, they are largely responsible for the future of the Church.” ...read the full article

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