Back on Christmas Day, I used my weekly email to share the good news that, after over six years of studies, I had finally completed the work for a Licentiate in Sacred Theology (STL) in the New Evangelization from Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. In that email, I remarked that “I am relieved to have completed all the requirements of this degree—now I need to see how God is calling me to use it!” It seems that one such way has just come to light.
As medical research advances and more and more Americans are vaccinated against COVID-19, we anticipate that the current pandemic will eventually wind down. If some of the emerging strains become widespread, the pandemic will be with us longer, but at some point, we will find ourselves largely beyond this painful time. Here at Sacred Heart, our parish staff is already working to structure our ministries so that we can hit the ground running once most Catholics return to church.
But, that’s the key question. Will most Catholics return to church? At many different levels, Church leaders are concerned (and other religious leaders from many different backgrounds share their concerns) that many people will have become accustomed to the relative convenience of live-streaming the Mass from their kitchens or living rooms, and will opt to remain at home. We plan to continue live-streaming our Sunday liturgies far into the future, which is especially important for our homebound parishioners. But, how can we encourage able-bodied Catholics to gather for the communal celebration of the Eucharist, such a core element of our faith?
To address questions like this, Bishop Knestout saw a need for a new diocesan evangelization commission. This commission existed several years ago (and I served on it briefly) until it faded away with the death of Bishop DiLorenzo. In January Bishop Knestout shared his vision for the new commission with me, and asked me to consider serving as its chairman. Recognizing my mother’s serious illness, he allowed me to take some time to prayerfully discern my response. In February I accepted his offer, and this week I received his letter in the mail formally appointing me to this position. It’s worth emphasizing that I will lead this commission in addition to my service here in Danville. I’m excited to continue to ministry as pastor at Sacred Heart for the foreseeable future.
Right now, I’m closely collaborating with Andrew Waring, newly appointed diocesan Director of Evangelization, regarding the membership of this commission. We’re also discerning whether the 2014 diocesan evangelization plan, “Encounter the Joy of the Gospel,” should be continued, modified or replaced. I’ll use this weekly correspondence with you to share other initiatives and projects, as appropriate.
As the Diocese of Richmond wraps up its bicentennial celebration and embarks on its third century, I believe that we are singularly poised to follow the Holy Spirit in new and exciting directions. In my weaker moments, when I forget that the Holy Spirit is in charge, these new responsibilities overwhelm me, and I’m terrified. When I do better, and acknowledge and trust in the Spirit’s leadership, then I’m much more excited about the new adventures that God has in store for us. As always, please keep me in your prayers, along with the efforts of this emerging commission and the success of the work of evangelization in every place.