January 9, 2011
The Baptism of the Lord
Dear Friends in Christ,
At the beginning of the New Year, the question was raised a number of times by reporters: “How would you describe the state of the Church in our country, in the archdiocese?” On the whole, I think a fair answer is “Good — but it could always be better.”
In explaining why I believe the state of the Church in our archdiocese is good, I would like to touch on just a few areas.
When I visit parishes, as I do on average 150 times a year, I find vibrant faith communities where there is ample evidence that would support the conclusion that parish life is good. Parishes across the archdiocese are beginning to conduct self-assessments to measure their effectiveness using a tool called the “Indicators of Vitality.” When looking at the worship and prayer life of the parish; its educational efforts; its charitable and outreach programs; its sense of and efforts to build community, and the myriad of activities that come under the heading of stewardship and administration, by and large the response to these assessments has been “good.”
Other gauges indicate a very healthy situation where the faithful recognize both their obligation to support the Church and their desire to help meet the needs of so many around us. To cite just a few examples over the past year, I would note the extraordinary support of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington. In spite of the economic downturn that the nation continues to face, Catholic Charities is able to carry out her ministry of service to the Gospel through the sustained financial support of caring donors.
Whether it is serving through the Spanish Catholic Center or its expanding outreach to women in crisis pregnancies we can all be proud of Catholic Charities for providing direct medical, dental and social service support to those in need regardless of creed or circumstance.
When I visit parishes across the archdiocese, pastors regularly express to me their gratitude for the generosity of their parishioners that sustains parish ministries. In fact, last year’s Archbishop’s (now Cardinal’s) Appeal had its best year ever, which gives us hope in knowing we can continue to reach people with the Gospel or in meeting their basic needs.
People’s financial contributions, which reflect their moral support and faith in our Catholic social services, help make possible the actual outreach to those in need provided by this wide range of ministries. These activities, too, are at an all-time high with more people being assisted than at any time in our past.
When asked about the state of the Church in our archdiocese, we can also look to education and make the same positive response. Nearly 100 schools continue to educate more than 28,000 youngsters and this includes many of the most needy in our area. In the District of Columbia, the archdiocese, with support from the wider community, continues to operate the Consortium of Catholic Academies that provides quality education, moral direction and hope for hundreds of children who would otherwise simply not have an opportunity for a level playing field and a good education. Even in spite of the decision of Congress to terminate the Opportunity Scholarship Program that provided some financial support for these minority and financially disadvantaged children, the archdiocese and its friends continue to serve many of these families in the city's poorest neighborhoods.
In addition, thanks to the generosity of our Catholic faithful, tuition assistance provided to students in our Catholic schools throughout the entire archdiocese now stands at an all-time high of $5 million this current academic year, a six-fold increase in the amount of aid it was able to offer four years ago.
Examples of extraordinary success are, of course, Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington and the Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park. The latter is scheduled for its first graduating class this May and already has 24 of its 70 seniors accepted at colleges and universities across the country, including three at Georgetown University and four at Trinity University in Washington, D.C.
Anyone who is aware of some of the problems the Church faces today across so much of the world knows that the impact of almost two generations of poor catechesis presents enormous challenges to our pastors, teachers, catechists and parents. Sadly, many Catholic simply don't know the basics of their faith. Yet it is encouraging to note that a renewal of teaching the faith is well underway in this archdiocese involving thousands of people. The Office for Religious Education has provided new guidelines, instruction courses for catechists and standards-based religion curriculum to enrich our efforts to teach and to pass on the faith.
Another piece of welcome news that indicates the Church is doing well even though it could always do better is the fact that as we conclude the year 2010 we have 67 men preparing for priesthood in our archdiocesan formation programs.
The influx, however, of young men in their early 20s into our regular formation program for the direct service of the archdiocese has been so substantial in recent years that plans are well underway to open our own (for the first time ever) archdiocesan college/pre-theology level house of formation. This seminary will provide a place where young potential priests who will attend The Catholic University of America for their academic preparation will receive priestly formation from our own archdiocesan priests. This is in addition to the Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary Redemptoris Mater, owned and operated by the archdiocese and inspired by the Neocatechumenal Way, which continues to prepare men for archdiocesan service and missionary activity around the world.
Another indicator of how well things are going in the archdiocese is the response to the numerous evangelization initiatives of recent years. “The Light is On for You,” a pastoral outreach begun in 2007 that focuses on the sacrament of reconciliation, continues to be immensely popular and successful.
This year the archdiocesan Secretariat for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns initiated the “Find the Perfect Gift” campaign to encourage people to invite other people back to the Church, particularly at Christmas.
Another long overdue evangelizing and catechetical initiative is the “Marriage Matters” program begun over a year ago to help young adults of the archdiocese and members of the wider community to understand what marriage is truly all about and why it is an integral part of the fabric of human society.
All of the above programs have had the effect of reaching people, some of whom had simply drifted away from the practice of the faith and needed an invitation or nudge back. When the Church speaks of the New Evangelization, the reproposing to people of the wonderful mystery of God’s love for us and Christ’s enduring presence in his Church today, all of the above-mentioned initiatives come to mind.
My pastoral letter on the New Evangelization calls all of us to reach out to those people who come on special occasions — weddings, funerals, Christmas and Easter — and who still think of themselves as Catholics but who have let the pressures of all that is expected of individuals and families today get in the way of their own spiritual journey. As a priority for the archdiocese, we can do better in reaching out to those who have become less active in the practice of their faith.
For nearly a decade we have heard over and over again the story that some priests had abused young people 20, 30, 40, even 50 years ago. What was not always reported is that these priests are out of ministry and not able to serve as priests. When we look at this archdiocese which is regularly audited by an outside, impartial investigation about our practices and policies concerning child protection, we can truly say that the state of the archdiocese and its policies to protect young people is good.
Lots of good things are happening. We will soon begin the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults all over again this year. Based on our past experience, we anticipate receiving more than 1,000 new members into the Catholic Church at Easter.
If space and time permitted, we could go on and on highlighting so many good things that are part and parcel of the life and activity of the Catholic Church in our archdiocese. Perhaps we take them for granted because they are so much a part of the fabric of our lives. Maybe that is one of the reasons why it is good to do a “State of the Church” reflection from time to time.
In reflecting on the “State of the Church,” we must also be realistic. We cannot speak about the life and mission of the Catholic Church and the experiences and faith of Catholic people apart from the context of today and the increasingly secular world in which we live that is often hostile to religion. Our secular culture, including the media and entertainment industry, too often reflects a lack of respect for matters of faith. Religion is frequently ridiculed on TV programs. This past Holy Week, an editorial cartoon mocked the priesthood.
The conscience rights and religious freedom of Catholic hospitals and health care institutions which respect the dignity of all human life also are at risk, as some legislators and groups seek to force them to provide abortion services. In Maryland, we have seen local legislative bodies pass measures to undermine the work of pro-life pregnancy aid centers and a late-term abortionist has recently begun practicing in the state because of its permissive abortion laws.
From the halls of Congress to the hearing rooms of our local legislatures, we witness efforts to block innovative proposals that would help make a quality Catholic education more affordable and accessible to families across our region.
Even against this background we have reason to be hopeful. As we seek to reflect the values of our faith in the public square, we know that the Church has always stood as a sign of contradiction and the rejection of her voice by many is evidence of her relevance. The Gospel calls us to a way of life and action that is countercultural. To the extent that our values do not always line up with the values of this day and age, of this culture and our contemporary society, to that extent we can recognize a level of fidelity to Christ, his Gospel and his love.
As we take this moment for a quick review of the state of the Church, we can use the time, as well, for a personal review of how well each of us is doing as we strive, in the words of Scripture, to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33).
May this New Year be a time of grace and joy for you.
Faithfully in Christ,
Donald Cardinal Wuerl
Archbishop of Washington
So that's the email from him. I reproduced it in its entirety so that all can see my comments in proper context. I certainly am heartened to hear that more men are pursuing priestly vocations. I also do applaud His Eminence for instituting the "Light Is On For You" initiative to encourage Catholics to make use of the Sacrament of Confession. I must say that prior to that, when I went to Confession, I walked into the confessional as soon as I walked into church. Now I have to wait in line - and that's good! It means that more people are taking the states of their souls seriously and are being proactive about getting right with God.
Unfortunately, we have to look at what he didn't say. Much of that, though, has been posted here and by other bloggers. To wit:
- Just look at today's other post, where we describe the recent pandering to DC's new CINO pro-abortion mayor.
- One of my blogging colleagues alerts us to another pro-abortion politician being on the board of directors of a local Catholic high school. Read here.
- I posted a list of some local, recent episodes of prelates kissing up to pro-abortion pols, along with a Vortex commentary.
- Even in some of the more reverent churches here, there is the sloppy dress for Mass and the even sloppier behavior before and after Mass
- To those involved in pre-Cana seminars - how many engaged couples come to you and indicate that they are shacking up? Do you confront them about their mortal sin so that they can repent and amend their ways and go to Confession, so as the receive the Sacrament of Matrimony worthily? I know one parish that does.
- Speaking of pro-aborts in key positions, how many parishes have them in their key posts, including catechetical instruction?
- The presence of Just Faith in many parishes, spreading "community organizing" leftwing poison