Planning for holiness

Last Saturday (September 14) Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., celebrated Mass at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption in Fall River with scores of laity who had been involved in the strategic planning process that had engaged hundreds of people from across the diocese over the past few years.

In his homily the bishop cited the old saying, “God helps those who help themselves” and thanked the laity for working hard to collaborate with God in the rebuilding of the diocese in faith and hope. As the day’s Mass was for the feast of the Triumph of the Cross, Bishop da Cunha urged everyone to follow Christ in bearing their crosses, to live the truly “Christian way,” by “imitate[ing] the mindset of Christ in self-emptying service of one another.”

Before the homily members of three of the strategic planning commissions presented their plans to the bishop. As a preface, Laura Carrillo, director of Strategic and Pastoral Planning, addressed the bishop. She began by quoting Pope Francis’ address in Philadelphia on Sept. 26, 2015, where he said, “We know that the future of the Church in a rapidly changing society will call, and even now calls, for a much more active engagement on the part of the laity.”

She then noted that Bishop da Cunha was in his first year as bishop of Fall River at the time of the pope’s visit and now his laity was “presenting to you a strategic plan for our local Church.”

“The engagement of the people in our pews throughout this strategic planning process has brought forth more than a plan. It has brought a renewed hope in our future as a people of faith throughout this diocese,” Carrillo said.

On Saturday the Diocesan Governance, Catholic Social Services and Youth commissions presented their plans to the bishop at the Mass. Future editions of The Anchor will have more information about their proposals. 

Bishop da Cunha thanked the members of the commissions for all of their work. He also did note that it would take millions of dollars and scores more employees and volunteers to carry out every proposal. As such, he told the newly-composed Diocesan Pastoral Council, whom he blessed at the Mass, that they will be working on prioritizing the proposals from the commissions, to see which ones will be implemented first and which ones are more longer-range goals. 

Strategic planning is not just an “American” thing. Pope Francis, in his 2018 apostolic constitution Veritatis Gaudium (the joy of truth), wrote at #61, “Great care must be given to what is called strategic planning, so as to provide for the preservation and progress of [Catholic] Universities and Faculties, as well as their suitable distribution in the various parts of the world.”

Pope Benedict XVI, in his message for the 2010 World Day of Peace, wrote, “It should be evident that the ecological crisis cannot be viewed in isolation from other related questions, since it is closely linked to the notion of development itself and our understanding of man in his relationship to others and to the rest of Creation. Prudence would thus dictate a profound, long-term review of our model of development. The ecological health of the planet calls for this, but it is also demanded by the cultural and moral crisis of humanity whose symptoms have for some time been evident in every part of the world. Our present crises ­— be they economic, food-related, environmental or social — are ultimately also moral crises, and all of them are interrelated. They require us to rethink the path which we are travelling together. Specifically, they call for a lifestyle marked by sobriety and solidarity, with new rules and forms of engagement, one which focuses confidently and courageously on strategies that actually work, while decisively rejecting those that have failed. Only in this way can the current crisis become an opportunity for discernment and new strategic planning.”

St. John Paul II, in his apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (at the beginning of the new millennium), called for pastoral planning in this new time in which we live. At #31 he wrote, “At first glance, it might seem almost impractical to recall this elementary truth [that of the need to grow in holiness] as the foundation of the pastoral planning in which we are involved at the start of the new millennium. Can holiness ever be ‘planned’? What might the word ‘holiness’ mean in the context of a pastoral plan? In fact, to place pastoral planning under the heading of holiness is a choice filled with consequences. It implies the conviction that, since Baptism is a true entry into the holiness of God through incorporation into Christ and the indwelling of His Spirit, it would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity. To ask catechumens: ‘Do you wish to receive Baptism?’ means at the same time to ask them: ‘Do you wish to become holy?’ It means to set before them the radical nature of the Sermon on the Mount: ‘Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect’ (Mt 5:48).

The Polish saint continued, “As the [Second Vatican] Council itself explained, this ideal of perfection must not be misunderstood as if it involved some kind of extraordinary existence, possible only for a few ‘uncommon heroes’ of holiness. The ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual. The time has come to re-propose wholeheartedly to everyone this high standard of ordinary Christian living: the whole life of the Christian community and of Christian families must lead in this direction. It is also clear however that the paths to holiness are personal and call for a genuine ‘training in holiness,’ adapted to people’s needs. This training must integrate the resources offered to everyone with both the traditional forms of individual and group assistance, as well as the more recent forms of support offered in associations and movements recognized by the Church.”

The work of the commissions, together with that of the bishop’s ministry, is aimed at how we can more effectively convey the message of Christ by living out that message. Christ is the Word that God the Father speaks to us. Holiness is our living out that message, by becoming more like God, in Whose image we were created. May we always allow the Holy Spirit to guide us individually and collectively to plan according to God’s plan of love and holiness for us.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts