BY BISHOP EMERITUS HOWARD J. HUBBARDOn Nov. 21, we celebrated the rededication of our newly-renovated Mother Church, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany, 158 years to the day of its opening in 1852.
At this celebration, I suggested that the rededication of our cathedral be an opportunity for all the members of the Albany Diocese to recommit ourselves both to an internal renewal on our journey of discipleship and to an external proclamation of our faith.
With regard to the latter, the rededication of the cathedral also marked the formal launching of a three-year process of evangelization within our Diocese titled, "Amazing God," which will begin this Advent and continue through the spring and fall of 2011 and 2012.
The first year will focus on God's love. It will include a DVD retreat which addresses the questions, "Who is this God of Love?;" "How do we experience God's love?;" and "Does God's love make a difference in our lives?"
The DVD has been made available to all our parishes and can be employed in a variety of settings: after Mass on weekdays or weekends; at an evening of recollection; in schools or faith formation programs; for youth or confirmation retreats; in small prayer groups, or on one's own computer or TV.
To order a personal copy of this DVD, contact the diocesan Office for Evangelization, Catechesis and Family Life at 453-6630. Other materials will be available for subsequent years, which will be devoted to the heart of Christ and the movement of the Spirit in our lives.
There will also be liturgical suggestions and training programs available for parish evangelization teams, as well as opportunities to celebrate our faith heritage at the parish, cluster, deanery and diocesan levels.
We need this
That there is a need for evangelization is patently clear. Many Catholics have lapsed or are alienated from the Church; many have joined other faith communities, especially evangelical churches; others are hurt and angry because of the closing, mergers or consolidations of parishes effected by the recent Called to be Church process; still others have become "cultural Catholics," rarely darkening the door of the church except at Christmas and Easter or for the weddings and funerals of relatives; and a growing number of Catholics are not being married in or buried from the Church.
So, the need for evangelization exists. However, I know there are questions both about the timing of the effort and the approach being employed.
Some are concerned that the time is not right - that we should wait a bit longer till the fatigue and fallout from the Called to be Church process have evaporated.
Others argue that the reopening of the wounds of clergy sexual misconduct created by the recent European revelations make such a diocesan evangelization effort inopportune.
Some lament that this initiative sounds like the "same old, same old," that it will only address the needs of those already practicing their faith and offer little to attract the unchurched, the alienated and that cohort already so notable by their absence in the pews: the 40-and-under group, especially teenagers and young adults.
Others maintain that our primary focus must be to address vigorously the decline of vocations to priesthood and religious life, and that until this trend is reversed, we won't have the leadership necessary for a successful evangelization campaign.
Still others fear that any initiative to share our faith with disaffected Catholics or the unchurched might be interpreted by them as arrogant, judgmental or invasive of their privacy.
These and other concerns certainly have validity and, hopefully, can be addressed constructively both through creative local initiatives and best practices garnered from other dioceses.
In the face of the challenges to being evangelists, I am reminded of the observation of Rev. Alvin Illig, the great crusader for evangelization in the 20th century, who noted: "There are some who maintain that the time is not ripe for evangelization; that we must wait till all disputes are resolved in the Church and everything is in good order."
However, Father Illig continued, "The Church has never been in perfect condition and never will be. If we wait for the right time, either for ourselves personally or for our parish, clusters or diocese, we will wind up doing nothing at all."
Doing nothing at all in this regard is totally unacceptable. Evangelization is at the heart of who we are as God's people, given the mandate of the risen Jesus "to go into the world and proclaim the Good News to all creation" (Mk 16:15).
Will our efforts be perfect? No. Will we make mistakes? Yes. But so did Ss. Peter, Paul, Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena, Isaac Jogues and Kateri Tekakwitha.
Will this Amazing God process fall short of our fondest expectations? Probably. But, as Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta reminded us, "God doesn't call us to be successful; God calls us to be faithful."
That is what our Amazing God process is all about: being faithful to the treasure of faith we have received and discovering within ourselves ways - be they the tried-and-true or innovative and outside the box - that we can employ to proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord and to invite others to come and taste how good the liturgical, sacramental moral and social life of our Church truly is.
May we, then, at the outset of the Advent season and over the next three years accept this challenge, embrace it and fulfill it for the honor and glory of God and for the hope, peace and betterment of God's people.