Nearly a year ago, on 29 June 2016, we published a Diocesan Pastoral Letter on Catholic Identity and Mission in Southwest Indiana, titled Called to Missionary Discipleship and Conversion. This pastoral letter was greatly influenced by Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation,
Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), in which the Holy Father stressed that each
particular Church is called to missionary conversion as a primary subject of evangelization.
Thus, our pastoral letter, including a revised “Mission Statement and Pastoral Plan,” expressed a
desired purpose of seeking to foster missionary conversion and communion in this particular
Church known as the Diocese of Evansville. Pope Francis has consistently pointed out that such
missionary discipleship and conversion must begin with the Church’s ministers, especially
bishops and priests.
Deacons John and Jerry, like those before them, have been called by the Lord. While they have courageously and generously responded to that call, let us never forget that it is the Lord who initiates this reality. Through years of formation and education, they have engaged in a lifelong process of discernment that has necessarily involved a conversion of mind and heart.
Many have assisted them along the way. Thus, we recognize the blessings of the families, friends, parishes, priests and those responsible for their seminary formation, which have led our
candidates to this moment. This is the nature of vocational discernment, which relies on prayer, both personal and communal, the Word of God, the Sacraments, study, mentoring, service and
relationships. The Lord who calls is the same one who sends. So it must be with the same
courage and generosity of response to the call that Deacons John and Jerry accept being sent.
Missionary discipleship involves more than a single moment of sending or action. It requires a certain attitude, a willingness, an openness that is only possible through the cultivation
of particular virtues; namely, courage, humility and generosity. The priest as missionary disciple
must keep in mind that he is ordained to serve the Church, both locally and universally. No
assignment becomes a kingdom within itself. The priest is sent to serve the needs of others
rather than having his own wants met or for the sake of his own ego. Missionary discipleship
necessarily involves a turning out toward others rather than a turning in on oneself. Each and
every baptized member of the Church is called to missionary discipleship, encompassing
holiness and mission. The ordained minister must lead the way by word and, most especially, by
example. For some, this may require a great distance in physical travel. For most, especially the
diocesan priest, the task will not be so much in miles as in generosity of spirit and obedience.
To be a missionary disciple, one must have a vision. Missionary disciples are not without
purpose. To the contrary, true missionary disciples of Jesus Christ are clear about who they
follow and what they are about as witnesses to the “Joy of the Gospel.” A missionary disciple
cannot afford to get wrapped up in personal ego, ideology or agenda. It is the mission of the
Church, the proclamation of the Gospel, as instituted by Jesus Christ, which stands as the core
foundation of missionary discipleship. Missionary disciples seek to lead others to personal
relationship with Jesus Christ, the source of our hope and joy. Anything less would be to betray
the purpose of being called and sent. The priestly promises of celibacy, liturgical prayer and
obedience are meant to foster the spirit of missionary discipleship that is particular to the bishop
and his priests.
For the missionary disciple, the journey is as important as the destination. No one must
be overlooked along the way. The priest as missionary disciple must be especially attentive to
the poor and vulnerable, always ready to dialogue with and accompany those in need.
Responding with mercy, rather than reacting in harsh judgment, the priest must strive to lift up
those who have been beaten down. Moved with compassion, he must be willing to suffer with
the unborn, the homeless, the immigrant, the sick, the addicted, the abused, the elderly, the
prisoner, dying and all who are cast aside by society. A key to missionary discipleship as a priest
is presence. To be most effective in missionary discipleship, we must be present to others. The
priest need not be perfect or have all the answers, but be present to listen, encourage and walk
with those who have been entrusted to our care along the journey of life in faith.
Our Scripture readings speak of the assurances of God’s grace on those who embrace
the call to discipleship and the manner in which they are to carry out the mission entrusted to
them. In the first reading, God appoints Jeremiah as a prophet, placing His words in the mouth
of Jeremiah. The psalmist denotes the joy and gratitude that marks the lives of those who encounter intimacy with God. In his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul extends that sense of intimacy shared in communion with the family of God as many parts but one Body in Christ. We share our particular gifts for the sake of God’s glory and the good of one another. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus makes it clear that discipleship is ultimately a matter of serving rather than being served.
Deacons John and Jerry, it is my sincere hope that you will find great blessing in bringing
the joy of the Gospel to others. I hope that you will allow yourselves to be unceasingly transformed by your devotion to constant prayer, breaking open the Word of God, celebrating the
Sacraments and serving the People of God. Remember always that you belong to something
greater than yourselves. You are members of a Presbyterate, engaged in a fraternity of support
and accountability. Together, we are joined in a bond of unity with the Great High Priest, Jesus
Christ, in whose priesthood we are given to share.
I leave you with the words of blessing by St. Paul upon the Thessalonians, found at the
conclusion of our Diocesan Pastoral Letter on missionary discipleship and conversion:
“May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy and may you
entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our
Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will accomplish it.
Brothers and Sisters, pray for me too” [1 Thessalonians 5:23-25].