The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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February 9, 2001 Issue
Bishop Banks' Corner

Bishop Robert J. Banks
Bishop Robert J. Banks

Were we reading the pope's mind?

Apostolic letter echoes diocesan theme, 'Summoned to serve'

By Bishop Robert Banks

Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, was busy on the last day of the Jubilee year. He wrapped up that very special year in his life and the Church's life with a beautiful homily at the last Mass of the year, and then he issued an Apostolic Letter to all the dioceses of the world.

Probably the main point of all this activity by the Pope can be summed up in a few lines from his homily: "We need 'to set out anew from Christ,' with the zeal of Pentecost, with renewed enthusiasm. To set out from him above all in a daily commitment to holiness, with an attitude of prayer and of listening to his word. To set out from him in order to testify to his love by living a Christian life marked by communion, charity, and witness before the world."

Face to face with Jesus

At the center of all our efforts has to be Jesus Christ. I was particularly interested to see how, in his homily, Pope John Paul again and again drew on St. Paul's reference to the "face of Christ." Over the past few months I have been thinking of putting together a homily that would center on that expression, "the face of Christ," so I was pleased to see that the Holy Father and I both saw something special in those words.

You really don't feel you know someone if you have never seen the person face to face. Looking at the back of a person's head just doesn't do it. By using the expression "the face of Christ," our Holy Father is calling us to place a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus at the very center of our lives. He says a couple of times in this homily and Apostolic Letter that he is not calling for new programs; he is calling for a new enthusiasm that comes from knowing Jesus face to face.

That is the spirit that animates the Pope's Apostolic Letter, Novo Millennio Ineunte, "At the Beginning of the New Millennium." He addresses the letter to all the local churches, or dioceses, around the world, calling us to profit from the grace of the Jubilee Year "by putting it into practice in resolutions and guidelines for action." He goes on to say, "Now is the time for each local church to assess its fervor and find fresh enthusiasm for its spiritual and pastoral responsibilities." ("Local church" refers to dioceses, like our Church of Green Bay.)

The Pope was probably putting together his ideas and this letter months ago. I am happy to say that months ago here in this Church of Green Bay, we also were having the same ideas. I can remember the discussion one morning last spring when the members of the Bishop's Advisory Committee agreed that we should use the Jubilee Year and Renew 2000 as a springboard for renewed pastoral and spiritual action in the coming years.

Like the Pope, we said that we didn't want to start any new programs; it would be simply a case of living out with greater zeal our discipleship. That is how the expression "Summoned to Serve" came to be chosen as our motto for the next couple of years. In particular, we would focus on the traditional works of mercy and also the struggle for justice and peace.

It is almost as if we were reading the Pope's mind. Or maybe the Pope was reading our minds and saying, "Yes, but make sure that your efforts center in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfillment in the heavenly Jerusalem."

A universal call

The Pope moves on to say that the Second Vatican Council's emphasis on the "universal call to holiness" has to be the foundation of our efforts. The Church is all about holiness. To be baptized is to enter into "the holiness of God through incorporation into Christ and the indwelling of his Spirit."

Then he has these powerful lines: "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 be holy?'"

The Pope then goes on to lift up for attention something that we, perhaps, did not stress enough in our own plans for "Summoned to Serve." He says that the path to holiness calls for "training in holiness, adapted to people's needs. This training in holiness calls for a Christian life distinguished above all in the art of prayer." The Pope is so serious about this need for all of us to increase and deepen our life of prayer that he intends to speak on prayer in his weekly audiences this year.

The heart of Sunday

It is no surprise that the first prayer he lifts up for attention in this Letter is Sunday Mass. "I therefore wish to insist that sharing in the Eucharist should really be the heart of Sunday for every baptized person. It is a fundamental duty, to be fulfilled not just in order to observe a precept but as something felt as essential to a truly informed and consistent Christian life." I think the Pope would be pleased to know that in my Confirmation homilies this year I stress Sunday Mass as the way a confirmed Catholic regularly has the Holy Spirit become part of his or her life.

The Holy Father also speaks about the importance of the sacrament of reconciliation and calls upon pastors to "arm themselves with more confidence, creativity and perseverance in presenting it and leading people to appreciate it."

All our people who were in Renew 2000 or are involved in Bible study or faith-sharing groups will be glad to hear that, for the Pope, "this primacy of holiness and prayer is inconceivable without a renewed listening to the word of God."

The word of God leads naturally to evangelization, and here the Pope really becomes passionate. "We must revive in ourselves the burning conviction of Paul, who cried out: 'Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.'" My own reading is that for our Holy Father the most important service we can render people is our spreading of the Good News.

The Pope has more to say, but I have no room. Maybe I can get to it later.

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