This month, I am happy to share with you the following homily, which I delivered at a service in the Cathedral of St. Joseph on Sunday, April 17, for the conferral of the St. Joseph Medal of Appreciation on 188 distinguished parishioners from throughout the Archdiocese, nominated by their pastors for their service to the church.
We gather in this magnificent Cathedral of St. Joseph, and among his many titles he is honored as the patron of the universal church. The New Testament speaks about the church being “built” or “built up,” and so it almost seems natural to turn to the humble carpenter from Nazareth, Joseph, for him to watch over the construction, until the end of time.
Joseph was of the House of David, the king who promised to build God a house, a temple in which God might be more fittingly worshipped. But through the mouth of the prophet God said: “No, David, it is not you who will build a house for me. We’ll leave that to your son Solomon. No, it is I – God – who will build a house for you, one that will last forever.” This promise was fulfilled when Jesus was born, the legal son of Joseph of Nazareth, of the House of David – Jesus, whose kingship will never end.
My brothers and sisters, perhaps we are a bit like David sometimes, imagining that we are building a house for God, a church for God. Now in one sense this is true. When, for example, we look at all that has gone into building and maintaining our parishes and schools, and all the many good works that are carried out by Catholics like our honorees today, we can say, yes, in this sense we are doing something beautiful for God, we are building the church.
But as the Scriptures reveal, and as today Pope Francis powerfully reminds us, all of our institutions, buildings, programs, all our efforts are ultimately measured not by the bricks and mortar of this world, which will crumble away; not by the activities and routines that constitute what Pope Francis calls our “comfort zones”; but rather by what Saint Paul refers to as a “self-emptying” – both personal and sometimes even institutional – in order to accomplish our mission from God.
We know all too well how many people today no longer practice their faith; how many even reject religion and belief in God; how many people today are suffering from the lack of a meaning and purpose in life that only Christ can give. The mission of our archdiocese is to be a living sign of communion with God, to be his instrument for the redemption of the world. Nourished by God’s word and by the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, we, as members of the archdiocese, are called by our baptism and confirmation to live a holy life, and to bring others into our shared communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
If this is our divinely appointed mission, then for its sake we have to be willing to be creative, flexible and detached from anything that hinders us or that is no longer fruitful or effective. When Jesus sent the disciples out two by two, he said: “Go; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no money belt, no bag, no shoes; and greet no one on the way. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house.’”
Our Catholic faith has never interpreted these or other words of Jesus in a fundamentalistic way, as if believers literally had to stop wearing shoes and live without any money when they are doing the Lord’s work. What our Lord does mean is that we have to put all our trust in God, and to eschew anything that distracts us or hinders our mission. In the words of Pope Francis, ours has to be “a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation” (EG, 27).
Inspired by this challenge, I have initiated a pastoral planning process for the Archdiocese of Hartford with the name “Stewards for Tomorrow.” The goal is to respond in a proactive way to all the changes we witness around us every day: to Connecticut’s demographic and outward migration trends; area birth rates; the spiritual, ethnic and cultural needs of our increasingly diverse Catholic population; church attendance; the number of priests and their workloads; sacramental activity; Catholic school enrollment counts and an assessment of aging buildings and financial realities.
The ultimate goal of pastoral planning is to enkindle a renewed spirit of discipleship in every member of the archdiocese, and to reposition all our resources for a more vibrant future, a stewardship for tomorrow. With the participation, consultation, support and prayers of committed and engaged Catholics like yourselves, I hope that by next year at this time we will have made great progress toward a plan for the archdiocese characterized by spiritual vitality, organizational efficacy and accountability, and social and financial responsibility.
God’s planning is always profoundly personal, not bureaucratic. And it engages the most unlikely of persons: an Abraham and a David, a Mary and Joseph, a Peter and Paul, you and me. So, as we give thanks to God for all that you, our honorees, do as faithful Catholics, we ask God to inspire everyone in our archdiocese – clergy, religious and laity – to rise to the challenge of being good “stewards for tomorrow” amid all the blessings that we enjoy today.