Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Friday, May 25, 2018

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People don’t like change — that’s the bottom line.

More often than not, if given a choice, they would prefer to maintain the status quo, rather than venture into something new. That was certainly the case during Jesus’ lifetime. His proclamation of the “Good News” was looked upon by the majority of his contemporaries as anything but good news. Romans and Jews alike viewed him as a rabble-rouser and ultimately accused him of sedition, which was punishable by death.

In this time of pastoral planning in our archdiocese, I want to offer a portrayal of Jesus that is not typically applied to him, mainly because it’s a description most often associated with a role certain people play in business. I propose that Jesus was, in fact, a change agent, a person who, not unlike St. John the Baptist and the prophets of the Old Testament, sought to rouse people from complacency; to impart a compelling vision of what life could be; and, ultimately, to call them to actions that would bring about the future state they proclaimed was theirs for the taking.

To make this happen, Jesus ran the risk of confronting the established political and spiritual authorities of the day, publicly criticizing the policies, practices and behaviors that mostly served to benefit them while marginalizing the people over whom they held power. Secularly speaking, Jesus was an abject failure. He challenged authority and was executed as a result. As we all know, however, there’s much more to the story, and I want to offer this portrayal of Jesus as a change agent to illustrate how each and every person in the archdiocese is being called to the same task.

Ultimately, Jesus was calling people not simply to change, but to be transformed, to be born again into a new creation, empowered by the infusion of the Holy Spirit. History shows that the personal transformations inspired by Jesus have resulted in transformation of society, politics and religion, as well — and the transformations continue to this very day. Now, let’s think about this in practical terms.

Pastoral planning is a change process, a transition consisting of three overlapping phases:

 Ending — involves moving beyond the present; roles, relationships, functions, etc., go away;

  Neutral zone — characterized by ambiguity and a temporary sense of uncertainty; and

  New beginning — the start of what did not exist yesterday.

About transitions, William Bridges, an internationally known speaker, author and consultant, says: “Transition is not just a nice way to say change. It is the inner process through which people come to terms with a change, as they let go of the way things used to be and reorient themselves to the way that things are now.” The graphic below illustrates this process. Notice how each phase of change overlaps the other as time goes on, and also the degree that people experience each phase, illustrated by the width of each color band.

Transitions resulting from pastoral planning, such as a new parish, new deanery, new pastor, new parishioners and new Mass schedule, are situational and external to people. These same kinds of changes occurred as a result of Jesus’ preaching. His followers began to gather in small homes instead of in synagogues. They still read Hebrew scriptures, but they also began recounting the teachings of Jesus, and did so in the context of a meal modeled on the one Jesus shared with the apostles during his Last Supper. Leaders were no longer the rabbis; they were apostles, disciples and eventually even deacons. Everything was changing and many people were upset, especially the Jewish leaders, who continued to persecute  the followers of Christ. But even persecutions didn’t stop the spread of Jesus’ message, because it was ultimately transformational “Good News.”

So, Jesus did, in fact, bring about many changes. In order to make these changes stick, he had to create in people a desire to be transformed. Unlike the situational/external transitions (changes) people experience, transformation is personal and results in changes in such things as values (what we believe); mindset (how we think); behavior (how we act based on what we believe and how we think); and being (who we are, and consequently, how others perceive us).

At this point in our evolution as an archdiocese, change is imminent and necessary. If we ignore this fact, we will only continue to reap fruits of inertia, none of which will lead to the transformation to which we are being called. That said, I want to challenge each and every one of us to look at pastoral planning as a way to carry on what Jesus started, and to see it as one means of realizing the vision we have set for ourselves as an archdiocese: to establish “a local Church characterized by spiritual vitality, organizational efficacy and accountability and social and financial responsibility.”

We are all in this together, and Pope Francis has called us to become “missionary disciples” and to “undertake a resolute process of discernment, purification and reform” (Evangelii Guadium). The time is now, the time is right to be transformed, as our mission declares, into “living signs of communion with God, and his instruments for the redemption of the world.”

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