Bishop: Challenge to church is to become more ecclesial-minded

Most. Rev. Robert W. Muench, Bishop

Most. Rev. Robert W. Muench, Bishop

(Below is Bishop Muench’s address during a meeting of priests, deacons and department heads regarding the Pastoral Planning Task Force on June 16 at the Bishop Robert E. Tracy Center.)

In April 2014, the Pastoral Planning Task Force was appointed with clergy, consecrated persons and lay faithful members, and Father Trey Nelson, chair, with the assistance of SSA Consultants. I ask all of you to join me in thanking these people for their conscientious, diligent two-year work to date.

As stated in the 2014 Chrism Mass homily: “The Task Force will consider the development of a diocesan long-range plan that integrates creative proposals for clergy personnel to provide parish ministry in new ways, along with the design and possible redesign of some parish configurations.”

In this year’s Chrism Mass homily, I reported: In the 55 years since the Diocese of Baton Rouge was established, the number of Catholics increased 52 percent from 165,000 to 235,000, the number of church parishes increased 30 increased from 51 to 67, while the number of priests available for parish ministry decreased 41 percent from 110 to 65. As a diocese we have excelled at being parochial-minded (parish-based). Our challenge is to become more ecclesial- minded (identifying as deanery, diocesan and church universal) as well.

In the last half century, several developments occurred in the church which have dramatically helped parochial ministry, sacramental and otherwise, including the introduction of the Sunday evening Mass, followed a few years later by the Sunday Vigil Mass, followed further years later by the expansion of eligibility for ordinations to the diaconate. Thirty years ago, under the leadership of Bishop (Stanley J.) Ott, greatly assisted by Father (John) Carville, vicar general, and others, the process of parish clustering began. Today 40 percent of our church parishes are in cluster configurations. The indispensable expansion of the role and the number of lay faithful in diocesan, parish, institutional and agency administration for church service has truly been a God-send. I ask us all to recognize those who have been an essential part of this community of faith.

All these developments combined, significant as they are, have not kept pace with our clear need for more priests today, which we all recognize and for which we all pray and work. I am happy to report that present projections for August have us with the largest number of seminarians studying for our diocese for quite some time. Praise God!

It is imperative that this picture is not only grasped and owned by each of us, but by those who are loving referred to as “the people in the pews.”

There is much more to be said. Suffice these comments to serve just an overview or introduction to our gathering. I conclude by repeating what I have said many times and in many places. In my having served in three local churches, I have had the privilege of praying and working with some of the most dedicated and gifted people I could ever imagine. And with all due respect to the previous two local churches, for whom I have the fondest of regard and respect, I would not substitute the conglomerate of clergy, religious and lay faithful here in the Diocese of Baton Rouge for any other. I say this from the heart as well as from the voice.

The church of 2000 years was never commissioned to operate out of a maintenance, but rather, a dynamic, mode. There is a familiar adage which states: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” Beloved brothers and sisters, let us seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit and a commitment of communication and collaboration with one another to a unity of purpose, cooperation with others and willingness to help our church, diocesan and universal, to grow, develop and flourish. Amen.

Taken from the June 24 Edition of The Catholic Commentator