Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Evolution of a Spiritual Renewal

Bishop Clark recently announced a diocesan-wide Time of Renewal. This was the second public announcement. The first took place some 19 months ago.

The First Announcement

In a June 4, 2006 homily Fr. Richard Shatzel, then pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Honeoye, announced that a diocesan-wide spiritual renewal was in the offing. It was to begin in 2007 and run for 3 years. The first year was to focus on clergy and pastoral staff, the second year on the laity and the third year was to involve outreach “to the world.”

Holding up copies of Go And Make Disciples and From Maintenance to Mission, Fr. Shatzel said that the focus of the renewal was to be on evangelization. The co-chairs were to be Fr. Doug Della Pietra and Ms. Shannon Loughlin.

About a year later, with the diocese still silent on the topic of a renewal, Fr. Shatzel apologized to his parishioners for what he termed a premature announcement. He said that the renewal was still in the works, but that various aspects of it had been “held up in committee.”

The Second Announcement

The second (and official) announcement came on the first weekend of Advent 2007 when a letter from Bishop Clark was read at all Masses. The bishop said that the diocese would be entering into “a time of renewal” beginning in Lent 2008.

The renewal is to be co-chaired by Fr. Peter Clifford and Ms. Maribeth Mancini and is to “feature an ‘electronic’ inspirational retreat available on DVD and led by Bishop Clark; ceremonies to bless people’s personal Bibles; programs to deepen study of Scripture; programs and resources to help people determine the particular gifts God has given them; and ways to fully practice the biblical principles of Stewardship as a way of life.”

What Happened "In Committee"?

It’s pretty clear that the renewal we are about to receive bears little resemblance to the one first announced in 2006.

First, both of the original co-chairs are no longer in the picture. While it was probably necessary to find a substitute for Doug Della Pietra, as he no longer seems to be a diocesan employee or even an active priest (see here), the reasons for replacing Ms. Loughlin with Ms. Mancini are less clear.

Second, the original, hierarchical implementation has given way to a we’re-all-in-this-together approach. The program as first announced seemed to focus first on our pastoral leaders so that they could then lead us, the laity, in our own renewal, after which all of us would be prepared to carry the gospel message out into the wider world. Now we are all called to enter into “a personal relationship with Jesus, through prayer and Scripture,.” which isn't a bad thing. However, it now seems that the wider world will just have to fend for itself.

Third, Go and Make Disciples and From Maintenance to Mission have given way to an “inspirational” retreat on DVD. I find this unfortunate, as both these works compel us, both individually and corporately, to look deeply inside ourselves and identify what should not be there as well as what that which should be there that needs strengthening. I suppose I could hope for something similar from the bishop's DVD, but I’m not holding my breath.

Finally, evangelization has given way to stewardship. Authentic evangelization requires a solid grounding in the truths of the faith on the part of the evangelizers and the renewal as originally conceived should have provided for that. And so this switch in emphasis represents a missed opportunity to rectify some of the effects of the abysmal catechesis that has been standard fare in DOR for far too many years. It would be awfully easy to be cynical about the reasons behind the new emphasis on stewardship, but I'll simply express my opinion that it is a poor substitute for the catechesis evangelization requires.

In closing I present a quote from the Catechism that seems to have escaped the notice of our bishop and his renewal committee:

Periods of renewal in the Church are also intense moments of catechesis. In the great era of the Fathers of the Church, saintly bishops devoted an important part of their ministry to catechesis. St. Cyril of Jerusalem and St. John Chrysostom, St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, and many other Fathers wrote catechetical works that remain models for us” (CCC #8, emphasis added).


Anonymous said...

The sad fact of it is that no one would mistake our bishop for one of the fathers of the church. Fathers take responsibility for their family teaching the truths of our faith. Sadly, I fear that Bishop Clark would come up short in this category

This will be an abysmal mess like most of the catechesis in the DOR. And in the end the Chancery will declare it a success.

Mike said...

This will be an abysmal mess like most of the catechesis in the DOR. And in the end the Chancery will declare it a success.

Amen. But I'm still glad Fr. Shatzel jumped the gun and I was there to hear it. At least we know what the renewal could have been.

Anonymous said...

If the renewal had gone the way Fr. Shatzel had announced it, it would have been a good thing and would have signaled a change in the ways of the diocese. But alas, it wasn't to be.

At this rate, we will have to wait for a new Bishop for their to be any kind of real renewal.