By Barb Arland-Fye
DAVENPORT — Bishop Martin Amos encourages clergy to read and discuss in small-group settings a new document on preaching that he and the other U.S. bishops approved last week during their fall general assembly. The document “Preaching the Mystery of Faith: The Sunday Homily” will also be shared with the Diocesan Pastoral and Presbyteral councils. It is the first bishops’ document on preaching in 30 years and encourages preachers to connect the Sunday homily with people’s daily lives.
The document includes seven of nine modifications that Bishop Amos submitted for approval. Deacon Frank Agnoli, the diocese’s director of liturgy and of deacon formation, helped Bishop Amos prepare the modifications, which had largely to do with the inclusion of “deacon formation programs” in the text.
“I think many people in our diocese feel that the priests and deacons preach well, but each of us knows that we can always do a better job. The document will help us to do that,” Bishop Amos said during an interview with The Catholic Messenger to share his perspective on the Nov. 12-15 assembly in Baltimore. (See page 6 for the national wrap-up.)
A Pastoral Exhortation on the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation also received the bishops’ approval. Bishop Amos has distributed it to priests, stating that the “exhortation is encouragement to the clergy and faithful to especially avail themselves of the sacrament of reconciliation in Lent.”
The U.S. bishops noted in the exhortation that “We, who Christ has ordained to minister this forgiveness in his name, are also approaching this sacrament, as both penitents and ministers, during Lent. We want to offer ourselves to you as forgiven sinners seeking to serve in the Lord’s name,” the bishops added.
Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, exemplified the graces that come from seeking God’s mercy and transforming her life, Bishop Amos noted. That’s why he voted in favor of endorsing sainthood for Day. She had been a communist, lived in a relationship outside of marriage and had an abortion. Her conversion demonstrates “that there isn’t anyone who can’t be touched by God’s grace,” Bishop Amos said.
The New Evangelization permeated discussions and actions throughout the general assembly, Bishop Amos noted. The bishops adopted a three-year strategic plan to assist them in integrating the New Evangelism into the life and the mission of the Church in the U.S.:
• Focus on Faith (2013-14) seeks to help Catholics and Church ministers deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ, increase their knowledge of Church teachings, strengthen formation of ministers and for all Catholics to gain a greater confidence in the Gospel lived through the ecclesial community.
• Focus on Worship and Parish Life (2014-15) looks toward increasing sacramental practice and creating parishes as welcoming communities.
• Focus on Witness (2015-16) aims to support initiatives concerning Life and Dignity of the Human person along with projects to support diocesan efforts to strengthen and encourage the role of the laity as witnesses in the public square.
The bishops envision the Year of Faith, which continues through Nov. 24, 2013, as a doorway to the work of the New Evangelization. Year of Faith is an opportunity for Catholics to experience conversion and renew and deepen their relationship with Christ and his Church. Special activities are being directed toward young people, inactive Catholics and married couples and parents, Bishop Amos said.
As part of the strategic plan, the bishops agreed to reorganize their Communications Department, which includes Catholic News Service, and to hire a public affairs director. The bishops hope these efforts will strengthen awareness and the impact that the Church’s teachings, beliefs and messages have on Catholics and civic leaders. A new focus will be placed on public relations and community engagement. Social media will be an important tool to utilize, Bishop Amos said. “In this day and age of instant communication, we need to be more proactive and unified in our communications approach,” he added.
Bishop Amos also voted with the majority to approve financial assistance to the Archdiocese for the Military Service. As a result, a national collection will be taken up every three years close to Veterans Day or another strategic date, beginning in 2013.
Document on economy was too long
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops rejected a 13-page document pertaining to the economy. Bishop Martin Amos said he and other bishops at the fall general assembly in Baltimore thought the document was too long and involved. “We already have a document on the economy that states our values.” He anticipates a smaller document, along the lines of a pamphlet, acknowledging “that we know people are hurting,” Bishop Amos said.