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ARCHBISHOP | Embracing our legacy as we plan for change

Focusing on Jesus — Who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow — can help us establish new habits

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

“If only we had died at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our kettles of meat and ate our fill of bread!” (Exodus 16:3)

This was the lament of Israel as Moses led them through the desert. They wanted to return to their previous life! As one commentator put it: It was easier to get Israel out of Egypt — that was a matter of changing physical location. Getting Egypt out of Israel’s heart — changing the habits of the people — that was much harder!

That’s a lesson for us as we engage in the All Things New pastoral planning process. It’s tempting for us to echo the words of Israel: “Would that we lived in the 1950s, when our schools were filled to overflowing and we built a new parish every two miles!” That time has left us. But we, in our hearts, have to leave that time behind!

Israel had to give up some key habits, and establish some new habits, in their journey to the Promised Land. The same is true of us and the pastoral planning process. Change is hard! But the Lord offers us something in the midst of it — something that calls us more deeply into our identity.

Perhaps I could put it this way: The people of the Archdiocese of St. Louis have a remarkable reputation for generosity. I have seen, firsthand, why. You share your time and energy, your talents and financial resources, with remarkable freedom. You seem to be energized by giving, and that’s a reflection of God’s life in you.

But we, as Catholics, are hesitant to share the Gospel: to speak openly of God, to tell people what Jesus has done and is doing in our lives. Our deepest treasure — and the treasure the world most needs — we’ve learned to keep to ourselves. That’s a habit that needs to change!

Let me put it another way. We in the Archdiocese of St. Louis are heirs to the legacy of an immigrant Church. We’ve lived in and celebrated one aspect of that legacy for a long time — the beautiful buildings our ancestors built and the organizational structure those buildings represent.

But there’s another aspect of that immigrant legacy that we need to claim. Our ancestors set out for a new land. They had no guarantee about what they would find, or how they would do. But they trusted in God, worked hard and built a beautiful life of faith in ways that were new. We’re heirs of that legacy, too, and it’s a legacy we need to embrace as we move forward with pastoral planning.

When a seed grows into a flower there’s a radical change in its outward appearance, but the underlying reality is ever the same. The same is true of the Church as we go through pastoral planning. The outward appearance may change. But the underlying reality is Jesus Christ Himself — and He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

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