Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
We celebrate the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul on Jan. 25. After his conversion, as we know from his letters, he engaged in extensive ministry, ending with his martyrdom in Rome. The question becomes — and it’s one that everyone in ministry knows — Who will take over when he’s gone? St. Paul needed a succession plan.
Happily, we celebrate the feast of Sts. Timothy and Titus — two of the successors of St. Paul — the very next day (Jan. 26). And the interesting thing is, not only does St. Paul appoint them as successors to his missionary labors, he tells them to appoint successors so that the Gospel can continue to spread. He says to Timothy: “What you heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will have the ability to teach others as well” (2 Timothy 2:2). And he says to Titus: “For this reason I left you in Crete, so that you might set right what remains to be done, and appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you” (Titus 1:5). St. Paul had a succession plan!
We also hear a couple of parables from Jesus this week. Sometimes, when Jesus tells parables, we also learn of His succession plan for teaching because the Gospel writers tell us: “With many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it. Without parables He did not speak to them, but to His own disciples He explained everything in private” (Mark 4: 33-34).
Jesus knows that people aren’t ready to have everything explained to them. We’ve all had that experience of watching people’s eyes glaze over as we explain too much! So Jesus tells parables that are short, interesting and instructive. He knows those parables will raise further questions that need to be answered, so He equips His disciples to answer those questions when He is gone. Jesus had a succession plan.
I mention all of that not only because it comes up in this week’s readings, but also because it’s a significant component of All Things New.
For a long time, in the Church, our succession plan has been to have children. We increased because of our birth rate. And that was good!
But that was never meant to be the whole plan. We were always meant to increase by evangelization as well. Demographic trends these days are forcing us to realize that. But we also need to make a conscious choice: We need to learn to grow by evangelization, too.
On one level, the things we’ll be doing in terms of parish reconfiguration simply need to happen at the level of operations. But, at a deeper level, they’re meant to consolidate our strength for the purpose of evangelization.
Reconfiguring parishes won’t, by itself, result in evangelization. We know that! But the next phase — and we’re very much already working on this! — is to help people learn how to evangelize. That’s why we’re planning a series of “Evangelization 101” workshops in every planning area this spring, to begin that process of learning.
Jesus had a succession plan. St. Paul had a succession plan. We need to have a succession plan. That’s one significant component of what we’re doing with All Things New.