Once a year we are supposed to see the doctor for a physical. He does some tests, draws some blood, and offers some advice on staying or becoming healthy. It’s a routine that most of us are familiar with and recognize as a good practice, even if we don’t enjoy it or do it every year.
This past December I launched a similar process for the Archdiocese of Denver to determine its vitality and to learn where it has grown, where it has become smaller, and what we can do to improve the reach of the Gospel in our local communities. When I was bishop of Fargo, I conducted this type of assessment every five years in all of the parishes, and I saw the benefits that came from having a better awareness of the Church’s strength and needs.
This is not just a good management exercise; it’s also a practice that Jesus praised in the Parable of the Talents and John’s Gospel.
The resourceful servant said, “‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master’” (Mt. 25:20-21). Jesus desires that every disciple enter into the “joy of the Master.”
In John 15, Jesus describes himself as the true vine and the Father as the vine grower. Then he says, “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. … I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”
Each of you knows your local parish. The assessment process is designed to gather grassroots input that will then assist the deaneries in providing feedback and offering recommendations for the future. Your pastors and I need your honest and creative participation in the surveys that you have received. In order to make sure that everyone is able to participate, the surveys are also available to parishes in Spanish, Vietnamese, and Korean.
I want to hear about your experience of the faith—your encounter with Jesus, the pastoral care you have received, your desires for the future, what can be improved, and areas of strength in your local parish community.
The Archdiocese of Denver is vast, covering a little over 41,000 square miles. It is also diverse, with large and small parishes, urban and rural. The I-25 Corridor from Denver to Fort Collins and east of there has experienced tremendous growth and change in recent years. In fact, the state’s Local Affairs Office estimates that Colorado’s population will grow by 88,500 people in 2015.
Since the situation is diverse, and keeping in mind the principle of subsidiarity, I have asked each pastor to adapt the assessment tools to the parish’s circumstances. This means that friends in other parishes might have a slightly different experience than you do.
Throughout this process of planning and evaluation it is important to remember our ultimate goal: to bring others to know, love, and serve Jesus Christ and his Church. And because we live in a time when so many are confused, Pope Francis has urged us to approach those who are lost or discouraged with mercy. He has even announced that he will declare a Jubilee Year of Mercy in 2016.
The talents and resources the Lord has given us must be placed at the service of the Church’s mission of mercy. And in order to do that, I need your help and full participation in the parish assessment process.
May God bless you for your generosity and your willingness to proclaim the Gospel. I pray that you will experience and enter into the joy of your Master and then share that joy with others.