The parish checkup and being faithful servants

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.

COMING UP: On Fathers and Christian Masculinity

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

The Year of St. Joseph points us to Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, as the essential model for fathers. Joseph not only manifests genuine masculinity, he also images God’s own fatherhood, as Pope Francis makes clear in his apostolic letter, Patris Corde: “In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way.” Jesus, though the Son of God, obeyed Joseph, learned from him, and worked with him, acknowledging Joseph as a true expression of God’s own fatherhood.  

God does not just use fatherhood as an image of himself, because he himself is Father, even within his own triune life. Earthly fatherhood comes forth from him and should manifest his life and love. St. Paul speaks of honoring the “Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:15). God wants everyone to be able to see his own fatherly love and called certain men to share in his own paternal gift of bringing forth life and caring for others. Every father is called to be liked Joseph, “an earthly shadow of the heavenly Father” for his own family. 

Our culture, however, often denigrates masculinity, sometimes viewing even its proper expressions as toxic. We too often see maleness in its fallenness — dominating and selfish — rather than showing self-sacrificial service. In fact, later in Ephesians, Paul speaks of the true vocation of the husband and father: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). He also speaks of the role of fatherhood: “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Paul shows us the goal of fatherhood — sacrificing himself for the flourishing of the family by putting the good of his wife and children before his own desires.   

No matter what the contrary voices of our culture say, we need strong men and fathers. God created man and woman in complementarity, and they need each other to thrive, helping the other in relation to their own strengths and weaknesses. Children need the strong presence of a father to discipline and teach, as Paul reminds us. Study after study has shown that fathers have the largest impact on the faith of their children. Christian Smith explains in his sociological study, Young Catholic America, that “the faith of Catholic fathers is powerfully determinative of the future faith of their children (125). The same can be said for general wellbeing and success. When fathers are absent or refuse to exercise their role, a moral and spiritual vacuum appears. A strong majority of felons, for instance, grew up without fathers in the home.  

St. Joseph helps us to understand the strength of Christian fatherhood. First, like any good husband, Joseph listened — not just to his wife but also to God. Woken up frequently by angels, he demonstrated obedience and trust, quickly leaving everything behind to follow God’s instructions and to protect his family. We also know Joseph for his work as a carpenter and builder, content to live simply and to work hard. Importantly, he also taught Jesus how to work, showing that fathers model and teach by drawing their children into their life and work. And we can also learn from Joseph’s humility, serving the Incarnate God and his Mother without even a single recorded word in the Gospels.  

This humility points us to the essence of Christian fatherhood. Although living with two perfect people, Joseph was still called to lead. He quietly and humbly did what was needed for his family and taught his own maker how to share in his work. Fathers do not lead in order to be in charge or to get their own way. They lead because God asks them to care for and protect their families. Fathers and mothers share in the great and beautiful partnership of family life, although fathers cannot simply sit back and let mom take the lead in the spiritual life, as they are often tempted to do. Like Joseph, fathers should act firmly and lovingly to put God and the family before self, obeying God and leading the family in the right direction. They are called to model faith, work, and sacrifice to their children. 

On Father’s Day we can affirm that masculinity and fatherhood are not just good — they are essential to understanding God and his plan for human flourishing. If our culture turns around, it will be because, in large part, Christian men stand up and fight. As Christians, we cannot give in to the culture’s attempt to denigrate masculinity and fatherhood or to pit men and women against each other. We can use this celebration to affirm the essential role that our fathers play, leading their families like St. Joseph.