Priests at the altar. Courtesy picture
A new conference scheduled for January 2023 led by evangelical Catholics aims to inspire and equip priests to better engage in the work of evangelization at the heart of their priestly ministry.
The conference comes as priests are going through an exceptional period of transition, Msgr. James Shea. “Pastoral and evangelistic strategies that have worked for a long time, under the influence of a dominant culture and vision of Christianity, are failing because the ground has shifted from under us. … We now need a new narrative vision as a Church, a vision of apostolic mission,” said Msgr. Shea.
“We work with hundreds of priests across the country, and all of these priests have something in common,” said Jason Simon, president of Evangelical Catholic. “All these priests have at heart to reach the existential fringes of the world. And they all know they can’t do it alone.
Priests must be helped to see the need for a transition in their strategies, said Msgr. Shea. “There is an urgent need to prepare priests for this and to direct them to paths of ministry that will be ready to respond to the opportunities of an apostolic time,” he said. “Priests will need to understand the dynamism of apostolic renewal to promote and nurture it properly.”
Msgr. Shea’s strategy for apostolic mission is described in his book, From Christianity to Apostolic Mission. “The book (which is not simply my work but the work of a group of friends and scholars who truly love Christ and the Church) outlines eight principles and attitudes that are essential to an apostolic pastoral strategy. “
“In particular,” Msgr. Shea explained, “This conference will help inspire more deeply an apostolic attitude, how to use institutions differently, rethink priestly life and resource allocation with apostolicity in mind.”
But Msgr. Shea’s vision is not its own program. The basic principles are taken from Jesus’ own example of investing time with a small group of friends. “He knew he needed them to have his heart for people, faith in the love of the Father and the power of the Spirit,” observed Msgr. Shea. “The parish must prioritize the methodology of Jesus. He must invest deeply in a small number of people at a time in order to form them to be dynamic and courageous witnesses of Jesus in the world. For Msgr. Shea, a small number of energetic, well-trained lay disciples have far more impact than hundreds of lukewarm Catholics with no sense of mission.
Many challenges stand in the way of moving to the mentality of apostolic mission. “The institutions of a Christian era demand attention,” said Msgr. Shea said. “They consume resources. They will compete with apostolic work for space in the budget and our daily planners. In addition, there will be prevailing attitudes that will call on priests to organize programs to involve more people and turn well-trained leaders away from mission. “Priests will be tempted to judge the fruitfulness of apostolic initiatives by short-term figures. The situation of decreasing offerings and attendance at Masses is urgent and prompts us to seek rapid turnaround times,” said Msgr. Shea. “If Jesus took three years, we are wise to invest deeply in apostolic initiatives and give them time to endure 30, 60, 100 times.”
Msgr. Shea’s efforts amplify the realization that the world has undergone momentous change, a realization that is at the heart of Vatican II. “The Council was called to find the means by which it could still bring the deposit of faith to peoples who had lost the cultural and traditional faculties necessary to hear the Gospel in a particular way,” Bishop said. Shea. “It was not that the Church needed to change its established teaching or its tradition, but rather that it needed to speak differently to the world so that the same timeless truths could once again be correctly understood.” For him, the project of priestly renewal today is the work of adopting a new approach, an apostolic approach, one where the Church goes out to the world, to meet people where they are.
Priests looking to recharge their ministry and activate an apostolic laity can attend the conference in Dallas, Texas, Jan. 24-26.