By JORDAN MCMORROUGH
COLUMBIA — Making the connection between stewardship and evangelization was the focus of “Formed as Apostles, Sent as Disciples,” a diocesan conference held at Rosewood’s in the capital city Nov. 8 that attracted more than 200 participants from across South Carolina for a keynote speech as well as breakout sessions covering five topics.
(For more on the breakout sessions, see “Successes shared and hardships acknowledged in parish workshop” and “Planning seeks to involve all.”)
The main presenter, Bishop Michael A. Warfel, is the fourth bishop of the Diocese of Juneau, Alaska, and currently serves as chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Evangelization.
In October, the bishop was also appointed by Pope John Paul II as administrator for the Diocese of Fairbanks until a new ordinary is found there.
Following an opening prayer led by Paul Schroeder, director for the Office of Evangelization, Initiation and Catechesis for the diocese, the bishop began his remarks by saying, “Baptism is the foundational element in life for us. It’s more than being washed in a sacramental ritual.”
He called on listeners to celebrate their intimate and personal relationship in Christ. “Those who embrace his Gospel know about Jesus. Christian life grows primarily through God in Christ. Without God, people don’t have the vigor to embrace life.”
For Catholics, the bishop said, life must be centered in the Eucharist. He then focused on the witness of saints. “Those who most fully model life in Christ are the saints. They could grasp what so many fail to grasp — to be eucharistic. Not only did spirituality cause them to focus on prayer, but they were able to be eucharistic.”
Bishop Warfel described the routine of Mother Teresa, who began each day with the Blessed Sacrament and Mass, saying, “She knew the spiritual connection.”
“Remember the saints,” said the prelate, “not so that we might honor what they did, but so we can be saints in our own age. This is what I’m supposed to be about as a follower of Jesus, appropriating his Gospel into daily life.”
He added, “What we do in church requires pure hearts, not special garments. All we need to do is respond to the grace of God through the spirit of Jesus. Do something ordinary in an extraordinary way. God asks nothing more than that of us, certainly nothing less.”
The bishop recounted a visit he made to a leper hospital in South America. There, he witnessed an emotional conversation between a nurse and a patient. “She was Christ to her patient. The patient was Christ to his nurse,” Bishop Warfel explained.
He noted that Jesus called his disciples so he could send them out on a mission. “No other person has the exact same talents or personality as we do. Each of us shares Christ in only the unique way we can share him. Christ is depending on each of us to do our part.”
The bishop used an example from Alaska — that of a salmon swimming upstream — to illustrate how Christian values go against the current environment. However, he stressed that only by swimming upstream will life be renewed.
“There are many destructive influences that disrupt our mission for Christ. We are all at the same time affected by the influences of our day and age. This is the graced moment in which we must respond. If we remain faithful to Christ, this is what we must do to persevere. We must be immersed into the life of the risen Lord. It’s the standard for the lifestyle we love and the beliefs we hold.”
Bishop Warfel feels that conversion to the Gospel is like a blind man seeing for the first time, and he believes that the Gospel of Christ has a way of calling everyone to a deeper spirituality.
“We must use our resources and energies to proclaim Christ to the ends of the earth, bringing the good news of Jesus into every situation,” he said. “It’s different from proselytism. To evangelize is to invite all people to the light. Pope Paul VI said evangelization is the mission of the church. It’s the reason we exist. Period.”
The Alaskan bishop said this new evangelization is concerned with active parishioners of the Catholic Church as well as reaching out to inactive members. He cited statistics he recently read that stated there were 17 million inactive Catholics in America.
“That’s second behind active Catholics and ahead of Southern Baptists,” he exclaimed. “Reaching out to them must be a normal part of the church’s activity.”
Bishop Warfel also stressed reaching out to the millions of unchurched in the United States. “There may be a level of faith, but it may be imperfectly formed. Over half the people in this country are not affiliated with any religious body. We have much to offer them.”
The bishop emphasized that each faith community must look at itself and see what it can do to be most effective. “Every faith community ought to provide a welcoming atmosphere, whatever your social condition or cultural background. To be effective, a significant portion of the community must be involved. Small groups of individuals can be effective, but it’s more fruitful when the entire community is involved.”
The spirituality of stewardship is important, Bishop Warfel said, and he indicated that parishwide programs specifically for stewardship need to be developed in order to participate in the church’s mission of charity, justice, and peace. “It’s a holistic response to God,” said the bishop. “If we get it all, we give it all. That embodies Catholic social teaching.”
The speaker singled out pastoral councils and parish staffs as needing to evaluate their lifestyle choices to try to cultivate Gospel values and beliefs.
In addition, he mentioned the need to promote community life throughout parishes.
“Worship must be more than doing the rubric right. Real connections must be made with parish worship. There should be opportunities for days of prayer and spiritual reflection.”
Bishop Warfel spoke of the need to be conscious of the presence of God at all times. “Hopefully we’ll reflect Christ at all times, that we’ll respond to the Gospel and try to reflect it. This truly requires a conversion of mind and heart.”
The bishop closed his keynote speech by saying, “To embrace stewardship is to embrace the Gospel of peace, hope, and love. The virtue of love leads us to act charitably. By embracing these Gospels, we become more Christian. It all goes together.”