The Church cannot exist for its own sake.
It must be constantly focused on awakening a desire in all people to know, love and serve God.
Pope Francis insisted on this, drawing heavily on the teaching of his predecessors, in a document he released shortly after becoming Pope six years ago.
Titled “Joy of the Gospel,” this apostolic exhortation offers a blueprint for Catholics throughout the world to live up to their covenant with their crucified and risen Savior.
In it, the Pope urges people to proclaim the fullness of the Gospel with hearts and lives overflowing with joy and gratitude.
Pope Francis also urgently summons the Church to turn outward toward mission, especially through prayer and worship, teaching and evangelizing, and encountering Christ by personally helping people who are in need.
Spreading the joy
Since being appointed to lead the Jefferson City diocese almost two years ago, Bishop W. Shawn McKnight has sought inspiration from “Joy of the Gospel” in preparing for the Church’s future in these 38 counties.
He has emphasized unity and collaboration in carrying out the Church’s threefold mission in parishes: facilitating authentic worship of God; helping people encounter and get to know the Lord they serve; and giving meaningful help in God’s name to people in need.
The bishop often speaks of the need to proclaim the Good News to young people and families in new and relevant ways and draw them into active communion with the whole Church.
He has emphasized “doubling down” on the Second Vatican Council’s vision of an animated, motivated, properly formed laity united with the leadership of the clergy in governing parishes and incorporating God’s work into every aspect of daily life.
Within that context, he has identified three tasks that need special attention here:
Finding the best way
Confident in the working of the Holy Spirit, Bishop McKnight is inviting all Catholics to take part in a process of guided discernment.
“Think of it as the whole Church going on a retreat together,” he said.
He has directed the parishes to organize opportunities for small groups of parishioners to read, listen and share their faith with one another in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
He has chosen the four-part “A Steward’s Way” study series based on putting “Joy of the Gospel” into practice as a guide to these discussions.
As he states in his “Making Connections” column on Page 3, he wants these discussions to continue during Lent.
Afterward, he intends to draw insight from these groups into a revised pastoral plan for the diocese, guiding decisions and priorities for the next three to five years.
“I hope each of us find this planning process to be fruitful, both for our own individual growth, but also in becoming a more active participant in one’s parish,” he wrote. “Together, we will be a better Church, both now and for future generations.”