Shepherd's Voice

What is the Journey of Faith?

Q. Many people are now aware of the archdiocese-wide effort to help parishes flourish now and in the future called Journey of Faith. Can you explain what is meant by “Journey of Faith?”

Let me put it in a context if I can. The Second Vatican Council describes the Church among other things as a pilgrim people. We understand ourselves as on a journey that will take us finally to our Father’s house, to our heavenly home. So, the Church herself is journeying until the end of time, until the Lord comes again. We don’t have a final landing place here, and the Church, from the time that Jesus established it, continues to change in the ways that she can change to meet the particular needs of the time and place where she serves, where she announces the Gospel.

We’ve announced this Journey of Faith in the Archdiocese of Omaha, seeing it as the next segment of our journey together over the next several years. It’s going to give us the opportunity to look at the way that our parishes are structured and governed. The need to do this comes from several different things that are converging right now.

One is the changing demographics of our archdiocese over many decades. In particular, we see the decline in the percentage of people who identify as Catholics really being engaged in parish life, even in a very minimal way. We know that the number of priests who are available to serve in our parishes has also been declining slowly and will continue to do so over at least the next few years. And then finally, we’ve articulated a pastoral vision that calls us all to be missionary disciples of Jesus Christ. And we’ve set a big goal for ourselves, that our parishes become missional communities by the year 2026, communities that are focused outward, eager to announce the Gospel to our neighbors and to lead others to Jesus Christ. It’s important, then, that we have parish and school structures – parishes in particular – that will enable us to face the current and immediate future reality, not in terms of diminishment so much as looking at how the Lord is calling us to flourish as the Church in Northeast Nebraska in our time.

 

Q. With that as our goal by 2026, there’s plenty of work to be done, and that’s going to be a real journey. How critical is it that people be willing to step up and help their parishes for the next four years and beyond?

One thing you see throughout the archdiocese is that people love their parishes and really want the best for them. I think we’ll be encouraged over these next couple of years to ask ourselves more and more, “What do I really want for my parish? How do I really want to see it flourish? What’s the plan that God has for our parish and for its flourishing?” Because we’re always on a journey. We can’t just sit still and say, “Well, what I want is what we’ve got.” That’s great if we feel blessed by what we have already received, but the world around us is changing. And the world into which we’re sent as disciples of Jesus is changing, has been changing. So different things are asked of us. We’re confident that because it’s a journey of faith, we trust in God’s care for us. We trust him to give us the grace and the help of the Holy Spirit to face the future with hope and with confidence.

 

Q. People may be asking, “What can I do to help?” One thing everyone can do is pray, and the Journey of Faith website, journeyoffaith.org, includes a prayer for a successful journey. Please talk about the importance of prayer.

That’s always a good answer to the question, “What can I do?” We start and continue our journey always in prayer, turning to Almighty God, knowing that Jesus, the Son of God, our Savior, is the head of our Church. We’re part of the Body of Christ. The Lord has desires for us to come to know Him and to flourish in the life of grace within the Church, so we can be confident that we’ll receive what we need. There’s a beautiful prayer on the website. And we’ll be encouraging people, as this journey begins a little more explicitly later in the spring, to pray within our parishes for a clear and confident sense of how God is calling us into the future as members of the Body of Christ.

 

Q. Knowing that this journey will have its challenges, how are you staying positive, and how can the Catholic faithful stay positive, throughout this process?

Most dioceses across the country, and many other places, are dealing with the fact that the culture around us has changed. It’s not a culture that necessarily supports the proclamation of the faith or the transmission of the faith, especially one generation to the next. So, it’s important for me not to think about diminishment, even as we look at the figures realistically, the projections for participation and the number of clergy. It’s important for me to think, but also to invite others to think, in terms of abundance – that Jesus, who fed thousands of people with a few loaves and fishes, will take what we have to offer Him and give us an abundant experience of his love now. And something that we can share with others, not just a little bit that we can divide and spread around somehow, but plenty, so that we can really experience a deeper expression of his love for us, his mercy, and that we also feel confident in sharing the light of faith with others.

We’ll be having a series of meetings later in the spring to introduce pastors and parish leaders to the process that we’ll be using during the coming year to plan for the next 10 years or so for how we will live and work together in our parishes, how our priests will pastor them, how that will all be laid out and spelled out. And then, through the rest of the year, our parish leaders and groups of parishes will have the chance to make plans for the future that are particularly appropriate for their area of the diocese and for their circumstances. We’ll check in on that as the year goes on.

I’ve been in the archdiocese long enough that I know our priests and I know our people very well. And so that gives me confidence. And you ask how I stay positive. I’m just convinced that with good people working together, praying, counting on the help of the Holy Spirit, we’ll take the steps forward that the Lord marks out for us. And that will mean our parish experience in particular will be different in some ways but richer and structured so that we can not only hang onto the faith ourselves but grow in it and share it with others.

 

Q. Earlier you mentioned the priest shortage and how it’s expected to continue. Obviously, prayer for vocations is crucial. Can you please talk about how healthy, flourishing parishes can also help foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life?

It’s essential. We’re not planning for a future with no priests or vocations to the consecrated life. We were looking over the past 25 years and seeing the pattern of ordinations that we’ve had. So, we’re figuring that into the plan. At the same time, we’re going to have a renewed focus in our parishes on offering to young people in our Church the opportunity to think that the Lord may be calling them to a special vocation of leadership or service in the Church. I think that if we have an experience of the faith flourishing in our parishes, that that will have an effect on families and on individuals to create a context where they can really hear the invitation of the Lord and be equipped to follow Him in faith.

We have a number of men preparing for the priesthood, and it’s a big investment for them over a number of years. The people of the archdiocese support them. We have a number of applications for the seminary for next year. I’m convinced that the Lord continues to call young men in our archdiocese to the priesthood. It’s up to them to respond, of course, but it’s up to the rest of us to create an encouraging environment of faith where they, first, can hear the Lord and understand that he has a beautiful future in mind for them and that they feel the support to respond. We’ve got opportunities for very good formation for them.

And as I said, through my time here in the archdiocese, I know our priests well, both the ones that have been serving for a long time and those who were recently ordained. And we also will have two ordinations in a few weeks. I have confidence in them, in their deep relationship with the Lord, their desire to serve and pastor our people. As we go through this journey over the next couple of years, it’ll be important that our people have the experience of being pastored by priests who know them and really love them and care for them. And I think that is going to be the experience. It’s another thing that gives me confidence as we approach this process, that we have people who know and care about each other and will walk together through that experience with confidence in each other.

 

Q. In addition to healthy, flourishing parishes and prayer for vocations, how important is active encouragement for young men discerning a vocation to the priesthood – letting them know, “Hey, we’re with you, we’re rooting for you, we’re happy that you’re considering the priesthood?”

Our hope is that as our parishes continue to flourish in some new ways, that all young people that are growing up in the parish will have the experience of being supported in responding to the call of the Lord, whether that’s to the vocation of marriage, a vocation to the priesthood, vocation to consecrated life. Although the noise in the world in which we live distracts us very often from being able to hear the voice of the Lord, within a vibrant and loving parish community, that invitation of Jesus is heard, and then the encouragement that you’re talking about can be offered.