To all priests, deacons, pastoral agents and the baptized people of the Church
in Gaspésie and the Magdalen Islands
CALLING AS PASTORAL ACTION
Dear people of the diocese,
Since I arrived as your bishop and learned to know better the Church living in the Gaspésie and Magdalen Islands, my heart bears the hope that our parishes become communities of Jesus’ disciples capable of taking charge of their daily life and future. But to achieve this, they must rely on an important number of the baptized who are ready to assume, along with their pastors, many responsibilities that enhance their vitality and the advancement of the mission entrusted by Jesus. I also feel the urgency for our Church to revive its pastoral action for vocations through means and terms that reflect our present-day reality. Such is the purpose of the present letter I address to you a few weeks prior to the World day of prayer for vocations.
SOCIETY HAS CHANGED
1. In our day, governments take charge of most of the social functions the Church used to assume over the centuries in the areas of education, health care, social services, recreation. With the result that the social action of the Church has become less perceptible today. Also, society which before was quite uniform has become pluralistic, such that christians are now a minority that is confronted to other faiths, other systems of thought and life styles just as they were in the early days of the Church. Youths who before could easily be reached through the catholic school and persons identified with the Church have now fewer direct contacts with their own Church community.
OUR CHURCH HAS CHANGED
2. Following the Second Vatican Council (1960-1965), we have gradually moved on to a Church that is now more communitarian. Many among the christians have now become more aware of the importance of exercising an active role in their home communities.
3. In the same Council’s footsteps, a theology of the laity has emerged based on the importance of Baptism and Confirmation which make each person a full member of God’s People, a brother or sister of Jesus priest, prophet, and king. Such recognition of the laity has given rise to a renewed theology of ministries which now focuses more on the mission shared by all to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus and to work in solidarity for the vitality of the community. Consequently, all ministries, lay or ordained, complement each other as they arise from charisms which the Holy Spirit bestows on each one of the baptized for the good of the entire Church.
4. The Church’s involvement is consequently brought to be recentered on its main role : to be a communion of communities of Jesus’ disciples who proclaim the Gospel, celebrate the presence of the Risen Christ in their midst, provide support to those in need, grow in fellowship through real community bonds, work at the humanization of society through the promotion of Gospel values.
CALLING AS PASTORAL ACTION
5. Those changes in the Church’s life make us look on vocations as a pastoral action known as «the call to serve». This action focuses primarily on the high dignity of the baptized and on God expecting each one to be committed in announcing the Gospel news and in assuming responsibility in the community leadership.
6. Vocation is first and foremost a call which Jesus extends to all his disciples to live as sons and daughters of God and thereby to be witnesses of the Gospel, personally and as society. A true vocation cannot be unless one «has been won over by Christ himself» (Ph 3, 12). The Holy Spirit often leads to unsuspected places and commitments those who accept to be guided by Him.
7. The word vocation also means to call forth, to propose. Today, this call will often come from the community as a proposal to serve a specific need that is essential to its vitality and the advancement of its mission. That is why every christian community member must be concerned with calling on persons capable of «taking care of the community», some on a permanent basis, others more for a specific time or action. Considering the grace and commitment attached to our Baptism and Confirmation, we cannot address the question of specific vocations before we first call on all to serve as Jesus’ disciples.
8. Vocation recruitment which formerly rested mainly on the acceptance of candidates must henceforth be reoriented towards calling explicitely on someone to serve. One reason for this is that, although this last aspect has been left dormant in the past decades, it is brought to mind at each celebration of an ordination when the liturgy starts with a presentation of the candidate by the community and the ensuing call from the bishop.
9. The needs are great and manifold in the community. The Word of God must be proclaimed, taught and deepened : this is faith education with the personal gifts it entails. The community must meet to celebrate the Eucharist, other sacraments and certain events, as also to lead its daily prayers. It must also offer charity services to those who are less fortunate, sick, lonely or afflicted in some way. The need to administer the community’s property calls on specific talents and concrete involvement. Taken as a whole, therefore, all those tasks essential to the community’s life call for responses emerging from each one’s talents.
10. The community also depends on the permanent and structuring roles of those who are ready to engage themselves totally in the pastoral leadership of a particular community or of the Church in general. As those ministries generally require a permanent commitment, they also demand a broader formation. More specifically, those are ordained ministries, lay people ministries such as pastoral agents, the call to religious life and to go on foreign missions.
11. Nowadays, such permanent commitments will often be prepared by exposures to various involvements which may help discern what it means to serve the community as Jesus did and thereby to check what talents such service requires. Historically, it has often been the case with some important calls in the early Church. Let us think of the Apostles, Paul, Titus, Timothy, and so many others after them.
12. The promotion of vocations can no longer be a matter of the young only. One may be called upon to serve at any age. But we must keep on reaching out to the young in our communities so they may grow in their love of the Church to the point that some may even be ready to undergo a deeper preparation in view of assuming permanent ministries. From that viewpoint it is therefore very important to set up new channels whereby the young will experience that they have their own place in our communities.
13. In order to reach those goals, our Church action may be manifold. However, even before we do anything in that regard, we must foster a real culture of the call. What do we mean by this ? Specifically, we wish that each community, each minister, each Church member imitate Christ’s attitude towards his disciples : calling on, accompanying, sending off. All must develop a constant concern to involve as many persons as possible, young and older people, in projects at the parish as at the diocesan levels. To be convinced of this, we must make our own Jesus’ conviction : the harvest is great but the workers are never enough in number. We cannot call with enthusiasm if we are not at first happy with and convinced that the Gospel proposes a new way of life to today’s men and women who are often swayed by adverse winds like sheep without shepherds.
LAUNCHING SPECIFIC CALLS
14. It is through concrete daily life that each community, at least its leaders, must aim at discerning and calling upon new persons to serve specific needs, depending on their talents and availability. Failure to call to various ministries has been one of the weaknesses of our pastoral action for vocations in the past decades. Yet…
– Our communities need pastors who, after Jesus, bring their brothers and sisters together, share with them the Word of God, welcome and lead them in prayer and the sacraments, and encourage them on the paths of charity.
– Our communities need permanent deacons who, in each community or the diocesan Church itself, are like icons of the serving Christ who washed his disciples’ feet. Being ordained «to serve» our Church, the definition of their mission will have to be specified for our context.
– Our communities need pastoral agents who, by virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation, will seek the required pastoral formation before they commit themselves permanently in the service of the community as animators, formators, and coordinators of its overall pastoral action.
– Our communities need men and women who accept to invest some of their time and talents in the christian formation of children, in leading the community’s prayer, its exercise of charity and justice, its bonds of fellowship. They also need dedicated persons for the administration of finances and other material goods as means to support the pastoral and fraternal activities in the community.
– Our communities will always need men and women who want to give witness to their faith through their commitment in religious life, whether contemplative, active or missionary. Religious, depending on their respective charisms, are examples and a support for the proclamation of the Word, leadership in prayer and the exercice of charity and justice.
– Finally, our communities will always need to rely on the involvement of a greater number of its members for moral, spiritual and financial support, regardless of their age level.
A pastoral action of the call is not simply a special area of the life of our Church. It is a response to Jesus’ invitation : «Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples : baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of ages» (Mt 28, 18-20). This pastoral action is based on an awareness of the dignity of our Baptism and Confirmation. It consequently allows us to rediscover the richness of life found in the Gospel and to share in common the many talents invested in the community for the good of all.
May our Lord give us the courage to call forth and the generosity to respond. This is my most profound wish for the advancement of Jesus’ mission in our dear Church in Gaspésie and the Magdalen Islands.
† Jean Gagnon
Bishop of Gaspé