for a New Pentecost:
A Pastoral Letter on Evangelization
the Most Reverend William E. Lori
Bishop of Bridgeport
May 15, 2001
eight weeks have passed since my installation as the Fourth Bishop
of Bridgeport on March 19, 2001. Since then I have had the privilege
of visiting well over half of the parishes of the Diocese where
I have had the joy of offering Holy Mass on Sundays as well as
week-days. On those occasions I have also enjoyed the opportunity
of meeting so many parishioners and sharing a cup of coffee and
a bite of breakfast with my brother priests and deacons. It has
also been a joy to begin confirming throughout the Diocese, and,
in the process, I have met so many of our young people and their
families. In addition, I have just begun my visits to schools
(two high schools thus far) and have enjoyed attending large gatherings
in sup-port of our works of education, charity, and service.
to the hard work of Father Samuel Scott, my priest secretary,
I am being scheduled to celebrate Mass in the remaining parishes.
My hope is to get to all 87 parishes long before the summer has
ended – with time out for a retreat and a vacation.
I cannot sufficiently thank my brother priests and deacons, parish
leadership, and parishioners for the wonderfully warm welcome
I have received. You have made my responsibility of coming to
know a new family of faith pleasant and easy. You have made me
feel at home and you have helped me get an initial snapshot of
some of the pastoral needs of the Diocese.
I speak with hardworking pastors and visit with faithful parishioners,
I readily sense their deep desire not only to build on past strengths,
but also to spread the Gospel with fresh vigor. Indeed, my travels
have helped me focus on the urgency of the God-given mandate to
share the Good News, summed up in the words of Saint Paul: “Woe
to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” Woe to me and woe to us
all if we do not unite in proclaiming boldly and faithfully the
Gospel message as it comes to us in the Scriptures as well as
the teaching and worship of the Church.
Approaching the feast of Pentecost, we recognize that no task,
no responsibility has a greater claim on our consciences than
proclaiming and bearing witness to the Good News. And as we witness
anew the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Church, we recognize
that we share in the same Holy Spirit through Baptism and Confirmation.
The Holy Spirit enables us to open our minds and hearts to the
teaching of Jesus as it comes to us through the Church. The Holy
Spirit gives us the strength and courage we need to be the Lord’s
witnesses and faithful members of His Body, the Church – in spite
of all the challenges we encounter along the way.
clear-eyed realism, we also recognize the complexities, pressures,
and obstacles we face in spreading the Gospel. But with unbounded
hope, we shall not bow to those impediments as excuses for not
engaging in vigorous evangelization. The Scriptural readings for
the Season of Easter and the liturgy of Pentecost proclaim how
the apostles and disciples went about preaching the Gospel and
establishing communities of faith. They did so in the face of
persecution and harassment. Not only were they undeterred by the
obstacles they faced, they were joyful in their sufferings and
tribulations. That is real Easter and Pentecost joy – a joy that
no one and no set of circumstances can take from us as we proclaim
the One who is Lord and Savior, the One who lives in our midst
through the teaching, wor-ship, and mis-sion of the Church. Indeed,
the Spirit of the Risen Lord teaches us – again and again – how
to turn challenges into opportunities for the sake of the authentic
Gospel we have received.
are some of the challenges we face? What are some of the obstacles
that must be overcome as we seek to proclaim the Name above every
other name? Let me list a few of them while, at the same time,
offering some reflec-tions on turning challenges into opportunities.
First, we live in a cultural atmosphere that leaves very little
room for God and the things of God. Although North Americans –
by world standards – are inveterate churchgoers, we can readily
sense how our culture crowds out the practice of the faith. For
example, too many people put in an ungodly work week – some by
necessity, others by choice. I think of the newly arrived who
have to work multiple low-paying jobs just to make ends meet.
I think of those in high-pressure jobs, absorbed by the demands
of the workplace, leaving little time for relationships with God,
Church, and family. I think of parents trying to juggle the multiple
demands of their families and places of work. Unfortunately, too
many of our people lead hectic lives without nour-ishing their
minds, hearts, and souls with the living Word of God, the Eucharist,
even subject our young people to similar pressures. Their schedules
are often overly crowded with activities, curricular and extracurricular.
Sunday Mass, religious education, and even the occasional family
meal go by the wayside as the pace accelerates. For example, some
elementary and high school sports leagues schedule games on Sunday
morning – making young people choose between practicing their
faith and staying on the team. In this super-charged atmosphere,
not only does the practice of religion suffer, the very fabric
of family life comes apart at the seams when Moms and Dads and
their children do not pray together, eat together, and spend time
talking about the things that really matter. What free time we
do have is often filled with entertainment that is less than uplifting.
The songs, icons, and symbols of our culture glorify self-absorption
– lives lived only for the pursuit of power, wealth, or pleasure.
Nothing new about that, but we are so easily seduced by the same
old entertain-ment products endlessly reinvented. Sexually-laden
and violence-ridden entertainment often ridicules family values,
promotes coarse behavior, and demeans the practice of reli-gion.
Such fare leaves so many with a tragically impoverished view about
the purpose and destiny of our human existence.
An impoverished view of what it means to be a human being is not
merely a problem of professional philosophers or theologians to
ponder. More and more it is having an impact on our daily lives
as the “culture of death” advances in spite of wonderful advances
in science, medicine, and technology. For example, our culture
routinely denies the humanity of the unborn child. More and more
it is eyeing the frail elderly as candidates for non-personhood.
Recently, for example, the government in Holland gave doctors
the right to terminate the lives of patients whose lives are judged
no longer worth sustaining. At the same time, experiments related
to human cloning raise scary new possibilities.
to these problems a natural tendency
to shrink from controversy and the uncertainty many people have
about bearing witness to the faith. Some simply are not sure what
the Church actually teaches or else they lack the explicit vocabulary
to speak about the faith even to family members, friends, and
loved ones. Perhaps the greatest challenge to our spreading the
Gospel is our own spiritual hunger. If we would be good evangelizers,
we need to draw nearer to the Lord to nourish our souls through
His Word and Sacrament and through the friendship that comes from
a sustained life of prayer.
In the face of these and other challenges, some are tempted to
search for a single uplifting religious experience, a moment to
be caught up in a wave of enthusiasm and even ecstasy. Some imagine
that they would follow Jesus more closely if only they could feel
better about themselves. And in their search for a spiritual experience,
they may be prone to accept an incomplete version of the Gospel
message. Such a version usually does not include vitally important
realities such as the seven Sacraments (including Eucharist and
Penance); the role of the Holy Father and the Bishops in ensuring
the truth of what is taught with respect to faith and morals;
devotion to the saints; and much, much more.
Rallies and festivals can play a part in our spiritual journey.
But there is no substitute for day-by-day discipleship based on
the full Gospel message as it comes to us through the Church,
rooted in Baptism, sustained by the Eucharist, and renewed by
the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Penance. There is no substitute
for putting our faith into practice in our daily lives -- whether
we are at home or at work or enjoying a moment of relaxation.
And we cannot really practice our Catholic faith without being
part of a parish faith community or other group that is recognized
and authenticated by the Church.
I travel from parish to parish, I meet so many of you who are
taking your faith seriously and putting it into practice each
day. I meet many people whose lives manifest a deep love for the
Lord and sense a youthful enthusiasm among people of all ages,
a zest for the faith that is born of the Holy Spirit. Although
the Spirit does not descend on us as tongues of flame, nonetheless
the Spirit has been poured forth into our hearts through Baptism
and Confirmation, and that same Spirit guides the Church throughout
history. Relying on that Holy Spirit, we can also discover ways
to turn challenges in spreading the faith into opportunities.
First, we have to advocate good time management. Time is our most
precious commodity. We should not only use it, we should also
invest it. The best way to invest our time is to set aside some
of it, on a daily basis, for prayer. Our daily prayer takes only
a miniscule part of our day; yet that small investment will yield
an eternity of friendship with God. How important we begin our
day with prayer; that we seek the Lord's guidance in the midst
of our daily routine; that we entrust ourselves and our loved
ones to the Lord before ending our day. How important that parents
teach their children to pray and that they pray with them. Parents
who do pray with their children find themselves being drawn closer
to the Lord. A child's open and loving approach to the Lord helps
all of us appreciate all the more how much the Lord loves us.
How important that we never deprive our children of the opportunity
to practice their faith by failing to bring them to Church on
The best possible investment of time are the brief moments we
spend participating in the celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy,
the Mass. Sunday Mass may take an hour and a half, including travel
time. Yet think of what we receive for our investment: as a community
and as individuals, we hear the living Word of God and we are
nourished at the banquet of Christ's Sacrifice. We are drawn ever
deeper into the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord. We
share in the greatest act of love in all of human history!
It should not be unthinkable that we would share our "investment
tips" with family members, neighbors, and friends. All of
us know people, perhaps in our own families and in our own circle
of friends, who have stopped praying and who have stopped going
to Church. We should not hesitate to employ some "friendly
persuasion" to encourage them to return to the Lord and His
Church. What great treasures we have as Roman Catholics -- yet
how hesitant we are to speak of them!
Second, we need to break free of the kind of entertainment that
absorbs so much of our time and, in the end, diminishes it. Those
parents who have the courage to limit the use of the T.V. and
the Internet find they have much more time for one another and
for their children. They have time to talk over problems and disappointments.
Both parents and children need to spend time together in order
to absorb the virtues and values that make us good human beings
and true followers of Christ. To be sure, entertainment is an
important part of life, but it should be chosen carefully and
consumed prudently, with a view toward enriching us intellectually
as the pace of technology accelerates, we should rejoice as members
of a Church with profound respect for the dignity of the human
person and with such a wise and well-developed teaching on biomedical
matters. Sometimes a simplified version of the Gospel -- without
the complications of a closely reasoned moral theology -- seems
appealing. But that simply won't do. In today's world it is more
necessary than ever that "ethics keep pace with technolo-gy."
Nor should we allow ourselves to be passive observers as we enter
upon the brave new world of embryonic stem-cell research and human
cloning. Rather, we should be well informed about the Church's
teaching and actively work for the highest ethical standards in
biomedical research and a profound respect for the human lives
of the unborn and the frail elderly.
Shed Our Timidity
Finally, you and I need to shed our spirit of timidity. All too
often we are like the bewildered apostles who locked themselves
in the Upper Room after the Lord's death. We should pray to the
Holy Spirit that we would have neither fear nor hesitation in
living and proclaiming our faith. A daily life of prayer grounded
in Sunday and even daily Mass is fundamental to our lives of faith.
And all of us need to make use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation
on a regular basis if we would bear wit-ness to Jesus with a clear
On-the-job virtue and integrity constitute a magnificent witness
to the faith. A strong and loving family life is a vitally important
way of bearing witness to the Lord. Serving the poor and the needy
is another way to show that we are truly the Lord's disciples.
But it is also vitally important that we be well-informed Catholic
Christians, able to speak a word of truth and a word of life to
family members, co-workers, and friends. How important that we
bring the light of the Gospel into the homes, offices, classrooms,
laboratories, factories, and places of business that we frequent
on a daily basis.
Throughout his papacy, John Paul II has sought to make the Church
more dynamic, more robust, and ever more faithful in the proclamation
of the Gospel. At the beginning of this new millennium, he has
instructed all of us "to put out into the deep." He
urges us to cast our nets into the deep and turbulent waters of
human culture and history, confident that we will find many new
followers of the Lord and members of His Body, the Church. As
I begin my service in Bridgeport, I invite each of you -- my priests,
deacons, religious, and members of the laity -- to pray with me
for a "new Pentecost" here in Fairfield County. I ask
you to work closely with me as we proclaim and spread the Gospel
with renewed fidelity, vigor, and love.