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"Envisioning the Future" Address to the Louisiana Priests' Convention New Orleans Sept. 19, 2013 +Gregory M.

Aymond Archbishop of New Orleans This has been a very impressive convention. We are 353 strong. Cardinal O'Malley mentioned last night that he is not aware of any other province or state that has such a gathering of priests. We do need to be proud of that, and I thank you for being here. I would like to thank my brother bishops for their support and their daily ministry. I also would like to thank once again the convention planning committee. I also would like to thank you, our brother priests, for your daily ministry. As bishops, we are well aware that we are entrusted with pastoral governance, pastoral oversight and pastoral leadership, but we are keenly aware that you are on the front lines. You walk with people in a very pastoral way in times of

challenge and burden and in joy. Sometimes they come to you confused, and sometimes they come really angry at the church, and you are there, day after day, when you are tired and when you are energized. Thank you for being on the front lines. You are our closest coworkers in ministry. I express gratitude to you in the name of the bishops of our province. I was asked to give some reflections about "Envisioning the Future." I happen to know, since I had to give the invitations to the speakers, that I was not the committee's first choice! I had to write to someone to see if he would give the talk. At first he said yes, but then it just didn't work out. Then the committee said, we think you should do this. What I did was to take out my crystal ball "envisioning the future" and it said nothing. And then I went to prayer and have been doing that over this topic ever since. Then I was relieved because God reminded me that only God can know the future, so no matter what I say, I can't be wrong.

As we look to the future of priestly ministry over the next decade or so, there are things that won't change because they have been the duty and ministry of priests from the time of the Lord Jesus. It will remain our responsibility to teach and preach the Word of God and the tradition of the church with integrity and enthusiasm. The way in which we teach those things will have to be enhanced. Each one of us will be called to preach and teach, lead others in prayer, preside at the Eucharist and feed God's people in the name of Jesus. That has not changed for in 2,000 years that you and I are called to be shepherds, good shepherds, holy shepherds, always striving toward that holiness to lead people with compassion and courage. What will change are many other things. They differ greatly from one diocese to the next. Parish structures will change. There will be a clustering of parishes. Priests will serve in two or more parishes. The number of priests we have

to send forth and the style of pastoral care will change some. I'm not going to address those specific issues. I would like to go deeper and look at our society and what is going on in our culture to read the signs of the times and see what they are saying to us today. There are issues of today, and I do not see any possibility that they will be changing any time soon. They are there for us to embrace. I would like to touch on five things: 1. This is part of our society and only getting more challenging each day: we live in an age of sound. But more importantly, we live in an age of the noisy world. Isn't it interesting that when most people wake up, they put on the television or the radio or make a call on their cell phone? When you are driving, you see eight out of 10 drivers talking on their cell phones. There is no quiet time where people have that sense of quiet and reflection. It seems to me we have consciously chosen that when we are connected

with each other, we always need sounds. Yet, in the midst of this, God calls us to be quiet, to be reflective, to be prayerful. I ask this question to us as leaders of the church: Will our society lose a sense of quiet and will we lose a sense of being available and open to the sacred? This is an important question: Can we as leaders, as priests, move people in our congregations to a quietness of heart? I suggest that as we look to the future, we must embrace important technology, but we also must bring a sense of quiet and solitude into the lives of our people. They long for it and don't even know it. I wonder myself how many actual quiet moments we have in an entire day. What can we do to bring that about? I suggest that we should respect the times in the liturgy where silence is actually called for. There are specific times in the liturgy where silence is not only suggested but called for. Sometimes we go through an entire liturgy without really grasping those moments. We need to respect those moments of silence.

It's also important for us to create more of an attitude of silence. We can foster eucharistic adoration and quiet prayer, 40-hour devotions and lectio divina. Another example is to provide quiet moments before meetings or parish gatherings. Most often we just say a quick prayer and move on. Could we not prepare a brief prayer service that is quiet and rooted in Scripture? That would help our people overcome a fear of being in silence. It may be the only quiet time they have had the entire day. It's also helpful that our people see us as priests in personal prayer not to be noticed but to give the example of that solitude, whether it's a few minutes before Mass or in the eucharistic chapel. This is not to be noticed or to call attention to ourselves, but we should make the choice to pray in a more public setting so that we can give that example of solitude. We must be men of silence and prayer. In July, when Pope Francis was addressing novices and seminarians in Rome, he warned them

in very strong words not to be caught up by many things in life but to be quiet before the Lord in prayer. He warned them not to be caught up with the latest iPhone, the latest scooter or the showiest car to drive and not be filled with church ambition. He called them, instead, to a life of prayer and quiet and to the things that are important to Jesus. We must be men of quiet and prayer in order to lead others. That will make a difference today and in the next decade. 2. We live in a day of technology. It is a tremendous gift, but it can also be a curse. I'm interested in the iPad, in Facebook, in answering voice mail and in Twitter. All of these things are good in themselves, but they can be used in a way that does not help us. The use of technology is going to increase. Every year will bring new gadgets and opportunities. We live in a virtual, long-distance world, and we have virtual, longdistance relationships. I suggest that in our world today we have lost a sense of the personal. I do not foresee it getting any better tomorrow or in the next five years.

Very often I have heard people refer to another person as their "best friend" in dating online or in finding a marriage partner. Psychologists are very concerned about our young adults living in these virtual, long-distance relationships, because they are losing the skills to relate to another person one on one. I don't want to overgeneralize, but it seems as though people have a very difficult time looking at another person eyeball to eyeball. This virtual and long-distance relationship affects personal relationships with one another, relationships in the parish and our relationship with God. Is my relationship with God virtual and long distance, or is it personal? That's a tough question for many of our people. What can we do about that as we envision the future? This creates a further demand on us as priests. In order to counteract this and make church and society different, it calls us as priests to be very personal in our day-to-day relationships with people. It calls us to be very available and continue to be very visible, not just on Facebook

or Twitter but personally. As we represent the Christ, we want to represent the living Christ, his real flesh and blood. We want that church to be the body of Christ, present today, with no virtual or long-distance relationship. Technology should always be something that furthers or complements a personal relationship. People should not feel that we are too busy for them. I often hear, "Oh, I wanted to ask you something but I didn't want to bother you. I didn't want to intrude on your busy life." That's why we are there. That's why we are available. On Sunday, we need to be there to greet them before or after Mass. We need to give homilies that are rooted in real life. Priests must be men of presence, not of distance. That can be very wearing at times, but we must see it as part of our ministry. Probably the most-quoted phrase uttered by Pope Francis came during his Chrism Mass homily when he said that priests must be among the people, be among the sheep, rubbing elbows so much so that we will smell like sheep.

We cannot do that by using technology but by our presence and the quality of our presence. 3. We live in an age of responsibility overload. People live extraordinarily busy lives. Because of that, things are tense and sometimes chaotic. Whether you keep your calendar online or in a book or just in your mind, you know that your people live a very, very busy life. I do not foresee this getting any better over the next five or 10 years. Therefore, God and all of our church activities and ministry we are called to provide are competing with all these other responsibilities, interests and duties and what people consider their priorities. Because of those things and others, we say that some of our people have scattered left us and they have. We have to face that. On a given Sunday, about 30 percent show up and worship. Others come twice a month, three times a year or once a year. But nationally, we are speaking about 30 percent showing up each Sunday. Why? I truly believe that some people are caught up in personal responsibilities their personal bubble and they don't see beyond it. Their lives are busy.

Others are not with us on Sunday because in their belief, the church has become irrelevant and they have grown indifferent to God. Perhaps some have been hurt by the church and church leaders. Even though those people have busy schedules, I know God is planting a seed for eucharistic hunger, for God. How do you and I find the busy and the scattered? Perhaps it's time to revive something we did years ago knocking on doors in neighborhoods and finding the people who are busy and overburdened, telling them there is a place at the table with their name on it and we are waiting for them. Pope Francis told the young people at World Youth Day to go out into the streets and "make a mess." May I suggest that we live our faith by knocking on the doors and the hearts of people and telling them about the faith. What would happen in our dioceses if we knocked on the doors of people's homes and asked, "Can we help you?" And when they come back, we have to make sure we are a welcoming community. As Cardinal

O'Malley said in his homily last night, what people value most are preaching, music and a sense of hospitality. Each one of us as priests has to ask that question: What are we providing our people? What are we feeding them? If our busy people are going to take time out to come back to church, we have to grab them when they come back. Our young people have thousands of invitations, and, unfortunately, hundreds of those invitations come on Sunday from sports practices or school activities. Why would they come to Mass? They will come if we offer them a sense of belonging to God and a sense that God loves them unconditionally. If we provide them relevant teaching about God not pie-in-thesky concepts they will come. We need to offer them teaching that relates to the complexity of their lives. You and I as priests must be able to accept and welcome those who are away and who are the lost sheep. Maybe it's not just the lost sheep. Maybe it's the people who are not necessarily

lost but are just hungering for good food. They want to be nourished by the Word of God, and the way we break it open is very important. Pope Francis tells us to resist ever tiring of being merciful and to never tire of welcoming people to the Lord and to not hesitate in showing tenderness. Then he reminds us that we are pastors and we are shepherds not functionaries. Those words from Francis have challenged me personally and continue to challenge me. People's lives are busy. We can grab their attention and continue to go out into the streets and "make a mess." It's the one-on-one approach, and we can use technology to start. 4. We live in age of relativism, where morality is voted on. It seems to me we live in an age where I say, "I'll do what I want and you do what you want, just don't bother me and I won't bother you. I'll live in my own little bubble." The government has begun to and will over the next decade redefine marriage, the beginning of life,

the end of life, ethics in business, religious freedom and immigration. There are 200,000 frozen embryos awaiting parents! We are reminded of these realities as we envision the future. We must be true evangelizers and true teachers in what we do. We cannot just say, "Do this or you're going to hell." If that worked in the past, it ain't working today. People will walk. Why would they not walk? We need to be strong teachers and evangelizers and do it with passion but also with compassion, inviting people as the pope reminds us to do. Cardinal George has said something that has struck me. He said, "I expect to die in my bed. I expect that my successor will die in prison. I expect that his successor will die as a martyr in the United States, in the public square, explaining the Gospel and church teaching." We hope that is not the case. It reminds us of the moral relativism that exists. It calls us to be teachers and evangelizers who are on fire and who can speak to the issues of today. Pope

Francis tells us to proclaim the Gospel with an authentic life. Our consistency of life is fundamental if our witness is to be credible. We also know that in our world, moral relativism has created many camps and agendas, which has caused great division among us as a nation. Sometimes it has also caused disunity within our own ranks as a presbyterate. We know all too well that the designations of right and left, liberal and conservative, traditional and progressive, and Democrat and Republican have sometimes spilled over easily into the church. As we see those divisions, we must be the unifiers, even when we see different ecclesiologies. We can model that for other people. That doesn't mean we agree on each little thing, but if we agree on our basic beliefs we can make a dent in moral relativism. 5. We also live in an age of addiction, and I do not foresee it getting any better. We know addictions are rampant the traditional ones such as alcohol, drugs, gambling and sexual addiction. And now, the greatest of all addictions in the world is pornography. Some speculate

that more money is spent on pornography annually than is spent on the NFL and NBA combined. We live in this age of addiction. What is our responsibility in ministry? It is to heal people, to set them free. No one chooses addiction. We must be there as priests and healers who want to help people get out of prison. As we look at this age of addiction, you and I must be aware of our own weaknesses that can very well lead to our own addiction. Then we can go out of ourselves and learn to pray with and be a presence to others to offer them healing. Pope Francis says we need a church that is able to walk the road to Emmaus. He said this to the bishops in Brazil: We need a church that is unafraid of going forth into the night. Were not sure where we're going, but where the hurting are and the poor are is where we must be, because that's where Jesus would be. We need to meet people where they are and invite them back.

As we envision the future as we experience today we live in an age of noise and technology, busyness and overcrowded schedules, moral relativism and great addiction. That is what we face today. That's what humbles us as we face this ministry to share in the ministry of Jesus. Will those things change? We can begin today and tomorrow to plant seeds of change so that, with God's help, we can envision a future that becomes more hopeful and more alive and a society that becomes more aligned to the heart of Christ. Let's also be clear, we can do more together. United, we can do more. That is our challenge. Thank you for your ministry, when it's convenient and inconvenient. Thank you for your ministry, which God uses to change hearts.