My Dear Friends in Christ,
Happy Father’s Day to all fathers. During this year of St. Joseph, we commend all fathers to their heavenly patron. Thank you for your hard work and many sacrifices. Know how much you are loved and appreciated. I am sorry I am away this weekend and cannot greet you in person.
This weekend I am in Steubenville with our High School Youth Group for the annual Youth Conference. This year’s theme is “Restored,” based on Psalm 80:3: “Restore us, O God; let thy face shine, that we may be saved.” We hope and pray that this will be a great outpouring of grace upon our young people; that it will strengthen their bonds of fraternity; and they may be even greater witnesses to Jesus.
This Sunday we hear the Gospel of the calming of the storm, which was accompanied by the First Reading from Job, in which God reveals himself as the Lord of the sea. Jesus also rebukes the wind and orders the sea to be calm, speaking to it as if it were identified with the power of the devil. According to what the First Reading and Psalm 107 tell us, in the Bible, the sea is considered a threatening, chaotic and potentially destructive element which God alone can govern and calm.
In spite of threats, there is a positive force that moves the world, capable of transforming and renewing and “restoring” creatures: the power of “Christ’s love” of which we hear in the Second Reading. It is a divine, transcendent force, which acts on the cosmos. Christ’s love is “another” power of a different order. The Lord manifested this transcendent otherness in His Passover, which freed us from the dominion of evil. “Your way, O God, is holy,” the Psalmist exclaims, referring to the Exodus and the first Passover, continuing “Your way was through the sea/your path through the great waters” (Ps 77: 13,19). In the Paschal Mystery, Jesus passed through the abyss of death; this is how God wanted to renew and restore the universe – through the death and Resurrection of his Son, who “died for all,” that all might live “for Him who for their sake died and was raised” (2Cor 5:15).
The gesture of calming the stormy sea is a clear sign of Christ’s lordship over negative powers and makes us think of His divinity: “Who then is this,” his own disciples asked, “that even wind and sea obey him?” (Mk 4: 41). The people of the Archdiocese have acknowledged Jesus as the Lord of Heaven and Earth. June 19th marks the 200th anniversary of the establishment of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. A partial indulgence is offered to all the faithful throughout the bicentennial year, provided that they pray for the needs of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and for the members of our local church, especially for an increase in unity and charity. A framed certificate is at the back of the church, recounting the event and the conditions of the indulgence.
Two books also have recently been published – Seeking the Lord and Treasures of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. The former is an illustrated history of the Archdiocese; the latter is a coffee table book, depicting the beautiful churches of the Archdiocese. Information for ordering copies will be forthcoming.
The Bicentennial is an event worth celebrating. I regret not being able to be with you this weekend. However, allow me to express my gratitude to the priests who are offering Masses this weekend. Please welcome these priests and thank them for their generous and dedicated service.
In recognizing the blessings of faith and our rich heritage, we must give thanks to God. Throughout the 200 years, many dedicated priests, religious, deacons, and lay faithful have met the spiritual and ministerial needs of the People of God. Many parishes have opened since the days of Bishop Fenwick and the pioneers, while others have closed. I remember how my old parish, Holy Angels, which sat on the corner of Madison and Grandin Roads, closed after Monsignor Amann’s retirement. Some things die, so that new things may live.
Although the bicentennial fosters gratitude for what God has already accomplished, we must be forward looking, acknowledging how things have changed over 200 years, especially in the last decades. We must acknowledge the forces of secularism and the decline of religious practice and Mass attendance. The number of retired priests is far outpacing the number of newly ordained. The ability to maintain many parish structures is seriously compromised.
Rather than concern ourselves with maintenance, we must be concerned with mission and evangelization, building strong, vibrant communities that can share the joy of the Gospel. In our bulletin and elsewhere, you may have heard about “Beacons of Light,” a multi-year process of pastoral planning for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
In November, all parishes of the Archdiocese submitted data on parish life (demographics, sacraments, schools, finances, etc.) to a company hired by the Archdiocese. The priests of the Archdiocese were presented with the results of the data gathering on June 4th. Now, we must begin the pastoral planning process for the Archdiocese. Based on the data, there will likely be 60 groupings of parishes, called “Families of Parishes” to serve 212 parishes in the Archdiocese.
Despite higher numbers of ordinations, over the next five years, the number of pastors will be reduced from 114 (with 26 currently serving beyond retirement age) to around 60. This will affect every dimension of life in our Archdiocese and parish. Very few, if any parishes, will be “stand alone” parishes. Parish groupings will be finalized by November 2021. We must work with and collaborate with others to better utilize resources and carry out the mission of evangelization.
This process is not so much about the priest shortage as it is about the mission of evangelization in a changed environment. We hope that through the process, we will grow closer to God and continue to be missionary disciples of Jesus, going forth in the power of the Holy Spirit, radiating Christ in our lives, radiating Him to the world.
You will be hearing more about Beacons of Light in the coming months. In the meantime, I ask you to become more informed about Beacons by reading the overview which can be found in this Bulletin, our parish website, and Flocknote. You can also scan the QR code found in the bulletin or in the posters around our campus. Stay informed by signing up for the monthly Beacons of Light update (CatholicAOC.org/Beacons). I am serving on the Steering Committee of this process and, beginning July 1, I will serve as the Dean (Vicar Forane) of the St. Margaret Mary Deanery. I hope to keep you updated regularly. Know of my prayers as we journey together, announcing the One “whom even the sea and the wind obey.”
– Fr. Fernandes