Ars crescendi in Dei gratia

His Excellency
Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki
By the Grace of God and the Favor of the Apostolic See
Bishop of Springfield in Illinois

Ars crescendi in Dei gratia

A Pastoral Letter To the Clergy and Faithful of the
Diocese of Springfield in Illinois
On Building a Culture of
Growth in the Church

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Reverend Monsignors and Fathers,
Consecrated men and women,
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

1. The art of growing in God's grace is the key to growth in the Church. Building a culture of growth in the Church starts with inviting people to experience the love of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of St. Matthew concludes with the Risen Lord commissioning his disciples with these words: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20). This growth looks not only to build up the number of followers of Jesus Christ, but also – and more importantly – for Christ's followers to grow in the depth of their relationship with Jesus Christ and in their commitment to observe all that he has commanded us to do.

2. "Grace is a participation in the life of God."1 It introduces us into the love of the Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the grace of Christ is a gift freely given by God that is "infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it. It is the sanctifying or deifying grace received in Baptism. It is in us the source of the work of sanctification," that is, growth in holiness.2 Growing in God's grace is not a science but an art, because each of us is a masterpiece of God's creation. As Pope Francis explains, "Even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God's creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect."3 These individual masterpieces of God's creation do not exist in isolation, but are intended by God to be built up into a flourishing community that thrives and grows.

prayer stand and candles3. While we can learn many valuable lessons from other fields and disciplines, there is no scientific formula that will guarantee a successful outcome to our efforts. We must place our trust in the Holy Spirit to guide us. As cooperators in God's work of creation, we are called to share in his artistic work of crafting a human mosaic of the Christian faithful. What should this mosaic look like? Is it not the Body of Christ — and particularly his face — to which we must look, so that we might be ever more closely conformed to him, both individually and communally?

4. Growth in the Church is not a matter of popularity. Sometimes, in fact, we, as members of the Church, stand for virtues and principles that are contrary to popular culture and that challenge the self-centered paths and comfortable ways of the world. In the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch, who was martyred during the persecution of the brutal Emperor Trajan in Rome in the year 107, "Our task is not one of producing persuasive propaganda; Christianity shows its greatness when it is hated by the world."4 Yet, paradoxically, confronting error and standing up as a witness to the truth has attracted many followers to Christianity. Tertullian, an early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa, described this dynamic with the famous maxim, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."5

5. In this pastoral letter, I will outline the state of growth in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois; explore some of the possible causes for recent decreases in attendance at Mass and participation in the life of the Church; look at what attracts people to the Church; offer a vision for robust and sustained growth; and propose some constructive steps to build a culture of growth in the Church.

The state of growth in our diocese

6. "If you are not growing, you are either stagnant or moving backwards." This was the message delivered by Richard C. Notebaert, former Chairman and CEO of Qwest, Tellabs and Ameritech, when he came as a guest lecturer to my Master of Business Administration class on strategic planning for growth at the University of N otre Dame. This realistic statement applies to the Church as much as it does to the world of business.

7. Unfortunately, many of our parishes appear to be either stagnant or moving backwards. Every year in October our parishes take a head count of the actual number of people attending Mass each Sunday. We choose October, as do many other dioceses, because October is the most "normal" month of the year when the numbers are not skewed by summer vacations, families returning for the start of the new school year, or higher numbers of people coming for Christmas, Lent or Easter.

8. When I received my first such report after becoming Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois in 2010, I was shocked to see a cumulative decrease of almost 30 percent during the preceding fifteen years prior to my arrival beginning in 2010.6 That decrease would exceed 30 percent in 2011.7

9. It is important to note that these downward numerical trends in recent years have affected not just our diocese, but can be seen in some national studies of Catholics and other religious denominations. While most major surveys show the percentage of those who self-identify as Catholic holding steady at an average of 23.2 percent of the American population since the 1940's,8 a recent survey by the Pew Research Centers estimates that 20.8 percent of U.S. adults are Catholic, down from 23.9 percent in a similar study conducted by Pew in 2007.9 The Pew survey of 35,000 American adults also shows the percentage identifying themselves as Christians dropping to 70.6 percent, as compared to 78.4 percent in 2007, the last time Pew conducted a similar survey.10 Almost every major branch of Christianity in the United States has lost a significant number of members, Pew found, mainly because millennials are leaving the fold. More than one-third of millennials now say they are unaffiliated with any faith, up 10 percentage points since 2007. People who profess no faith affiliation — often called "nones," as in "none of the above" — now form nearly 23 percent of the American adult population, according to the Pew study, up from 16 percent seven years ago. Most striking are the generational spans. Whereas 85 percent of the "silent generation" (born 1928-1945) call themselves Christians, just 56 percent of today's younger millennials (born 1990-1996) identify as such. The Pew study found that each successive generation of Americans includes fewer Christians.11

10. Even in those parishes that were not losing numbers, my sense is that too many of our parishes are in a maintenance mode. Over the past five years, I have visited every parish in our diocese. The occasion of a bishop's visit to a parish is often a cause for parishioners' anxiety, sometimes positive, sometimes negative. Positive anxiety arises on joyful occasions for the bishop's visit, such as a parish jubilee, when people are anxious that all will go well. But far too often, as I visit parishes, people are nervous that my visit may portend something ominous for their parish and greet me by saying, "Bishop, please don't close our parish!" This is not entirely unexpected since our diocese was coming off a period of retraction prior to my arrival, including parish closings and mergers. However, I still find that reaction surprising since it has not been my practice to close or merge parishes in the five years that I have been Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.12

11. My hope is that we can seek to move from "maintenance mode" to "growth mode." It is easy to fall into a sense of complacency whereby the status quo is considered sufficient as we move forward. In times past when ethnic cultures carried the faith, we could perhaps just wait for people to come to us. That is no longer the case. We must change this way of thinking and move toward a more proactive and constructive approach to ministry that seeks to grow in quality and quantity. There is great potential for growth in our diocese in that Catholics are only 12 percent of the population in the 28 counties that make up our diocese.13 Moreover, only about one-fourth of Catholics are attending Mass regularly. When I come to a parish, rather than people pleading with me not to close their parish, I would love for them to be boasting about all of the good things that are happening in their parishes and the phenomenal growth that they are experiencing.

12. Before we can make the transition to "growth mode," however, we need to understand better not only why some people stop coming to church, but also what attracts those who do come to church.

Growth in the Church through Beauty in the Liturgy

10. "Go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19). The command of Our Lord to increase the number of his followers everywhere is clear, but we do not always know exactly how to go about doing that. Father Robert Barron, Rector of Mundelein Seminary in the Archdiocese of Chicago, often speaks about the role of beauty in attracting people to the Church, using an analogy from baseball to make his point. He notes that you will not get people interested in baseball by explaining the "infield fly rule" to them before doing anything else. What attracts people to baseball initially is the beauty of the game, the skill of pitching, hitting and catching the baseball and running the bases. The infield fly rule and all the other intricate and sometimes arcane rules of any sport only have interest and relevance for people who already know and love the game.

11. The same is true with attracting people to the Church. We do not start by listing rules. The beauty of our church edifices, magnificent works of religious art and the graceful celebration of the liturgy, accompanied by harmonious music, inspiring homilies and the active participation of the faithful, are the foundational elements that attract people to the liturgy. Attention to the liturgical norms only comes after one has an appreciation for the art of the celebration.

Why people leave the Church

13. As I mentioned in the previous section, every year in October our parishes take a head count of the actual number of people attending Mass each Sunday. After my appointment as Bishop of Springfield in Illinois in 2010, I wanted to find out why our Sunday Mass attendance had decreased by almost 30 percent during the preceding fifteen years prior to my arrival.14 At the same time, some parishes in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois experienced no change in attendance and others experienced an increase of as much as 82 percent; so some parishes were growing while others were diminishing.

14. The "October Count" only tells us how many people are coming to church, not why they come or do not come. A real desire to understand the motivation behind the numbers led me to ask if Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois, would help to develop a strategy to dig deeper to find the underlying reasons and causes for the attrition in attendance at some parishes and the growth in others. To try to find answers to our questions, researchers at Benedictine University conducted two surveys: one survey sought responses from people who had stopped coming to church, while the second survey was directed toward those who do attend Mass regularly. I thought it essential to hear not only from those who have stopped attending Mass, but also to hear from those who do attend regularly to find out what draws them and keeps them coming to church. If we are doing something right for some people, that should help us learn what we need to do to bring back those who have drifted away.

15. Now that we have the results and analysis of the active and inactive surveys, the full text of which is available online at our diocesan website,15 we must learn from these findings and then do something to make a positive difference for the future of this local Church in central Illinois.

16. Scandals in the Church were cited as one of the major reasons why respondents stopped attending Mass or distanced themselves from the Catholic Church.16 There are no excuses for inexcusable behavior. On behalf of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, I sincerely apologize for the sexual abuse of minors, the misappropriation of parish funds, acts of racial discrimination and other serious sins committed by priests and other Church personnel that have harmed the People of God. I am truly sorry that bishops and other leaders in the Church did not always address these problems adequately or appropriately. For the past several years, our diocese has vigorously implemented the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People established by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002. I pledge to continue these efforts diligently. In this regard, I am pleased to report that an on-site audit conducted by the outside firm of StoneBridge Business Partners from New York last year found the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois to be "compliant with all audited Articles within the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People for the 2013/2014 audit period."17

St. John Neumann School Maryville 201417. Another factor frequently mentioned by those who no longer attend Mass is that "Catholic Church attendance did not feed" their faith.18 This is perplexing in that Catholic doctrine teaches that we receive the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion. Indeed, "spiritual fulfillment/growth" was the second-most frequently cited factor (after a sense of community) among the most important reasons given for parish attendance.19 Ironically, and in contrast to those who felt the Catholic Church was too demanding, some who have joined other Christian denominations think that Catholics should be more committed disciples, "conducting themselves as a New Testament Church, encouraging all to read the Bible."20 We are a Church of sinners saved by Christ, but we must never tire of seeking to become more virtuous and dedicated disciples of Jesus.

18. Respondents of both the active and inactive surveys mentioned that they disagreed or were at least troubled by some Church doctrines. A facile but inadequate answer to this finding would be that if the Church would change these doctrines, more people would join or return to the Catholic Church. It might seem easy enough for the Pope and Bishops simply to revise or revoke controversial teachings that people find hard to accept, but this approach is inadequate for several reasons. It is an illusion to think that relaxing the demands of the Gospel will have a magnetic effect. Some denominations have tried this approach with less than favorable results. Even if this approach were shown to be effective, the Church is not free to change doctrines that come from Divine Law as established by God or were instituted by Jesus Christ as found in Sacred Scripture.

19. Jesus himself provides examples of the proper response to those who find it hard to accept difficult teachings. In the Gospel of St. John, Jesus tells his disciples that they will have no life in them if they do not "eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood" (John 6:53). "Then many of his disciples who were listening said, 'This saying is hard; who can accept it?' . . . As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him" (John 6:60, 66). Similarly, the story of Jesus and the rich young man appears in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. After Jesus tells the young man that, if he seeks perfection, he should sell his possessions and give to the poor, we are told that, "When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions" (Matthew 19:22; cf. Mark 10:17–31 and Luke 18:18–30). Notice in these examples that Jesus did not run after these people and offer to soften the challenging demands of the Gospel in order to try to win them back. After telling his disciples how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God, Jesus assures them that they can be saved through God's grace, saying, "For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26).

20. My point here is not that we should just shrug our shoulders when people walk away from Jesus and the Church he founded. Their departure is indeed troubling and a cause for sadness, but God gives everyone the freedom to make this choice. The challenge for us in the Church is to make sure that we are presenting these teachings in ways that are clear and accurate so that they can be properly understood and readily embraced. Some people are rejecting what they think the Church teaches, but which in fact may be a false understanding. Other times they do not know the reasons that underlie Church doctrine. We need to do a better job of explaining not only what the Church teaches, but why the Church teaches as she does.

21. Saying that we are not free to change doctrines of Divine Law does not mean that there is nothing we can do to bring back Catholics who have left the practice of their faith. Indeed, there is much that we can and must do. In looking at the results of the two surveys taken together, often the very reasons why some people have chosen to separate themselves from the Catholic Church are the same issues that draw strong support from those who willingly remain within the Catholic Church. For example, 34 percent of those who have left the Church cited the Church's opposition to abortion as one of the reasons why they left,21 while 91 percent of active Catholics said they agreed with the Church's opposition to abortion.22

22. Some responses are outright contradictory. One open-ended response said, "Liturgy without music is like going to the gym and not exercising."23 The very next response says, "I am 73 and was used to a silent Mass."24 This proves the adage that you can't please all of the people all of the time!

23. A sense of community or lack of it was a prominent factor mentioned both by active and inactive Catholics. Most of the active Catholic respondents indicated that a "sense of community was the most important reason why they attend their parish and what they most liked about their parish."25 Conversely, a "lack of connection to the Catholic Church" was cited as one of the main reasons why individuals stopped attending Mass.26 Thus, we need to make sure that our parishes are communities with an inviting atmosphere of hospitality where people feel a sense of connection and companionship as we walk our journey of faith.

Why people remain but fail to grow in faith

24. Even for those who remain in the Church it would be naïve to assume that all are actively growing in their faith. Recent studies show that many self-identified Catholics do not understand or profess some of the most basic tenets of our faith, including belief in a personal God, Jesus' real presence in the Holy Eucharist and the precept to attend Mass on Sunday.27

Quincy All City Mass 201325. Again, we must first acknowledge the ways in which our parishes have failed to adequately form parishioners in the Catholic faith. While our Parish Schools of Religion and Catholic schools offer a comprehensive catechesis in the doctrines and moral teachings of the faith, we have not always encouraged formation as a life-long process through evangelizing youth ministry programs, outreach to young adults, and adult faith formation programs; nor have we adequately prepared parents — the first educators of children — to form their children within the "domestic church." In 2007 my predecessor, Bishop George Lucas, invited all parishes in the diocese to participate in the Why Catholic? program. Over 5,300 participants came together in small groups to discuss the Catechism of the Catholic Church and how our faith impacts our families, our parishes, and our communities. How many of those small groups remain active today? How many parishes offered ongoing adult formation when Why Catholic? was over?

26. There is a growing recognition in the Church that many of the faithful in the pews on Sunday have been sacramentalized, but not evangelized. That is, they have been initiated into the Church through Baptism, Confirmation and reception of the Holy Eucharist, but have not been introduced into a living relationship with Jesus Christ in such a way that the fruits of the sacraments have taken root. The sacraments are not magic; they do not guarantee a life-long commitment to religious practice. Without an interior disposition towards God's grace, the fruits of the sacraments cannot take effect in the believer's life.28

Evening Prayer Service Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception 201027. While not directly addressed in the survey tool, the Benedictine University survey results hint at this reality. 16.9 percent of active Catholics responded that they were dissatisfied with the quality of homilies.29 Others cited a lack of parish activities (especially for youth and young families), an unwelcoming atmosphere, unapproachable priests and parish cliques as areas of parish life that were problematic.30 While we would hope that the graces present in the Church – especially in the Holy Eucharist – would be enough to overcome these obstacles, we nevertheless must recognize that insofar as these obstacles impede the interior disposition of members of the Body of Christ, they impede the path towards greater holiness.

Why people remain and grow in faith

28. What, then, helps people to remain in the Church and actively grow in the faith? Sherry Weddell, in her book Forming Intentional Disciples, identifies five thresholds, or stages, that an individual passes through in their journey from unbelief to intentional discipleship. This starts with an initial trust of an individual believer — someone with whom they have entered into a relationship and whom they trust to be authentic and truthful. Next comes curiosity about spiritual matters, when the person begins to ask questions about Jesus and the Church. This leads to openness, a willingness to allow God to move and work (but not a desire to actively pursue a relationship with him.)

29. At this juncture the individual moves from openness to active seeking. This is a crucial step, for it is at this point that the person moves from a passive reception of information about Jesus and the Church and towards an active seeking. It is often at this point that people will come forward and begin to inquire about attending Mass or even joining the process for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). With careful discernment and the help of the Christian community the person then makes a commitment to intentional discipleship. For the unbaptized this is expressed in the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil, while for those already baptized it can be expressed as an intense conversion or even reversion experience. Our RCIA processes must acknowledge this journey of these five thresholds from unbelief to intentional discipleship.

30. In our diocesan survey results, active Catholics cited a variety of reasons they remain in the Church. Some value the school associated with their parish as their most important reason for attending.31 For others, it is the physical beauty of their church that they like the most.32 Many respondents indicated that the "sacraments, especially the Eucharist," were "especially important to their Catholic beliefs of practices."33 Yet, the Mass was cited by only 68 out of 693 responses (9.8 percent) of what parishioners liked most about their parish.34 The instruction given by Jesus to the Apostles at the Last Supper was clear and straightforward: "Do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19). We need to celebrate Mass with sufficient preparation and reverence with full participation so that the Christian faithful can truly appreciate the Eucharist as "the source and summit of the Christian life" as the most important reason to remain in the Church.35 Our joyful celebration of the liturgy should lead people to be joyful worshippers in spirit and truth.

31. In this regard, the most compelling reasons for going to church in my opinion were expressed in these open-ended responses: "I attend to serve Jesus and the people. I attend to be close to Jesus, and partake of the Eucharist. I go to honor God as he has commanded. I enjoy the people around me, I go to be inspired throughout the week."36 "I love God and I can't imagine not wanting to spend time with Him in his house of worship."37 These responses are certainly indications of intentional discipleship!

32. The role of the parish priest in attracting churchgoers was also mentioned. This is not just a matter of giving good homilies, although that certainly is important. The most important quality for a parish priest is for people to know and feel that he loves and cares for them. This does not mean that he never challenges them, but even when he is calling them to higher ideals and a virtuous life, he does so in a way that communicates his concern for their true and lasting happiness. A good pastor follows the example of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who knows his sheep and they know him (cf. John 10:14).

St. Marys Church Alton 201433. Rates of participation have been declining over the past fifty years not just in attendance at religious services, but in other sectors of social and civic participation as well, particularly among the younger generations. In his well-researched and insightful book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert D. Putnam finds that the "last several decades have witnessed a serious deterioration of community involvement among Americans from all walks of life."38 The title of the book, Bowling Alone, comes from Putnam's finding that "more Americans are bowling than ever before, but leaguebowling has plummeted in the last ten years. Between 1980 and 1993 the total number of bowlers in America increased by 10 percent, while league bowling decreased by more than 40 percent."39 Putnam's point is that people are becoming less socially connected to each other and are more likely to pursue individual interests than group activities. Putnam says that his research "suggests that across a very wide range of activities, the last several decades have witnessed a striking diminution of regular contacts with our friends and neighbors."40

34. The religious ramifications of this social isolation can be seen in the recent trend for people to say that they are spiritual, but not religious. In other words, they believe in God, but they don't go to church. Putnam's research confirms this trend, saying that "over the last three to four decades Americans have become about 10 percent less likely to claim church membership, while our attendance and involvement in religious activities has fallen by roughly 25 to 50 percent. . . . This broad historical pattern in religious participation—up from the first third of the [twentieth] century to the 1960's and then down from the 1960s to the 1990s—is very much the same pattern that we noted earlier for secular community-based organizations, as well as for political participation."41

35. Why have so many people dropped out of social involvement across the spectrum, not just in church attendance but also in civic engagement? Putnam says there is no single cause, but after analyzing a number of factors, sums up his findings, saying, "Much of the decline of civic engagement in America during the last third of the twentieth century is attributable to the replacement of an unusually civic generation by several generations (their children and grandchildren) that are less embedded in community life."42 This means that there is no simple answer to our challenge to bring growth to the Church, especially with regard to young people. My point in reviewing this research at some length is that the recent trends of disengagement have affected not only our diocese, but society in general. Our responses must take this into account.

Diocesan Youth Conference participants praying 201536. In the next section of this pastoral letter I will outline a vision and a strategy for the Church to grow qualitatively by deepening the faith of individuals and the commitment of the community, and quantitatively by increasing the number of active practicing Catholics.

Missionary disciples: a vision for growth

37. Growth in the Church is not an end to be sought in itself. The true goal is growth in our loving relationship with Jesus Christ, which is fostered by frequent reception of the Eucharist and the other sacraments. The Catholic Church is the means to that end because Christ showers his love on the members of the Church through the grace that he imparts through the sacraments, particularly through the Eucharist.

38. As I make my way around the diocese visiting parishes, I have noticed many small towns that have a Subway sandwich shop. On seeing them, I have often thought that if there is a Subway sandwich shop feeding the people of this town, there should be a Catholic church to feed their spiritual needs too! Many people would be surprised to learn that Subway sandwich shops have the most locations worldwide of all fast-food restaurants, with Subway's more than 40,000 locations in 2013 far surpassing McDonald's 35,400 and Starbucks' 20,000.43 Subway doesn't try to do everything, but they do strive to do a few things very well. With regard to the Church, growth does not necessarily mean "mega-churches." Theoretically we could have one big mega-church in each of our seven deaneries, but I doubt that many people would feel drawn to them. A better model may be many small churches to have a more pervasive presence, especially in rural areas where a church in the town is closely identified with the local community. In order to do that, of course, we would need more priests and other church personnel, more facilities, the financial resources to pay for them, and the support of the laity to make this happen.

39. Over the past couple of years, I have given much thought to how it is that we can begin a process of strategic planning for growth in the Church here in our diocese. The growth envisioned is far more than just a quantitative increase in the number of people or the amount of money available to our parishes and the diocese. It is also essential to ensure that we give significant attention to the qualitative growth that will guarantee sustainability for generations that follow. I am aware that such a plan for growth is ambitious, but it is one about which I am very optimistic, especially given my familiarity with what this diocese has to offer and the many ways in which various groups are already poised to contribute to that growth.

40. In his Apostolic Exhortation on the Joy of the Gospel, Evangelii Gaudium, our Holy Father Pope Francis reflected on the various ways in which everyone is called to contribute to the growth of the Church. He said, "Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are 'disciples' and 'missionaries,' but rather that we are always 'missionary disciples.'"44

41. My dear brothers and sisters, I am asking that each of you see yourself as a missionary disciple in assisting in the important work of growth in our parishes and in our diocese! This begins by continuing to grow in holiness as disciples of Jesus Christ, committed to him and his Church, with the goal of attaining eternal happiness with Jesus at the heavenly banquet. Then, gratefully recognizing that all that we have is a gift from the Lord, we respond with generosity by sharing those gifts with others and by supporting those services which assist others to deepen their relationship with Christ so that they may become missionary disciples themselves, stewards of the gifts that they have received.

42. Growth begins with the recognition that the Church "is missionary by her very nature."45 The Church exists to grow by bringing all people into her fold. It was Christ's desire that all people might come to the knowledge of the truth of the Gospel (see John 16:13) and so experience a share in this victory of salvation. It was to the Church that Christ entrusted this task of spreading that victory through the power of the Holy Spirit which was poured out on the day of Pentecost.

43. The Prophet Ezekiel uses the image of a tree that starts out small, but will "put forth branches and bear fruit and become a majestic cedar" (Ezekiel 17:23). All of the species of birds, representing all of the people on earth, will be invited to come and "dwell in the shade of its branches" (Ezekiel 17:24), pointing to the safety and rest given to those who are invited to dwell in the Church.

44. The Synoptic Gospels use similar language when speaking about the Kingdom of God as having a small beginning, like that of a mustard seed, and growing to become large, inviting all to come and share in its shade (cf. Matthew 13:31-32, Mark 4:26-35 and Luke 13:18-19). The Church has understood this parable to speak of herself, for the Catholic Church is the "initial budding forth of that Kingdom" and "[w]hile it slowly grows, the Church strains toward the completed Kingdom and, with all its strength, hopes and desires to be united in glory with its King."46

Ecumenical Prayer Service St Thomas the Apostle Parish Decatur 201445. These images, which point to the growth of the Church, reflect the desire of Jesus that his Kingdom not be limited to just a few, but offered to everyone. This is at the heart of the final instructions that he gave to his disciples before he ascended into Heaven, when he told them, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20).

46. The work of making disciples begins with this: "faithfully and constantly the living God is proclaimed and Jesus Christ whom he has sent for the salvation of all."47 In seeking to foster growth it is my hope that all of our ministries and efforts, both in the local parish and at the diocesan level, will include this kerygmatic dimension, calling people to a deeper relationship with Jesus through a simple, effective proclamation of the Gospel.

47. At the same time, evangelization is most effective when it involves a personal relationship. Thus, I desire that all the faithful be prepared to proclaim their faith in Jesus Christ to their family and neighbors, their co-workers and friends, especially those who have fallen away from the Catholic Church. Pope St. John Paul II reminded us that the call to be missionaries is not an option for the lay faithful or "merely a matter of making the apostolate more effective," but is in fact "a right and duty based on their baptismal dignity."48

48. Once a believer has answered the call to discipleship, they are called to be stewards of the gifts they have received. "Stewardship is part of discipleship"49 and a theme that runs throughout the Scriptures. At the very beginning of creation, we hear how God entrusted man with the task of being a steward of all of creation (cf. Genesis 1:28). St. Paul reminds us that we should all be regarded as "servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Corinthians 4:1). As stewards, we must be conscious that what has been entrusted to us is not meant to be buried and remain unused, but rather, we are called to make good use of those gifts so that they can grow (cf. Matthew 25:14-30). A key part of stewardship in God's plan, then, is growth.

Diocesan Seminarians St Peters Basilica Rome 201549. Too often stewardship is invoked to mean only our monetary offerings to God and the Church. In fact, stewardship calls us to think about how we use all of our God-given gifts. This includes our charisms (gifts the Holy Spirit bestows on all persons in Baptism and Confirmation), our physical work, our creative energy, the natural world, and even our very lives. All that we have is a gift from God; all that we have rightly belongs to him. Vocations to the priesthood and religious life are shining examples of giving one's life completely to God. While stewardship is not primarily about money, we live in a culture where our everyday values are expressed by how we spend our resources. Tithing is a practical way for people to give back to God from the first fruits of what God has given to them, based on the biblical example by which the Israelites gave 10 percent of the crops they grew and the livestock they raised to the temple (cf., Leviticus 27:30; Numbers 18:26; Deuteronomy 14:24; and 2 Chronicles 31:5). The New Testament does not designate a percentage of income as a legal minimum to donate, but says that gifts should be "whatever one can afford" (1 Corinthians 16:2). We are to give as we are able. Sometimes that means giving more than 10 percent; sometimes that may mean giving less. Whatever the amount, stewardship tithes and offerings should be given with pure motives and the attitude of faithful disciples who are dedicated to giving worship to God and service to the body of Christ, that is, the Church. As St. Paul wrote, "Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7).

50. One model for a diocese in which stewardship is a central pillar of Christian discipleship is the Diocese of Wichita. The story of stewardship in the Diocese of Wichita is one of growth. It began with the vision of one pastor in one parish more than forty-five years ago. The vision spread to other parishes in the diocese and in 1984, Bishop Eugene Gerber began the process of discerning how such a model could be employed to meet the growing challenges and needs throughout the diocese. The following year, those involved in the process reached a consensus that the diocese would embrace a parish-based stewardship way of life. The results have been astounding. The weekly Mass attendance is nearly double the national average. Every child desiring Catholic education has the opportunity to receive it without paying tuition, thanks to the generosity of parishioners who give 8 percent of their income as a donation to their parish. Some form of Eucharistic adoration is held in 63 out of 90 parishes (68 percent), and 25 percent of these 90 parishes in the diocese have 24/7 adoration chapels where the faithful come to pray. The number of seminarians in formation for the priesthood is over 50. Other diocesan ministries have been created and overwhelmingly supported, such as Guadalupe Clinic, with 40 doctors and 3,000 patients, and The Lord's Diner, with 5,000 volunteers and 400-600 persons served every night. These are but a few of the remarkable blessings for the diocese that have emerged due in large part to this culture of stewardship.50

51. These are precisely the blessings I desire for our diocese as well. Such hopes are not unrealistic. In the past five years, we have more than doubled the number of our seminarians, from 11 to 23. It is quite realistic, therefore, to set a goal of 40 seminarians by the year 2020 and 50 by 2025. My hope is that we can come to a shared vision for growth that includes a commitment to stewardship as a way of life for all of Jesus' disciples. As stated in the pastoral letter on stewardship of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Stewardship: A Disciple's Response, "To be a Christian disciple is a rewarding way of life, a way of companionship with Jesus, and the practice of stewardship as a part of it is itself a source of deep joy. Those who live this way are happy people who have found the meaning and purpose of living."51

What we have done to foster growth

52. In developing a strategic plan for growth in the Church, it is helpful to recognize that we are not starting from scratch. Much has already been done to lay a foundation for this initiative. In visiting every parish here in our diocese during my first five years as bishop, I have seen the various ways in which the faith is lived and passed on to new generations. There are many very good things that are happening that give me great hope for the future of this diocese. For example, in the past five years, we have doubled the number of seminarians studying to become priests for our diocese. Moreover, in 2012, Father McGivney Catholic High School became the first new Catholic high school established in our diocese in 85 years. With this current academic year, they are beginning classes in their newly-constructed school building.

53. In 2012 our Diocesan Adult Enrichment Conference (DAEC) centered on the theme "Living Faith Fully, Sharing Faith Freely." In one of his keynote addresses, Father (now Bishop) Robert Barron reminded us of the indispensable work of proclaiming Christ as Lord and Savior in an increasingly secular culture.52

54. Last year on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi I published my first pastoral letter, Ars Celebrandi et Adorandi, On the Art of Celebrating the Eucharistic Liturgy Properly and Adoring the Lord in the Eucharist Devoutly.53 The Eucharist is essentially God's efficacious action, but we can either cooperate with God's grace by celebrating the Eucharistic Liturgy properly or hinder its effects by failing to do so. Celebrating Holy Mass properly, with a welcoming and caring community, uplifting music, inspiring preaching, heartfelt prayer and an environment conducive to prayer, will attract people to participate, deepen their connection to God and the Church, and help them to cultivate that interior disposition necessary for the grace of the sacrament to bear fruit. An unfriendly and uncaring community, unpleasant music, poor preaching, insincere prayer and an environment distracting from prayer will turn people away.

55. Adoring our Lord in the Eucharist can also be done either devoutly, carelessly or not at all. Those who never adore our Lord in the Eucharist risk becoming apathetic and lukewarm in their relationship with Jesus. Those who adore our Lord but do so in a careless manner at least may start out with the right intention, but miss a golden opportunity to grow closer to Christ. Adoring our Lord devoutly is an expression of our love for God and our gratitude for his love and for all the gifts of his creation.

56. Growth in the Church is fostered through beauty in the liturgy. The command of Our Lord to increase the number of his followers everywhere is clear when he said, "Go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19). The beauty of our church edifices, magnificent works of religious art and the graceful celebration of the liturgy, accompanied by harmonious music, inspiring homilies and the active participation of the faithful, are the foundational elements that attract people to the liturgy. The great Pope St. John Paul II also called our attention to the ars celebrandi in his Encyclical Letter on the Eucharist in its Relationship to the Church, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, in which he said: "No one is permitted to undervalue the mystery entrusted to our hands: it is too great for anyone to feel free to treat it lightly and with disregard for its sacredness and its universality."54

57. In September 2014, several leaders from the diocese and I traveled by bus to southeast Kansas to meet with some of the leadership of the Diocese of Wichita, where the Bishop of the diocese was formerly a priest and Vicar General of our diocese, Bishop Carl Kemme. The goal of our visit was to learn some lessons from them about their model of stewardship.

58. As defined in the lived experience of the Diocese of Wichita, "Stewardship is the grateful response of a Christian disciple, who recognizes and receives God's gifts, and shares these gifts in love of God and neighbor."55 Notice the emphasis on gratitude for gifts received from God, the Creator and giver of all good gifts, and the Christian disciple's response of sharing the gifts of God's creation in fulfillment of the two great commandments to love God and neighbor. We also learned that a stewardship parish is built on four pillars: 1) hospitality, 2) prayer, 3) formation, and 4) service.

59. Also in September 2014, our Convocation of Priests addressed the topic of "Strategic Planning for Growth in the Church." Professor Charles Bamford of the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza School of Business described a method of resource-based analysis as a way to examine the functioning of an organization in terms of whether its services meet the criteria of being rare, non-substitutable, durable and valuable. This method of resource-based analysis allows an organization to consider its uniqueness and the sustainability of its unique position.56 Jesus used this strategy when he told the parable of the hidden treasure and the parable of the pearl of great price. In the parable of the hidden treasure, Jesus says, "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure buried in a field,* which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field" (Matthew 13:44). This is immediately followed by the parable of the pearl of great price, in which Jesus states, "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it" (Matthew 13:45-46).

Father Robert Spitzer SJ60. The Catholic Church is rare and unique because it was founded by Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Catholic Church is non-substitutable because the Church and baptism are necessary for salvation.57 The Catholic Church is durable because it has lasted for two thousand years and will continue based on Jesus' promise that the powers of hell shall not prevail against the Church (Matthew 16:18). The Catholic Church is valuable because her mission is none other than to bring people to share in the communion between the Father and the Son in their Spirit of love for all eternity.58

61. Following up on Professor Bamford's presentation at our 2014 Convocation of Priests was Father Robert Spitzer, a Jesuit priest who spoke on "Building a Culture of Growth in the Church." Father Spitzer pointed out that a strategic plan is meaningless if an organization's culture does not support it. He proposed building a culture of growth in the Church by connecting this strategy to the universal desire of all people to be happy. The Church exists to show people how to be happy, both in this life and in the life to come.59 It is the grace of the Holy Spirit that assists us in overcoming immediate happiness and pleasures in order to achieve the durable and lasting happiness of the Kingdom of God.

four levels of happiness62. Father Spitzer describes happiness as existing on four levels. Put simply, happiness can be sought at higher or lower levels that either lift us up or drag us down. While all the levels are good, happiness becomes more pervasive, enduring and deep as one goes up the scale. Viewing the Four Levels of Happiness as a pyramid, Level One at the base of the pyramid represents our desire for immediate gratification, such as satisfying our appetites for food or bodily comfort. An example of Level One Happiness is eating a delicious meal when you are really hungry. The pleasure may be intense, but it also passes quickly. You will be hungry again in a few hours! Level Two is concerned with personal achievement. It is also short-term, but judges success in comparison and competition with others. We enjoy our successes, but feel envy if others are more successful than we are. Level Three looks beyond oneself to the good of others. It seeks to make a connection and contribution to the community. The happiness that comes from such self-giving is long-lasting. Finally, Level Four represents the perfect, unrestricted and eternal happiness that comes from union with God. Such happiness is eternal; it lasts forever. It is no coincidence that Jesus said (in Matthew 22:37-39) that the two great commandments are to "love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind" (that's Level Four Happiness), and to "love your neighbor as yourself" (that's Level Three Happiness). All four levels are important and present throughout life, but we do not want to be fixated at Levels One or Two.

63. The grace of the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to move beyond the selfish focus of Levels One and Two and move toward the everlasting happiness that comes from love of God and neighbor.60

64. In November 2014, our Diocesan Adult Enrichment Conference (DAEC), on the theme of "Growing Communities of Faith," addressed two important elements of the work of evangelization: First, that as communities of missionary disciples, we are called to grow in our faith in Jesus Christ and to conform our lives to his example and teachings. Second, we recognize the call to "make disciples of all nations" and add to the Body of Christ by reaching out to others. Sherry Weddell was the keynote speaker. According to Weddell, intentional discipleship is best exemplified by Simon Peter's decision to drop his fishing nets and follow Jesus. The sacraments of the Church are key in this process of conversion, but they are not magic. The sacraments are vessels of grace that we need to receive with active intent. Intentional discipleship is the decision to "drop one's nets," that is, to make a conscious commitment to follow Jesus in the midst of his Church as an obedient disciple and to reorder one's life accordingly.

65. In order to breathe life and put flesh into a shared diocesan vision for growth, last December I appointed Father Charles Edwards to be our new diocesan Director of Stewardship and Discipleship, effective January 1, 2015. At the same time, the word "stewardship" was taken out of the title of the Department of Financial Services, Stewardship and Development as well as from the title of the Office of Stewardship and Development. When we were in Wichita, the folks there, who have been living stewardship for over forty years, insisted repeatedly that stewardship is not primarily about money or fundraising, but about a way of life based on a committed relationship as an intentional disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ. For that reason, I uncoupled the word "stewardship" from our fundraising and development efforts and paired it with the word "discipleship." In giving Father Edwards the title "Director of Stewardship and Discipleship," I am emphasizing that stewardship, properly understood, flows from discipleship.

66. It is Father Edwards' task as diocesan Director of Stewardship and Discipleship to promote the process of education and formation in the stewardship and discipleship way of life, working with the priests, deacons, religious and laity at both the diocesan and parish levels. No one can do this alone. We will all need to work together with the help of God's grace to succeed in these efforts.

What we will do to foster growth

67. To further the work of building a culture of growth in our diocese we must equip the faithful to grow in holiness and invite others to do the same. In order to accomplish this I propose a four-fold strategy for engaging the hearts of believers:

68. Prayer is the route to a lasting, sustained relationship to God. It is my hope that our parishes and diocesan ministries will build communities in which people are formed in a variety of prayers and devotions, but most especially through active participation in the Sunday Eucharist. Discipleship is a way of life that leads to happiness. St. Paul wrote, "Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-28).

69. In knowing Christ and the teachings of his Church, we grow closer to him and prepare ourselves to do his will. Through a variety of catechetical and formational programs our parishes and schools will form children, youth, and adults to be active disciples, formed in heart and mind to follow Jesus. We must change our culture from seeing Catholic education as pertaining only to parents with children, like a consumer buying a product, to an understanding that views all Catholics as sharing the responsibilities of time, talent and treasure in the mission of passing on the faith and growing as disciples. Every parish must strive to become a total stewardship parish so that we may become a total stewardship diocese of intentional disciples.

Bishop Paprocki priests deacons religious and laity ordination 201570. The Church stewards and offers the sacraments as signs of our eternal hope and fonts of God's grace. Consistent with my pastoral letter, Ars Celebrandi et Adorandi, we will celebrate the sacraments reverently and faithfully, ensuring that the beauty of their foundational elements is not obscured, but allowed to draw us closer to Christ.

71. Finally, the Church witnesses to the truths we proclaim when we serve those in need, especially the poor and the immigrant. We will continue to seek out ways to meet the needs of our communities, serving Catholics and non-Catholics in obedience to Christ's command, while also advocating for more just laws in Illinois and in our nation.

72. In short, the call to "make disciples of all nations" and foster intentional discipleship as a way of life can be summarized into a concise strategic message for growth:

To build a vibrant community of saints, we will do four things:

  1. Invite people to join us in prayer, especially Sunday Mass (hospitality);
  2. Study the Bible and learn more about Jesus and our Catholic faith (formation);
  3. Provide the sacraments as signs of hope and paths of grace to heaven (prayer); and
  4. Serve those in need by practicing charity and justice (service).


73. Pope Francis, in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, invites all the faithful "to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them."61 Echoing this invitation, I invite you to consider how Jesus is reaching out to you today, right now, beckoning you to join him on the great adventure that is the path to holiness. To grow as a disciple is to experience the joy and happiness that comes only from union with God. Accepting that joy – and responding to it in a spirit of stewardship – is the first step toward the vision I have outlined in this letter.

74. On the many farms in our diocese here in central Illinois, it is understood that growth does not happen overnight. Seeds are planted and steps are taken to provide the necessary nutrients and conducive conditions for crops to grow, but patience is also needed while nature takes its course. As our local Church continues to cultivate a culture of growth, my prayer is that through the ars crescendi in Dei gratia — the art of growing in God's grace — we can rebuild and renew a community of dedicated and intentional disciples of Jesus Christ, always grateful for God's gifts as faithful stewards of his beautiful creation! I pray that the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church and Patroness of our diocese under her title of the Immaculate Conception, will lead us all to grow in a deeper relationship with her Son. May God give us this grace. Amen.

Given at Springfield, Illinois, on the 14th day of the month of September in the year of Our Lord 2015, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

Reflection Questions for Ars crescendi in Dei gratia

The state of growth in our diocese

  1. "Growing in God's grace is an art because each of us is a masterpiece of God's creation." (no. 2) How are you a masterpiece of creation? Do you live your life as if this is true?
  2. What attracts you to the Christian faith? Who or what has helped you grow closer to Jesus?
  3. What blessings do you hope for your family? Your parish? Your community?

 Why people leave the Church

  1. "If you are not growing, you are either stagnant or moving backwards." (no. 6) Would you describe your life of faith as growing, stagnant, or moving backward? What evidence can you give for your assessment?
  2. How have you or your parish embraced a "maintenance mode" or "status quo" mentality? How has this affected your ability to invite others to grow in God's grace?
  3. Do you know anyone who has grown distanced from or left the Catholic Church? How have they described their reasons for leaving?Why people remain but fail to grow in faith
  4. Would you be able to describe key Catholic teachings if someone asked? What resources do you need in order to answer people's questions about the faith?
  5. Do you participate regularly in on going spiritual and religious formation? What opportunities are available in your parish or community that you could take advantage of?

Why people remain and grow in faith

  1. How would you describe your relationship with Jesus Christ? How has it grown over the years?
  2. In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis says, "In all its activities the parish encourages and trains its members to be evangelizers. It is a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a center of constant missionary outreach" (no. 28). How does your parish reflect this vision of Christian life? 

Missionary disciples: a vision for growth

  1. How have your learned what it means to be a disciple of Jesus? Who in your life can you identify as an intentional disciple?
  2. What blessings do you think your parish would gain with a focus on "missionary discipleship?" What would it mean to be a missionary disciple in your community?
  3. What has been your experience of stewardship in your parish? How does that experience relate to Bishop Paprocki's explanation of stewardship (nos. 48-51)?

What we have done to foster growth

  1. What signs of Christian hope do you see in your community?
  2. In his first pastoral letter, Ars celebrandi et adorandi Bishop Paprocki says, "By letting the love of God, received in the Eucharist, flow through us in our care for others, we provide a light for others to see" (no. 38)How does your participation in the Mass and reception of the Eucharist prepare you to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
  3. In what ways is your parish "rare, non-substitutable, durable and valuable" (no. 59) to your faith life?
  4. How has your parish helped you to strive for higher levels of happiness?

What we will do to foster growth

  1. Bishop Paprocki proposes four steps we can take in our diocese and parishes to grow our faith in Jesus Christ and participation in this life of the Church. Which of these four steps resonates with you? Which do you think you may struggle with?
  2. What is one concrete action you can commit to in order to foster growth in yourself, your parish or your community?