THE PRAIRIE CATHOLIC
Why would anyone want to be Catholic?
'Fourth Plan for Parishes' teaches that imitating Christ brings true fulfillment
by Sam Patet
The Prairie Catholic / September 2013
NEW ULM – Most Friday mornings you’ll find a grey bicycle parked outside the Eucharistic adoration chapel at St. Mary’s Parish in New Ulm. Inside is its rider, Scott Osborne, kneeling in front of the Blessed Sacrament. He prays quietly, dividing his time between reading from his Bible and gazing on the Eucharist. Twenty-five minutes after entering, he’s back on his bike, pedaling to the City of New Ulm’s public utilities building to start his day.
For the father of nine, getting to spend time alone with Jesus – even if it’s only for less than half an hour – is a welcome gift.
If you would have told him 20 years earlier that he would be biking to church at 6:30 a.m. to pray, he would have laughed at you. While he grew up Catholic and went through 12 years of Catholic school, the faith wasn’t very important to him. There wasn’t a connection between his belief in God and daily life, he said.
It wasn’t until he and his wife, Linda, started having problems with their marriage that his attitude toward God changed. Five years after tying the knot, they had two healthy children, jobs they loved, and time on the weekend to hang out with friends. They even could claim they were right with the Church in that they attended Mass every Sunday.
Yet their relationship had hit a rough spot. They were spending more and more of their time together bickering and fighting as they tried juggling their work, family, and social commitments. Scott felt like he couldn’t do anything to make Linda happy.
“At that moment … I remember thinking, ‘Is this the way life’s going to be the rest of our lives?’” he said. “‘Is this all that life is?’”
The answer, he discovered, was no. What he and Linda were missing was a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “That made the difference,” he said. “I came to know that Jesus was alive, and present, and personal, and caring.”
Bishop John M. LeVoir knows the Osbornes’ experience isn’t unique to them. “We seek to be fulfilled, to live a full life,” he said. “But when it comes down to it, Pope John Paul II always used to say that it’s Jesus Christ who fulfills.”
And so in an effort to help the Diocese of New Ulm’s 60,000-plus Catholics come to know Christ better and lead more fulfilled lives, Bishop LeVoir has released the “Fourth Plan for Parishes,” a major teaching document that challenges its readers to imitate Christ as a prophet, priest, and king as set forth by the Second Vatican Council.
Inspired by Vatican II
As its title suggests, the “Fourth Plan for Parishes” isn’t the diocese’s first pastoral plan. Its three predecessors – issued in 1988, 1995, and 2003 – focused primarily on pastoral planning, that is, how the diocese and its parishes would provide adequate pastoral care in the years ahead given the projected decline of Catholics, priests, and other resources.
While the “Fourth Plan” spends a considerable amount of time on pastoral planning (over 70 pages), it spends just as much time looking at how the diocese’s parishes and members should be living out the faith in the 21st century. “Any plan that is done now needs to have a good, solid theological foundation for people to know their identity and their proper activity,” Bishop LeVoir said. The foundation the “Plan” proposes is “the most fruitful way … that we’re going to build up the Church.”
To help him develop this theological foundation, Bishop LeVoir turned to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. Held between 1962 and 1965, Vatican II produced 16 documents on a variety of topics, including the Bible, the Church, ecumenism, and social communications. It also brought about a number of changes to the Church’s liturgy that are commonplace today, such as the use of the vernacular at Mass.
While much has been accomplished since the Council, Bishop LeVoir knows that more needs to be done.
“I’ve read a lot of Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis, and they all say the same thing, that there’s still a lot of work to do to implement the Council,” he said. “So when I was thinking about the ‘Plan,’ I thought, ‘Well, what better thing to do than draw the principles for the “Plan” from the Second Vatican Council.’”
One idea the “Plan” stresses from its first pages is that Baptism is essential for the Church to carry out her mission. In the document’s foreword, Bishop LeVoir writes that Catholics are called “to show forth the loving face of Christ to the world.” But they’re only able to do this – “to ‘be Christ’ for others,” Bishop LeVoir writes – if their identity has been changed through the Sacrament of Baptism. Baptism configures a person to Christ, the “Plan” states, quoting paragraph 1272 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It goes on to quote St. Augustine, who writes that through Baptism “not only have we become Christians, but we have become Christ himself” (p. 3).
Douglas Bushman holds the Blessed John Paul II the Great Chair of Theology for the New Evangelization at the Augustine Institute in Denver. The strong language St. Augustine uses to describe what happens at Baptism has its roots in Sacred Scripture, he said. On several occasions Jesus tells his disciples that he wants them to abide, or to remain, in him, such as John 15:15, he said. And in the Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul writes that “Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20).
“The fact is that God loves us, and the desire of his love is to be one with us and that we share his life with him. And this sharing we call communion,” Bushman said. “In Baptism God not only forgives our sins, he also draws us into communion with himself. Jesus makes us sharers in the divine life.”
When Scott and Linda started to realize how much God wanted to be with them, they couldn’t believe it. They also couldn’t get enough of it. They started attending Bible studies, listening to Christian radio, and studying the teachings of the Church.
“The greatest joy is having a God that created me that wants to be with me constantly and loves me totally,” Scott said. “It’s beyond my understanding (that) someone can love like that.”
Prophet, priest, king
Because Catholics have been made “other Christs” through Baptism, they’re able to “be Christ” in their daily lives. So after stressing the importance of Baptism, the “Plan” describes how Christ acted in the world so that Catholics can know how to imitate him. It divides his activity into three categories, in theology known as offices: prophet, priest, and king.
The use of the terms prophet, priest, and king to describe Christ’s activity has its foundation in the Old Testament, Bushman said. The Israelites had been awaiting a Messiah who would fulfill functions that until then had been done by three individuals: prophets (those who proclaimed God’s word, like Isaiah and Jeremiah), priests (those who offered up sacrifices, like Moses’ brother, Aaron), and kings (those who governed the Israelites, like Saul and David). The longing for this type of Messiah was expressed most clearly in chapter 11 of the Book of Isaiah, Bushman said.
“Messiah comes from the Hebrew, and it means anointed, and the Greek word for that is Christ,” he said. “And so Jesus is the Christ. He is the anointed one who has received this anointing in its fullness referred to in Isaiah.”
To start, Jesus Christ is a prophet. Not only does he reveal who God is (after all, he is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity), but he also reveals who men and women are, the “Plan” states. “Since we are images of God, we do not know ourselves unless we know God. Christ, by revealing God (Truth), reveals the truth about us, that is, he reveals who we are” (p. 3).
Christ is also a priest. Like the priests of the Old Testament, he offered up a sacrifice to the Father out of love for him. But unlike them, the sacrifice he offered wasn’t grain or an unblemished lamb; it was himself. Christ became man and sacrificed himself on the cross for men and women’s salvation, the “Plan” states, and thus revealed how much God loves his people. His sacrifice “shows us how we should love God and others,” namely, by “giving of oneself to others for their true good” (p. 4).
Finally, Jesus Christ is a king. One way he exercised this office was through his bodily self-discipline, the “Plan” states, such as when he endured his Passion on the cross. Since Christ revealed God “precisely in and through his physical body,” he had to have discipline over it if he wanted to teach men and women the truth (i.e., exercise his prophetic office) and love them (i.e., exercise his priestly office) (p. 4).
A second way Christ exercised his kingly office was by using the material things of the world to benefit others, like when he multiplied loaves and fish to feed a hungry crowd. As Creator of the universe, God has “divine dominion” – or kingship – over every created thing, the “Plan” states. “Since God created every thing in the world for us, God exercises a divine dominion over the things of the earth for our sake. Through his human kingly office, Christ governs created things on behalf of people” (p. 4).
The mission, then, of the Diocese of New Ulm’s parishes and members is to imitate Christ in his prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices. As prophets, for example, Catholics hand “on the Truth revealed by Jesus Christ” through religious education programs, Catholic schools, and other evangelization efforts, the “Plan” states (p. 4). As priests, they offer a sacrifice of love to God when they participate in the sacraments, especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (p. 5). And they exercise their kingly office by living in accordance with the discipline of the Church and by providing material goods to the needy (p. 6).
Universal call to holiness
How one exercises these offices will vary from person to person, depending on one’s gifts and on whether one is an ordained minister. But what won’t vary is the call to exercise them. Every single Catholic in the Diocese of New Ulm is called to live out his or her Baptism, to imitate Christ in his threefold office.
In other words, Catholics are called to be holy. Quoting Pope John Paul II’s 1999 apostolic exhortation “Novo Millennio Ineunte” (“On the Coming of the New Millenium”), the “Plan” reminds its readers that “‘the ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual’” and that the laity can achieve “‘holiness in the most ordinary circumstances of life’” (p. 81).
Scott and Linda have been trying to do that ever since their conversion 20 years ago. Not only does Scott live out Christ’s priestly office by praying at Eucharistic adoration, but he reads the Bible during his lunch break and makes himself available to his peers if they have questions about the faith.
And Linda, who’s been a childcare provider for 23 years, exercises Christ’s prophetic office when she talks about Jesus in front of her students and their parents. “I tell them (parents) – and it’s even right in my contract – that … we’ll be praying together and I’ll be sharing Jesus with them,” she said. “Without a doubt I will share Jesus with them because I just have to.”
In later chapters the “Plan” outlines in greater detail how its readers should imitate Christ as a prophet, priest, and king. By doing this, not only will Catholics be living out their baptismal vocations and building up the Church, but they’ll be living happier, more fulfilled lives.
“The better we imitate God – the better we image God – the more fulfilled our life will be,” Bishop LeVoir said.