BY: BISHOP JOSEPH M. SULLIVAN, DD
Bishop Sullivan is auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn,
This article is a progress report on Phase IV of New
Covenant's Ministering Together." The New Covenant Steering Committee,
which is developing Phase IV, is composed of leaders recruited from major ministries
of the Catholic Church in health care, social services, education, dioceses,
and parishes. The 18 committee members come from the ranks of religious congregations,
diocesan clergy, parish laity, national organizations, the episcopal conference,
and diocesan staffs.
One of the unique blessings in the Catholic Church
is the experience of convening people, many of whom have never
met before, and seeing how quickly they bond. There is implicit
trust, a respect for one another, a generosity in sharing, and
a willingness to listen and understand the variety of experiences
and different points of view. This is the experience of the
Steering Committee for Phase IV. The Steering Committee is charged
with the task of broadening the collaborative efforts of the
church's ministries beyond health and social services to include
education and parochial ministry. The health and social service
ministries have collaborated at the national level through the
efforts of the Catholic Health Association (CHA) and Catholic
Charities USA. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
has worked closely with both these organizations on public policy
issues. The National Coalition on Catholic Health Care Ministry
has been an effective forum for dialogue among the Leadership
Conference of Women Religious, the Conference of Major Superiors
of Men, The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, CHA, and Catholic
Charities. It is to this coalition of ministry leaders that
the New Covenant Steering Committee will report and make
The Steering Committee met in New Orleans in
October 2001, realized the daunting challenge of its charge,
and set about discussing the essential nature of the challenge.
We realized that Phase IV was to incarnate the vision of New
Covenant, which would give expression to ministerial collaboration
at the local level of the church, the diocese, and the parish.
We recognized the great diversity of the church across the countryits
demographic differences, varieties of institutional presence,
regional geographics, material resources, clerical and religious
personnel, lay participation, organizational structures, and
episcopal leadership. We instinctively knew that we could jump-start
only a limited number of local initiatives in the 12- to 18-month
time frame we had to work in. Our energies would have to be
focused on communication of the vision. We needed to choose
a strategic direction that would focus our efforts"leverage
the gifts and talents of all leaders in ministry."
We concluded that Phase IV would embrace the other New Covenant
strategic directions: transforming existing structures, uniting in a common
message on public policies, and connecting church collaborative ministries with
other community organizations of good will. It was necessary for us to identify
people with leadership capacity and interest who would undertake the role of
initiating collaboration at the diocesan level. We committed ourselves to assume
local leadership in our own local dioceses or organizations. We would try to
model for others what we expected of them. We organized ourselves into four
- Communications This group will develop a comprehensive media/communications
plan, including a multimedia presentation, to explain the New Covenant
vision and invite participation.
- Best Practices This group is collecting and will share illustrative
stories about local collaboration.
- Leaders/Champions This group will identify, recognize, and connect
current "champions" of collaborative ministry.
- Technical Assistance This group will compile and develop selected
technical resources to assist in developing new or strengthening existing
New Covenant efforts.
Representing the Steering Committee, I will report on our work
to the historic joint meeting of CHA and Catholic Charities in Chicago. Toward
this end, Catholic Charities and CHA have commissioned a study of existing collaborative
ministerial efforts across the country. Stories of collaboration will provide
encouragement for others to launch local collaborative initiatives enabling
them to discover the elements of successful efforts as well as to learn from
the errors of failed undertakings. These stories of collaboration across traditional
ministerial boundaries have the potential for creating networks within states
and regions and across the nation. Ecclesial collaboration is more the work
of risk-takers, people willing to take the initiative, who have faith in God,
and whose hope sustains them as they hurdle inevitable barriers. Collaboration,
however, should not be solely dependent on entrepreneurs who are primarily interested
in outcomes and results. It is the work of design, of pastoral planning, of
an understanding of the church as a community. It rests on the foundation of
the human person as a social beinga member of an assembly, a church that sees
itself as a mystical body in which all the parts have a role to play, in which
each is essential to the health of the whole. No one is left out. The church
is inclusive and seeks active participation of all.
Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God as a vision for humankind.
It would be a Kingdom that gives priority to the poor, the sick, the disabled,
and the oppressed. Jesus came especially for those who needed a physician, but
his will was that all would be saved. He revealed a God who loved us,
a God whofar from being removed from usidentified with us by becoming one
with us. The church is the herald of this Kingdom. It seeks by the integrity
of its life to be a sign and credible witness to the reign of God.
The New Covenant emphasizes one aspect of the church's
mystery, the Church as a healing community. As healer, the church is a reconciling
community: It reaches out to touch the whole person to restore the individual
to a healthy relationship with God and with the community of family, society,
and the faithful. The church's mission goes beyond the individual to embrace
the broader community, to influence the social order, to bring about right relationships
between individuals and the structures of society. It does not dichotomize individual
well-being, on one hand, and societal welfare, on the other. These are interrelated
and can influence each other positively or negatively. The church cannot focus
solely on individual need or condition, as if one's health or sickness was due
only to one's own behavior. The church realizes that it has a responsibility
to address the fundamental arrangement in society, the public laws and regulations,
corporate policies and practices. The church cannot be content with addressing
solely the individual's health; it must also analyze society's health. This
is the reason that personal care and service, although essential, must not be
separated from social action. The church must be a provider of direct service
to the person but must also advocate change in social structures that are unjust
and contribute to the oppression of individuals. Personal care and service ground
the church in the reality of individual lives, deepening its compassion for
people and making passionate its advocacy to bring about social change where
it is needed.
The Church's Role
The church has a unique and special role in constructing a healthy
society. The church is a communio. A communion is more than a mere community.
It cannot be understood in merely sociological or psychological terms. Its bonds
are spiritual because they arise from the Holy Spirit, who is poured forth in
all the members. The church may, therefore, be described as a community in which
the members are brought together into supernatural relationships by their reciprocal
membership in the Body of Christ.
Our Holy Father, John Paul II, understands the church in personalist
terms. He favors the communio model of the church that emerged from the
Second Vatican Council. It is a living reality constituted by persons who come
to themselves by discovering and affirming their own identity. It is a communion
of persons, a community of disciples. The community is not merely human fellowship.
It is humanity brought into a higher and more consciously experienced union
with Christ, through the Holy Spirit, or rather through the inhabitation of
the three divine persons. The reality of the church as communion is the integrating
aspect, indeed the content of the mystery, or rather the divine plan for the
salvation of humanity. The supreme model for the church is the divine Trinity,
a communio personarum.
John Paul II, in speaking of the church as a people, a family,
or a household, intends to accent the personal relationship by which it is constituted.
The church is a special kind of family because the members are bound together
by a supernatural love that is poured into the hearts of the members by God.
They love one another with a love that originates in the Holy Trinity.
In his remarkable letter, Novo Millennio Inuente
The Beginning of the New Millennium), the pope states that
we enter a new stage in the church's journey. It is a time to
look to the future, to put into practice resolutions and guidelines
for action. He invites all the individual churches to undertaken
assessment of their fervor and find fresh enthusiasm for their
pastoral and spiritual responsibilities. Holiness remains more
than ever an urgent pastoral task. "Holiness," the pope says,
"is a message that convinces without the need for words, is
the living reflection of the face of Christ." It is the foundation
of pastoral planning.
This letter is amazing for its emphasis on the need for pastoral
planning. In my experience, pastoral planning has been suspect in the church,
perhaps because planners, being rationalists, are reluctant to rely on the dynamism
of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Father says pastoral planning is not possible alone,
but must allow grace to take us by the hand. Placing pastoral planning under
the heading of holiness is a choice filled with consequences. To ask, "Do you
wish to receive baptism?" means "Do you wish to become holy?" The pope instructs
us to make Christian communities genuine schools of prayer. Education in prayer,
especially liturgical prayer, is a key point of all pastoral planning. To nourish
ourselves on the word of God in order to be servants of the Word is the work
of evangelization. This is a priority of the church at the dawn of the new millennium.
There has to be planning on the part of both the universal church
and the particular churches. Communion embodies and reveals the very essence
and mystery of the church. It is in building this communion of love that the
church appears as sacrament, as a sign and instrument of intimate union with
God and the unity of the human race.
The Holy Father emphasizes the need to promote a spirituality
of communion before making practical plans. This requires formation and training.
A spirituality of communion indicates, above all, the heart's contemplation
of the mystery of the Trinity dwelling in us, an ability to think of our brothers
and sisters in faith within the profound unity of the Mystical Body. This makes
us able to share their joys and their sufferings, to sense their desires and
attend to their needs, and to offer them deep and genuine friendship. A spirituality
of communion implies the ability to see what is positive in others, to welcome
it and prize it as a gift from God, and also as a gift for us. It means knowing
how to make room for brothers and sisters, bearing each other's burdens, and
resisting those selfish temptations that constantly beset us and provoke competition,
coercion, distrust, and jealousy.
I believe that Novo Millennio Inuente provides a marvelous
ecclesiology for the work of the New Covenant. It promotes a concept
of the church as a communion, reflective of the life of the Triune God, a body
of believers energized by the power of the Holy Spirit to carry out the mission
of God incarnate, Jesus Christ. It proclaims a vision of who we are and what
we are to become. It confirms the need for pastoral planning, but planning open
to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. It calls for a spirituality of community,
which demands education and training. It is a life-giving spirituality that
binds the church's members in a deep and intimate union, willing to bear each
other's burdens in imitation of Christ. It is a spirituality that is able to
stand up to opposition, to be patient in adversity, to be forgiving of adversaries.
New Covenant's "Ministering Together"
is a wonderful companion piece to Novo Millennio Inuente.
Its collaborative process finds a theological base for its strategic
pastoral directions. Novo Millennio Inuente provides
profound insights into the mystery of the church as a communion
of disciples. It shapes our vision of what we are trying to
achieve and where the source of energy is to help us. We discover
from these two documents that the particular churches are in
union with the mind of the universal church. As the Steering
Committee of Phase IV of New Covenant, we look forward
with hope and trust in the Triune God that we can assist the
church in becoming a sacrament of healing for all of God's people.
We look forward to discovering local leaders, bishops, pastors,
religious, and laity who are interested in integrating the ministries
of the church so that it will become a vital communion of disciples
in creating communities of compassion and justice.
Copyright © 2002 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.