Inviting others to know Christ in a life-changing way Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Thursday, Aug. 08, 2013 -- 12:00 AM

This column is the bishop's communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear Friends,

I suppose (after all the coverage here, as well as a very fair and good piece by Doug Erickson in the State Journal) it will come as no surprise to you that this past week I marked 10 years as Bishop of Madison.

I’m so grateful to God for having given me the blessing of these 10 years of service to this local Church and I’m so very grateful to you all. Thank you for your prayers, your faith, your encouragement, and, yes, your constructive criticism through the past years. God willing, I’ll have almost 10 more with you, and I hope we can continue to do great things together — always with His grace and help.

Communicating with the people of the diocese

Over the past 10 years I’ve had many a good person come to me — whether through letters or in person, at Masses and events around the diocese — to say basically, “Bishop we want to help, but we’re not really sure where you’re going. What are you trying to do?”

It seems, from speaking to them, that much of the confusion comes from my taking a different style than that to which they may be accustomed — I speak rather loudly and in a straightforward manner, in a culture which has become obsessed with an idea of “tolerance” (which equates to never making Truth claims,) and never saying anything that may make people uncomfortable.

So, that’s one thing that throws people off. In addition, I believe, the tensions in our country have created such a divide that so many people are intent on reading all comments and statements through a political lens. I think this is especially the case in politically-charged Madison. Combine all of this with our sound bite conditioned media, my own personal failings, and my tendency toward speaking as the philosophy teacher I always remain, and I would certainly admit that confusion exists.

To an extent, there’s only so much I can do to control the way my words are transmitted, and I can do nothing to control the way they are received, but I can keep trying. And I will. There is a great deal that I’ve been learning from our Pope Francis, and one of the most important things of which he’s reminded me is that we must keep going out, trying again, and not becoming too comfortable with where things are. And so, I will not.

Diocese of Madison Mission Statement

In that spirit, let me offer, once again, the “Mission Statement” I introduced for the Diocese of Madison, not long after I arrived: “We serve to ensure that all individuals throughout the 11-county diocese are graciously invited every day to meet Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, face to face and be changed by Him.”

If you want to know where I am going, and what I want to do, the starting point is in the above statement. Every blessed one of us has a responsibility to make certain that we are going out each day, to encounter individuals and to invite them to meet Jesus Christ personally, in a life-changing way! Now, this presupposes a few things.

In the first place, our mission presupposes that we know Jesus Christ ourselves, in order that we might even be able to make the introduction and invitation for others to know Him. It does not mean we have to be experts in Theology, but it does mean that we are active in building our relationship with Him.

How do we do that? Through prayer, through receiving the Sacraments, by listening to Jesus, speaking to Him, and loving Him with a love that is ever-deeper. To know Jesus is to desire to know Him more intimately.

Knowing Jesus leads us to utter the Psalmist’s prayer, “Make known to me your ways, LORD; teach me your paths. Guide me by your fidelity and teach me, for you are God my Savior, for you I wait all the day long” (Ps 25:4-5). He has given us every help we need for knowing His ways and seeking his paths. He has given us the defined teaching of the Church to make certain that we are on the right path. He has given us the Liturgy (which is a glimpse of Heaven) to help us on our path to Heaven.

Know Him. Pray. Pray on your own, with your families, and with your parish communities. Know Him.

‘The way, the truth, and the life’

As we come to know Him, we come to know and to believe that He is, “the way, the truth, and the life,” and that no one comes to the Father except through Him (Jn 14:6), and that’s the second presupposition of our Mission Statement — we must believe so much in what we have in Jesus, that we are ready to go to each and every person and to make the invitation.

Either Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, or He is not. It’s not simply that, “this way works for me,” or “this is my truth,” or “this is the life for me.” Either Christ is God, or He is not. If we believe that He is, that should have an effect on every aspect of our lives, and it should inspire us to go to everyone and to make the invitation.

We make the invitation “graciously,” and that’s the third point here. We offer Jesus — the way, the truth, and the life — but we do it always with a smile and always with deep love in our hearts. I aim to do nothing without love, but so often when I say things (and especially if they are hard things to hear) it comes across as lacking in love, and that is certainly not the case. We make our invitation graciously and with love, even while knowing that the invitation itself can be a challenge to people.

The fourth presupposition is that we are making every effort to invite everyone, and that means going out. This is one of the messages that Pope Francis has really been hitting home. In Brazil, he told the bishops, priests, Religious, and seminarians to make sure we are forming young people who are ready to “go out.”

“We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities, when so many people are waiting for the Gospel!” the Holy Father said. “It is not enough simply to open the door in welcome, but we must go out through that door to seek and meet the people! Let us courageously look to pastoral needs, beginning on the outskirts, with those who are farthest away . . . go and look for them in the nooks and crannies of the streets . . .”

Going out and inviting people in

Yes, we should be working to make certain that our worship is beautiful, that we are spending our own time in prayer, that we’re spending time on parish programs, etc., but that is not enough. In order to invite people in, we have to go out. This is not just a message for bishops, priests, Religious, and seminarians (though it is that). Rather, it is for all of us.

We also have to be clear and loving about the place to which we are inviting people. Indeed we are meeting people where they . . . but inviting them to be changed, and that is the final presupposition. We must be clear that a relationship with Jesus does not come cheap or easy. His grace and salvation are freely given . . . if we but deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him (Lk 9:23, Mt 10:38 et al.). We must not deny that it is the cross to which we are inviting people, but through the cross comes Resurrection and everlasting life.

It is indeed an invitation to all, and it’s an invitation we should deliver in the most convincing and loving of ways, but it’s an invitation to change — or, rather to be changed. This is why the simple phrase, “All Are Welcome,” rings hollow. I’ve spoken of the song by that title and its deficiencies for use in the Sacred Liturgy, and I bring it up for a reason. As I’ve looked back on 10 years, I think my comments on the song, “All Are Welcome,” are easily among the most mistaken and misused that are out there. Some have taken my criticism of the song and stretched that to mean that I do not think we should be doing the mission that I have in fact set for the diocese.

Let me state this clearly. Of course, all are welcome to join with us. And that’s not all; we have an obligation and duty to go out and to tell people that they are welcome, to invite them in to receive what we have received — to meet Jesus Christ risen from the dead face-to-face, and to be changed by Him! But the meaning of all that is much more than can be summed up by the simple phrase, “all are welcome.”

So, yes, go out and make sure all know that they are welcome. And if they come to your parishes make sure that they know they are welcome! But make sure they know the whole story. Above, I referenced the 10th Chapter of Matthew. In Matthew 10 Jesus is telling the first bishops, His apostles, how they should go out on their own missions. Read it; I think it is overly simplistic to boil those instructions down to, “go tell everybody, ‘all are welcome’.” There’s so much more there, and people deserve more. They deserve true welcome, real love.

I hope that this is at least a helpful starting point as we look forward to the years ahead. I am overwhelmingly optimistic when I look to the signs of what is already happening here, and I know the Lord has so much more in store (with persecutions besides)! So, thanks be to God for 10 good years, but please God, He will grant us many more good years ahead. I renew my invitation to you here: come with me to meet Jesus Christ, to love His Church, to be changed by Him, to do the will of His Father, and to be His Living Body here in the world. “Get up, let us go!”

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and for your continued prayers. May God continue to bless each one of you! Praised be Jesus Christ!