‘Do not be afraid!’

By Father Frederick L. Cain

Part 32 of a series

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As I’ve read through the On Mission columns in the Pittsburgh Catholic, I can imagine very diverse reactions among the readers. Some might come away with the fear that “My peaceful experience of Christ in my church might disappear!” But let me quickly quote nearly the first words in 1978 of then-newly elected Pope John Paul II: “Do not be afraid!”

That’s based on 46 years of personal experience as a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. In that time I have never asked for any of the assignments I’ve had: as parochial vicar, confessor to sisters, student and resident chaplain of a University of Notre Dame dorm, spiritual director of St. Paul Seminary, weekend assistant to parish, senior parochial vicar, administrator and pastor of another parish, dean and now regional vicar of Vicariate 2.

In each of those assignments, by saying “yes” and begging the Lord to guide me, my eyes and heart were opened to blessed experiences in personal growth and understanding of God’s movement in my life. I would hope similar experiences were had by those I was privileged to serve. Without the willingness to accept new challenges life can become stagnant or routine.

I can’t help but think each person has similar experiences. A young couple falls in love, but only in saying “yes” and sharing life do they realize both the giftedness of their own life and the gift that the other is to them.

A couple once said to me after the first year of marriage: “You told us that ‘you think you know one another or you wouldn’t dream of marrying. But the wealth of things you will discover about one another will amaze you … the good and the not-so-good! If you are patient and remember God created you, that he is always with you, the three of us can handle anything!’”

The religious sisters and brothers among us give another blessed insight in this day and age. We’ve watched many grow older but still actively contribute to the church and the community. They are like the Energizer bunny. No longer only in classrooms or hospitals, you will find their diverse talents at work everywhere.

But they have experienced the same struggles that our diocesan church now faces. Their numbers decreased, their mission changed, their resources dwindled, and they came to realize that in order to continue their service to the church they had to identify their areas of expertise and the real needs of the church, while fulfilling their responsibility for older members of their communities.

This involved letting go of identities related to motherhouses, current employment and even their separate community identities. Their buildings and the preservation of properties could hold them back from living their charism of service to the poor, witnessing to the Gospel among people they didn’t yet know but felt God was calling them to be attentive to. Their life is in God and in Christ, guided by the Spirit.

Every time one of these people has said “yes,” they have not died but risen to a new and spirited life that brings purpose and joy to heart, mind and spirit. This dying and rising is what On Mission for The Church Alive! challenges each of us to do as we more fully learn Jesus, love Jesus and live Jesus.

Let us not be afraid. A whole new and vibrant life awaits this whole church.

Father Cain is regional vicar of Vicariate 2.

Follow On Mission for The Church Alive! on Twitter at @PghChurchAlive. Have something to share about how your parish is On Mission? Use the hashtags #ChurchAlive and #OnMissionPgh.

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