Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA (Munday, January 28, 2019, Gaudium Press) Being and making disciples of Christ is a life-long project that requires a continued renewal of focus and recommitment to the Lord, Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City said in his new pastoral letter.
“It is my prayer that we continue to advance in a direction that bears abundant fruit in the coming years, even ‘thirty, sixty and a hundredfold.’ I call you to be disciples and go make disciples! This is why we are here! This is our mission,” he said.
Five years ago, Coakley released “Go Make Disciples,” a multi-year vision of holiness and mission for his Archdiocese. It laid out three specific areas of missionary need, including the new evangelization, Hispanic ministry and faith formation.
In his new letter, titled “Go Make Disciples: Building a Culture of Conversion and Discipleship” Coakley looks back and gives thanks for the good fruit born in the archdiocese since the first letter, and he also shares his desire for the archdiocese to recommit to discipleship and evangelization in new ways.
“Much has happened in the past five years, and there is much to celebrate,” he said, noting the establishment of a new evangelization office, the strengthening of faith formation, and the “tremendous momentum” within the archdiocesan Hispanic ministry.
Coakley’s letter also gave thanks for the beatification of Blessed Stanley Rother in 2017, a “momentous occasion (that) marked a new chapter in the life of the Church in Oklahoma and attracted Catholics and non-Catholics from around the world to celebrate the life and witness of the first U.S.-born martyr and parish priest ever beatified,” he said.
“We celebrate these accomplishments and acknowledge the undeniable signs of God’s grace and favor,” he said. “We never would have accomplished these things without his divine assistance. God always takes the initiative. He awaits our response.”
Amid these blessings, Coakley also recognized the time of crisis that the Church as a whole is currently undergoing.
“…I am aware of our struggles and scandals as well,” he said. “We are living through a time of crisis in our beloved Church due to recent revelations of sexual abuse and the abuse of power, and violations of trust by members of the clergy, the very men in whom we should be able to recognize the loving image of Christ the Good Shepherd. Such an evil betrayal understandably provokes anger, confusion and sadness.”
“In these times when our faith may be shaken, we must turn to God and humbly rededicate ourselves to repentance and the pursuit of holiness. God has not abandoned us. He will always be faithful, even when we are not.” In these times of both blessings and challenges, the call to be and make disciples is always being renewed, but the ultimate goal “has not changed,” Coakley noted. “We are called to be disciples; called to pursue holiness and mission; called to become saints. We are still called to evangelize, to be witnesses, and to live authentic lives as missionary disciples. After five years, we have greater clarity and alignment in our mission.”
His new letter aims to chart out the direction of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City for the next 12 years, he said, with plans to both attract new disciples and to nourish those already on the way.
“The deepest desire of my heart is to see the Church of central and western Oklahoma flourish as a community of faith that nurtures and raises up fervent missionary disciples,” he said. “Our task is to prepare good soil to receive the seed of faith.” In his letter, Coakley asked the members of his archdiocese to meditate on the parable of the sower, found in the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 13. In the parable, seed is sown on three types of soil – hard soil, rocky ground, and good soil. The seed in the parable is a symbol for the Word of God, while the soil symbolizes a person’s heart and disposition towards the word of God. Coakley encouraged Catholics in his archdiocese to consider what kind of soil they had in their hearts. “How well does one dispose oneself not only to the seed of faith, but to all else that God provides to help with the growth – spiritual nourishment, the watering of grace, the fellowship of other believers?”
It would be a mistake to think one’s heart only contains one kind of soil, he added.
“These varied soils are present in the hearts of each one of us. In our hearts, we all experience hardness. Sometimes our hearts are rocky ground or the thorny soil. All of us face temptations and distractions. There are things that divide our hearts and compete for our allegiance and diminish our fruitfulness,” he noted. “But, we all have good soil as well, and we are invited to constantly cooperate with grace to expand our receptivity to God’s Word in our hearts.
Indeed, the primary work of a spiritual life is to cooperate with God’s grace and cultivate the good soil in our hearts to rid ourselves of those things that compete, distract and hinder our receptivity to God’s life-giving Word.” There are many things present in today’s world that can choke off the Word taking root in good soil, Coakley noted.
He mentioned busyness, distraction, and even legitimate responsibilities as things that can overwhelm disciples if they are not careful. He also mentioned the “noise” of the world through constantly available technology as a possible obstacle to fruitful faith, as well as a culture, “practical” atheism that permeates much of the world today, which acts as though God does not exist. The flesh can also be a serious source of temptation and can pull Catholics away from their work as missionary disciples, he noted. “Missionary discipleship is the fruit of good soil. If the goal throughout our archdiocese is to make more disciples, then we must address these kinds of obstacles, and do all we can to prepare good soil in our hearts,” he said. And not only do disciples need to understand the obstacles they face, but they also need to actively till the “good soil” in their lives so that they do not grow complacent, Coakley said.
“God loves each of us and desires to pursue such a relationship with us. He invites us to make room for him in our daily lives,” he said.
“One of our most life-altering discoveries when we embrace the call of discipleship is to recognize that all time belongs to Christ,” he said. “The person who says he never finds time for prayer, obviously has never made time for prayer. Going to Mass, frequenting the Sacraments, spending time in prayer, taking time for fellowship with other believers, spending time in study of the Scriptures or Church teaching, serving the poor, lifting up the lowly, the corporal works of mercy, etc., are all ways we can use the gift of time in the pursuit of holiness rather than merely for what we desire.” “Till the soil of your heart, be generous in your response to Christ,” he added. “Say ‘yes’ to him and embrace the call to holiness. Be a disciple and accept his challenge to go and make more disciples!” In the final part of his letter, Coakley outlined four things necessary for the building and maintaining of missionary disciples: encounter, accompaniment, community, and sending forth. These will be guiding pastoral priorities that the archdiocese will focus on in the coming years, he noted, and called on priests, religious and lay faith leaders to work to articulate a clear path forward for missionary disciples who must experience personal conversion and evangelization.
First of all, a disciple must have a personal encounter with the Lord, he said. “It is impossible to persevere in a fervent evangelization unless we are convinced from personal experience that it is not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known him; not the same thing to walk with him as to walk blindly; not the same thing to hear his word as not to know it; and not the same thing to contemplate him, to worship him, to find our peace in him, as not to,” he said, quoting Pope Francis. Second, a disciple must be accompanied on their journey with the Lord, which includes catechesis and a deepening of formation, Coakley said. Third, a disciple needs a community of faith.
“Evangelization invites someone not only into relationship with Jesus, but also into relationship with everyone else who is in relationship with him. This is the community we know as the Church, which is brought together by the unique work of the Holy Spirit,” he said. And finally, missionary disciples must be sent forth to create more missionary disciples, he noted.
“Holiness and communion lead necessarily to mission. We cannot separate the call to holiness and communion from the universal call to mission, that is, to the work of evangelization,” he said, referencing his first letter.
Coakley entrusted the mission of building and sending missionary disciples to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
“As we renew our commitment to this journey of conversion and discipleship, I entrust our archdiocese to Mary, the Star of the New Evangelization,” he said.
“As her appearance to Saint Juan Diego at Tepeyac became a wellspring of grace in the evangelization of the Americas, may her intercession today lead us to encounter Jesus anew. Under her spotless mantle may she form us as his missionary disciples for the evangelization of our homes, our parishes and our archdiocese.”