On June 5, I will ordain eight fine men to be new priests for the family of God in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
This is the second class of priests ordained during the pandemic. These new priests, too, will be called to be missionaries to a generation that has seen its certainties and securities disrupted by a deadly plague.
I think history will look back and see that the pandemic did not transform things so much as accelerate trends and directions already at work in the Church and society. Changes that might have taken decades to play out will advance more quickly in the wake of this disease.
Before the pandemic, we were seeing demographic and other changes in the Church resulting in fewer people attending Mass and getting married in the Church, with fewer baptisms, and fewer young people receiving first Communion and confirmation.
At least for a few years, the pandemic will likely intensify these trends, along with other challenges posed by the Church’s position in an aggressively secular society. That includes the trend of the “nones” — the growing numbers of young people who choose not to affiliate with the Church or any organized religion.
The Church will also need to cope with the sharp decrease in the numbers of children being born. This trend, too, has been sped up by the pandemic, with some researchers now speaking of a “Covid baby bust.”
The challenges we face will require us to think deeply in the coming years about our parishes and schools, about our diocesan structures and finances, and about the shape of our mission.
But as I look to the future, I see only reasons for hope.
One beautiful trend that was visible in the Church before the pandemic is what I call the “missionary turn” among Catholics — the growing awareness that every one of us in the Church is baptized and summoned to be saints and missionary disciples of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The vocations of our new priests flow out of this new missionary awakening in the Church. Our new priests are men formed for mission, each having heard and answered Christ’s personal call of Jesus to love him and proclaim his Gospel with their lives.
Jesus Christ is still the only answer, the meaning of our lives and the One we live for. Love for God and obedience to him will always be the only way for the Church and the only path for our lives.
Our new priests know this. They are committed to a deep evangelization of our culture, beginning with a new call to the baptized to intensify their devotion and faith commitments.
Evangelization in these years after the pandemic must begin anew in our homes and parishes. Our new priests know that our first task is to strengthen the faithful and call them back to the Church. We need to establish everywhere little “ecosystems of faith,” new environments where the faith can find a home and be lived and nurtured, nourished and handed on.
If we have eyes to see, we can see that this is already starting — quietly, among countless ordinary Catholics who are striving to be everyday saints, witnessing to God in their friendships and families and in their commitments in society.
The task for the Church is to look for ways to support these beautiful movements of the Spirit already at work. We need to help young families trying to raise their children to know Jesus, especially. We need to proclaim the faith as a way of life to our young people and help everyone to know and live their faith with zeal and joy.
We will need a new spirituality for this post-pandemic era. We see that, too, is already beginning. We see it in the new thirst for holiness among our people, their hunger to know the word of God, and their deepening desire for the Eucharist as the presence of the living God among us and the bread that we must live by.
Out of the disaster of the coronavirus, which exposed the fragility of life and the nearness of death, will come a new awakening of the faith among our Catholic people, and a religious revival in our society. I am confident of this.
Pray for me this week and I will pray for you. And let us pray for our new priests, the missionaries called to prepare the way for a new awakening of the faith in our hearts and in our society.
And let us ask Mary, the Mother of the Church, to bring us many more vocations to the priesthood and to inspire in all of us a new desire to love God and to live only for him.