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THAT CHRIST BE FORMED IN US

Bishop SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS

June 26, 2007

National Meeting of Diocesan Treasurers

General Santos City

 

 

My dear brothers and Sisters in Christ:

 

If this were a planning session of finance officers of various branches or subsidiaries of a Corporation you would be certain that it would have taken several people to plan it. In business parlance it is calledthe pre-planning phase. This pre-planning phase involves a number of brainstorming sessions and meetings to finalize the details of the actual planning session. Management spends a tremendous amount of time and money on planning the planning session, and, of course, on the planning session itself. Big corporations view these sessions with great seriousness and purpose because their yearly operations depend a lot, if not entirely, on their annual business plan.

Thankfully we are not a corporation. Nevertheless we can learn a thing or two about the way corporations approach planning. While we, who work in the Church, never lack in good intentions, our plans sometimes can sometimes fall by the wayside because they are not followed, or worse, they do not bring about the desired results. Sometimes, too, our plans are changed or stopped in midstream such as when the priest who heads the department is reassigned and a new one, with new ideas and priorities, takes his place. One thing going for the Church is that she has a huge reservoir of patience, and planning, pastoral planning, becomes for us an annual ritual. Partly because it is also an occasion for us to get together, and we all know how Church people love to get together. Another reason is that we never give up. While we know that plans can be changed or discarded all together, we always try, in the off chance that we will finally succeed. Thus it is safe to say that we, Church workers are not easily daunted by the word planning. We plan a lot. We have parish pastoral plans, diocesan pastoral plans, and national pastoral plans. All ministries go through planning, oftentimes in a beachside resort. This gathering is proof positive of our penchant for planning. It would seem that if we do not plan, nothing will move and nothing will happen. Or that, even if we plan, things can still take a different direction, far from the goal our plans were intended to bring us. Over the years I have come to realize that there is a sure-fire way to have our plans lead us to where we are going. The key is "where we are going." What is our final goal, what is our destination. I think that if we keep our focus on this we will not be waylaid, and our plans will be right on target. It has been said that the essence of planning is a movement from self-knowledge to vision and from vision to an improved practice. Oftentimes we think that we should change our plans, and we do not realize that the plans should change us. That maybe there is something in our attitude or behavior that needs to be adjusted. In a deeper way, we should think of the plan as a tool of conversion, making us better persons, better servants, better church workers. Thus I am proposing to you today a way of planning that is radical because it will not be the usual path of evaluation, goal setting and producing key results. The main focus is on you and on Christ. Any plan that does not consider Jesus Christ being formed inside of us is not a plan but a set of instructions. The ultimate goal of your pastoral planning should be: To have Christ formed in you. When this happens, the direction will be clear, the steps will be sure and steady and the results will be immeasurable and beyond target. This type of pastoral planning involves four things.

First, pastoral planning must be at the service of pastoral charity. The law of planning is love. And we direct this love not at ourselves but to God, and not to an abstract God but to God who is in others. The others who are made in the image and likeness of God. When Jesus Christ decided to direct his disciples to some sort of planning, he did not take out charts and statistics. He tied a towel around his waist, took a basin of water and knelt down and washed and kissed the feet of his disciples. He was telling them this is the plan I have for you: when you serve you must be ready to stoop down, not in subservience but in love. There is no more vivid depiction of a kind of service that is imbued with pastoral charity than the way our Lord himself showed us. This is the only way of service that he showed us in the Gospel, in his life, except the ultimate expression of all which is the giving up of his life for others. But while we serve it is always to bend down, to get on our knees, to get our hands dirtied, to do the most abject thing, and to do it with love. We cannot close our eyes to this example of Jesus Christ. We cannot detach ourselves from this eloquent teaching in the Gospel when we make our pastoral plans and say that it should not be what we should doing simply because we are involved in business-like matters such as handling funds or investing money. When we serve we should serve the way Jesus showed us how. And this should be at the core of our pastoral planning. Whatever we do, however we must do it, our service must be directed at charity, at love for others. The law of planning is love. When we love we put order in our actions. Married couples do not just love in a helter-skelter way. They love to build a family and to act responsibly in bringing up and nurturing this family. Within this order of things they become more loving, more caring, more nurturing, and all the members of the family grow with wisdom and understanding. The same is true in our workplaces. We can apply the same principles in our work in the Church, where we are involved with a larger family. Here our love and service will thrive amidst order and harmony. When we put our service in the direction of pastoral charity we move together towards a common vision. This is the way we can better love one another. We become bound by a common purpose, our pilgrimage processes towards the same destination. That is how we are assured of our steps, even among thorny tracks we persevere together because our eyes are set on the road ahead, and we tread on fueled by the growing love for one another that our common journey develops in us. Those three things define our pastoral planning that is at the service of pastoral charity. First the law of planning is love.

Second, we put a sense of order so that we can be more loving. Third, we adopt a common vision so that our love for one another grows and is strengthened. And we should not forget the fourth is when we plan with love, we must seriously consider and give preferential option to the weak ones. We are not all strong, and we are not all weak. There will be times when those among us will be strong and times when we will be weak. When we always look after the weak we exercise a love that together builds us up. We each become each other's keeper and helper. The gauge of our strength is how the weakest among us is strong.

 

PRAYER & DOCILITY OF THE SPIRIT

The second aspect of pastoral planning is that it must be rooted in prayer and driven by the docility of the Spirit. We all draw from the same fountain of love and truth. This is the source of all grace and blessing. It is only through prayer that we are led to this fountain. It is through prayer that the Spirit dwells in us and gives us its gifts. The good weather forecaster follows the direction of the wind and, does not and cannot, tell the wind where to blow. Through prayer we are shown the direction of the Spirit and we are guided in our thoughts, actions and plans. The secret of pastoral planning is the life of prayer of all its agents. Sometimes, in our eagerness to achieve and gain success, we turn to measurable results. We want our achievements quantified and projected as tall, vertical bars on a graph, or upward lines on a chart. But the truth is we can never gauge the success of a pastoral plan on the basis of measurable political, economic or statistical benefits. We cannot say "only the projects are important and not my life or the lives of all who are involved in it." When we can only be satisfied with quantifiable, statistically and economically or even politically desirable results arising from our pastoral plans then we can well be on the way to perdition. We may derive success for a while, but we will surely falter in the long run. The plans that we make must be born out of prayer and must be propelled by our openness to the silent action of the Spirit dwelling in us. My brothers and sisters there is no alternative or shortcut to this and I cannot emphasize this enough.

 

COMMUNIO IN ACTION

 

There is a great temptation among task-oriented people to do all the work themselves, "to save time."; These people usually have a very low regard for the ideas of others and a very high regard for their own skills and talents. It is true that weight of many people planning can bring the ship down, however, if we follow our previous theory, it is not only the plans which are important but more so the people who plan and the process by which the plans are arrived at. The process of planning is a movement towards unity. Pastoral planning brings together the Church, clergy, laity, and religious, into one action. This is the movement of the Spirit. Where all His children are one, there is also God's plan. The way we do pastoral planning must always direct us towards communion, towards that bond of unity that makes us profess God as our Father. It is good to see the pastoral plan put in writing in a well-crafted, eloquent fashion. But must not sacrifice the process whereby we consult and listen. Love always listens and is mindful of the other. The process should lead us to results, but more importantly, it should lead us to conversion and unity. Process should be communion in action.

 

PASTORAL PLANNING AS MISSION

At the heart of every pastoral planning is the call of God to establish His Kingdom, to make it known, to make it take root in each of us. Our life is directed towards the Kingdom of God, as he promised us. Thus when we do pastoral planning it should be part of the mission to establish His Kingdom. It should be the door we step through to lead us to the Kingdom. Each aspect of our plan, from how we record the smallest collection we receive, to the greatest challenge of being good stewards of our Church's treasure, should be a proclamation of God's Kingdom; that through these actions God may be known, obeyed, and loved by more and more people, each day. We occupy only a portion of the universal Church, and in unity with the whole Church, we must be at the service of the transformation of society. Pro vita mundi. This is our world, and it is here where God's Kingdom begins. These are the four major components of pastoral planning that I propose to you. It may not jibe with corporate jargon and ethos, but I view them as the four corners of a square which connect all equal sides, into a perfect geometric shape. But in a more spiritual sense I view them as the four points of the cross, with Jesus Christ at the center, and its focal point. We cannot do any pastoral planning without Jesus Christ on the Cross. It is not to say that our tasks as diocesan treasurers surely lead to Crucifixion. Well, that is, of course, a constant possibility and a possible reality. It is rather to say that any plans that we do, any service that we render, should be done through Jesus, in Jesus, and with Jesus. Not merely as an invocation, but Jesus Christ as our guide, our companion, our friend.

 

It is my prayer dear friends that your gathering, your actions, your plans, your service, your prayer and your commitment, be filled with love, the love that God our Father so tenderly expressed in His Son Jesus Christ, through the indwelling of the Spirit.

 

 

 

Amen.

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The Roman Catholic
Diocese of Balanga
(Bataan, Philippines)