Bishop Sample speaks to middle schoolers during a 2011 conference in Marquette.
'We Wish to See Jesus'
In 2012, Archbishop Alexander Sample wrote "We Wish to See Jesus," a pastoral letter to the people of the Diocese of Marquette on the New Evangelization and the Year of Faith. In it, he identified seven pastoral priorities: holiness, prayer, the Sunday Eucharist, the sacrament of reconciliation, the primacy of grace, listening to the Word and proclaiming the Word.
He also cited three fronts for the New Evangelization: liturgy, catechesis and charity. The title of the pastoral letter is based on John 12:21, in which some curious Greeks say they would like to see Jesus rather than just hear about him.
Here are some excerpts:
• "It is time to take up again the mission that Jesus Christ has given to us to proclaim the Gospel and draw others to life in Christ and in his Church."
• "We cannot set about this important mission of the new evangelization without first strengthening our own faith and coming into a deeper knowledge of and relationship with Jesus Christ in our own lives."
• "We cannot settle for a shallow or superficial prayer life that places us at risk in the face of so many challenges to the life of faith in our age. Our parish and mission communities must become genuine 'schools of prayer.'"
• "The renewal of divine worship in the Sacred Liturgy must be seen as an integral part of the New Evangelization."
• "The simple fact is that for well over a generation, we have not done the best we could to hand on the gift of faith, especially to the young. But that means that we also have an adult population in the Church that is largely uncatechized in the most fundamental elements of the Catholic faith. Special emphasis must be placed on Sacred Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church."
• "We must also witness to our faith in Jesus Christ in our daily lives, especially in our works of charity and kindness toward the poor and those who are in most need among us. One of the most powerful ways in which we evangelize is through the mercy and assistance we give to those who are suffering and in need of our love."
MARQUETTE, Mich. — As Archbishop Alexander Sample drives past an evangelical mega-church here, he says such movements are full of worshipers who have stopped practicing Catholicism.
In response, he feels hope and zeal, not anger or despair.
"We Catholics need to do better outreach," Archbishop Sample says. "We need to create a sense of belonging and care for one another."
He cites Father Robert Barron, an author and television host who says non-practicing Catholics report that only rarely does anyone from their old parish inquire about them or ask why they stopped attending Mass.
Archbishop Sample has shaped his ministry around the New Evangelization. The movement calls on Catholics to learn and embrace their faith so deeply that they feel comfortable issuing invitations to Catholics who've left.
It's often said that, after Catholics, the nation's largest religious group is former Catholics.
"It's in the daily living, in work, in school, in sports, in the concrete circumstances of your lives that you are salt, light and leaven," Archbishop Sample tells Catholics. "As a bishop, I can't reach that person who is angry with the church or who left the church. You can."
Decades ago, Pope John Paul established what he called the New Evangelization. Archbishop Sample is haunted in a good way by something Pope John Paul wrote: People of the world don't want us only to talk about Jesus; they want us to show them Jesus. That's only possible, the pope explained, if we ourselves have first contemplated the face of Jesus and come to know him. One cannot give what one does not have.
And so, according to the New Evangelization, those participating in church life need to be catechized anew in order to share the faith with others.
"I think that is the key," Archbishop Sample says. "People say we need to get inactive Catholics back to the church right now. How? We are not ready."
Taking action on his predecessor's idea, Pope Benedict set up a Vatican department for the New Evangelization and linked it to catechesis and a council. The pope dedicated a synod and declared a Year of Faith to prepare the church for evangelizing in a new way.
"The pope made it clear that the New Evangelization is directed to the baptized, those who have drifted away, who have ceased practicing the faith because they were never properly catechized," says the archbishop. "For our generation, when challenges came to faith, whether it was from secularism or other Christian communities or scandal, it was easy to drift away because they didn't know the church."
Porta Fidei, a 2011 apostolic letter from Pope Benedict, designated the Year of Faith for the whole church ending in November, 2013. In the letter, the pope said, "Ever since the start of my ministry as Successor of Peter, I have spoken of the need to rediscover the journey of faith so as to shed ever clearer light on the joy and renewed enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ."
The pope emeritus seemed to realize there is a crisis of faith, even among those in the pews on Sunday. He urged Catholics to embrace the creed more firmly and live out belief. "Faith grows when it is lived," Pope Benedict wrote, confident such acts would fire up missionary urges. Archbishop Sample compares the notion to a runner, who becomes stronger by practice.
To start the Year of Faith, Archbishop Sample went on a cross-shaped weekend pilgrimage in his diocese in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, from north to south and west to east. Along the way, he celebrated Masses and walked through cities and islands with Catholics, bearing a large wooden cross. He prayed in the car as he traveled and spoke to local media, sounding a theme — Catholics will be embracing their faith with more zeal and showing Jesus to the world.
In the Diocese of Marquette, the Year of Faith is flowing in four "moments," or sections. The design is Archbishop Sample's.
The year began last fall with a focus on the sacrament of reconciliation and a campaign to invite more use of confession.
Then came a phase on scripture. Catholics all over the diocese brought their Bibles to church to be blessed, made plans to read scripture daily and enthroned the sacred books in their homes. This being the 50th year since the start of the Second Vatican Council, they studied the Council's document on divine revelation, Dei Verbum.
The third moment, a focus on Eucharist, began during the Triduum. Catechesis is helping Catholics on the Upper Peninsula understand the Mass and embrace it for what it is, a cosmic moment when we encounter the divine. The faithful are reading the Vatican II document on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium.
The final moment, which starts at Pentecost, highlights the sending forth at Mass. Vatican II documents to be read then include Lumen Gentium, on the nature of the church, and Gaudium et Spes, which set forth the role of the church in the modern world. The idea is that Catholics are being commissioned to do the work of the New Evangelization.
The Year of Faith will close at Sault Ste. Marie, at the far east end of the diocese, where Jesuit Father Jacques Marquette founded a mission in the 17th century. The location will be a symbol that the year is a new beginning, yet evangelization remains linked to origins and tradition.
"I don't want the Year of Faith to be something we complete and then just pat ourselves on the back," Archbishop Sample says. "The Year of Faith is only the beginning of a whole new era in the church."
He established a Diocese of Marquette council for the New Evangelization, not just for the year, but to guide the local church far into the future.
"This year is only to get us ready for the work ahead," he says.
Loreene Zeno Koskey, director of communications and development for the Diocese of Marquette, says the archbishop is "utterly dedicated to the New Evangelization." He wants active Catholics to have a relationship with Jesus and learn about their faith so they can authentically and effectively invite back those who have left.
"He is very faith-filled. That may be the number one gift he brought to our diocese," says Koskey, who has served in Marquette for 26 years.
Archbishop Sample's episcopal motto is Vultum Christi Contemplari! (To Contemplate the Face of Christ!). It comes from Pope John Paul's 2003 encyclical to revive amazement at the Eucharist. The archbishop chose his motto not knowing the implications. He initially thought of it as referring to his own spirituality. But since then, it has become a theme of the New Evangelization, the movement that has defined his ministry. "It has shaped my whole vision of how we move forward as a church," he says.
The new Archbishop of Portland is highly energized when people join the church.
"I assure you this is a special day and occasion for us," he told a congregation of Catholics-to-be gathered at St. Peter Cathedral in Marquette Feb. 17 for the rite of election. "This gives me such joy and such hope to know that God still continues to call sons and daughters to the church and these same sons and daughters continue to say yes to the Lord, yes to this call."
In modern culture, the church can't soften its beliefs to fit in, Archbishop Sample insists. That, he explains, will foil the mission of transforming the world.
"How are we going to convince the world of Jesus Christ if we aren't convinced?" he says. "If we are wishy-washy, we're lost."
There's a lukewarmness that can creep slowly over people of faith, he says. It even happens to him on occasion.
"You settle for the status quo," he explains. "You are lulled. Part of our call is to be set on fire for this work. We can't just be giving lip service to it."
Every morning for the past two months, he has been saying a prayer for the people of the Upper Peninsula and western Oregon: "Come, Holy Spirit, set our hearts on fire."
The idea of a universal call to holiness "has lost its punch since Vatican II," Archbishop Sample says. But the notion is the very foundation of the New Evangelization and needs to be re-proposed and rediscovered, he contends.
"It's not just the pope, bishops, priests, sisters, brothers and monks. Everyone is called to holiness in his or her own state of life," the archbishop explains. "If you are a factory worker, it means being the best factory worker you can be and knowing that you are sanctifying the world through your work and that you are a person who lives out values and virtues. If I am working on the factory floor, I am called to holiness right there."
He's not asking Catholics to proselytize continually in the lunch room. But Catholics do need to improve their evangelizing.
"It can be sharing what gives you hope, what gives you courage," he says. "People will ask themselves, 'What does that person have that I don't have? Why does he or she have such serenity in life?' That opens the door to talking about faith."
Business leaders and bankers, don't be greedy, he advises. Don't put profit above people. Archbishop Sample's father, a banker, seemed to understand the principle. At his funeral, large numbers of mourners stepped forward to say he had helped them in hard times without fanfare.
The archbishop tells people like janitors that they are meant to be holy in their jobs. Going to work is about more than getting a paycheck.
"And the mother who stays home —" he concludes, "she changes diapers, washes the toilet and is called to holiness right there where she is."