Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Acts of the Apostles is a guide for our Pastoral Plan

By Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, Commentary | Published April 16, 2015  | En Español

“The community of believers was of one heart and mind.”

These words from last Sunday’s first reading brought back a vivid memory from my earliest years as a priest. I began my ill-fated homily that Sunday on which this same reading was proclaimed with a suggestion that this idyllic passage was as much a prayer and a longing as it was a reality for St. Luke as he wrote about church life in its initial moments. Even as a still very young priest, I knew and had already experienced some of the conflicts and disagreements that almost constantly were a part of ecclesial life 40 years ago—and things have not changed significantly since then.

After explaining that the Church always possesses the Holy Spirit as our surest source of unity in spite of church disagreements, I thought my homily was pretty much on target. A person at Mass with me that day disagreed vigorously and proceeded to tell me as much after Mass. I was accused of not accepting the literal translation and meaning of Sacred Scripture.

I remember that encounter after these many years later because it demonstrated my point better than my homily might well have done. The Church is a community permanently longing for unity—longing to experience the oneness of which St. Luke writes—but that unity always lies just beyond us at any given moment as the Holy Spirit continues to urge and guide us toward that goal.

The entire Book of the Acts of the Apostles that we listen to so generously throughout the Easter Season tells the story of the Church’s growth and development during the first century. As the message of the Gospel continued to spread among peoples well beyond its initial Jewish beginnings, the question that introduces our Pastoral Plan was asked repeatedly: “Am I in there?” Is the Church big enough and open enough to accept me—a Gentile, a Greek, a Roman?

We have never stopped asking that very same question as we continue to proclaim the Gospel today. “Am I in there?” I’m a single parent, a widower, an undocumented immigrant, a divorced and remarried Catholic, a more traditional Catholic, a convicted felon, a non-practicing Catholic, a young adult who has serious questions about the teachings of the Church—“Am I in there?”

The Book of the Acts of the Apostles tells the story of how the infant community of believers grappled with issues of inclusion, acceptance, accommodation and welcome. These stories did not always have easy answers or solutions. The Apostles sometimes disagreed over pastoral questions and approaches, but in spite of the conflicts, the Church continued to grow—as she must always grow and develop in each age and in every culture under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Our Pastoral Plan is one that hopes to answer that question for those who pose it anew in north and central Georgia in 2015. Our Church must be open and welcoming enough to embrace all who seek to be a member of this faith family. How we welcome others and include them will be a challenge that will test us and stretch us. We must first know the faith of our Church—strive to live it with integrity—desire to spread it and allow the one faith of the Church to shape our parish life together. These were the identical challenges that the Apostolic Church faced and achieved under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

“The community of believers was of one heart and mind.”

How every pastor, every minister, every layperson must long for that portrayal to be a reality and how enthusiastically we must all open our minds and hearts to the workings of the Holy Spirit to bring about that day when those words will be perfectly fulfilled.

Our Pastoral Plan is designed to draw the Church in north and central Georgia closer to that day, knowing that only the Holy Spirit can achieve that goal. We stand ready to support one another and to work under the guidance of the Spirit to advance His work in our own time and in these 69 counties in north and central Georgia.