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April 15, 2019 / Kerry Alys Robinson

Be Present. Behold Christ. Love Extravagantly.

Mary Jesus
Daniel F. Gerhartz, American artist, 1965 —

It is a mesmerizing image, not easily forgotten.

Mary beholds Jesus, moves forward to anoint him, lowers herself to pour expensive perfumed oil on his feet and dries them with her hair.

It is an extravagant act of love, free of all inhibition.

In this scene there are others. Mary’s brother, Lazarus, is reclining at the table, fully alive after having recently died and been raised from the dead by Jesus. Martha is busy serving dinner, surely a celebration of thanksgiving for all that Jesus has done to restore their brother to life. Judas, the disciple who would betray Jesus, asks the right question, however impolitic and self-motivated in light of the circumstances, “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?”

But it is Mary that draws and keeps our attention. Fully present in the moment, completely focused on Jesus, she is the essence of gratitude and unbridled love, the one we should emulate. Her action foreshadows what is to come: Jesus washing the feet of his disciples and his impending death, the anointing of his body and the piercing pain of loss for those who loved him. But in this moment, Jesus is alive, present, the object of Mary’s full appreciation and joyful attention.

Whom do we love? For whom are we grateful? When are we fully present? And in what extravagant ways throughout Holy Week will we demonstrate our unalterable gratitude for the central claim of our faith: in dying there is new life.

 

This was written for Saint Thomas More Catholic Chapel and Center at Yale’s Lenten reflection series on the Gospel reading for April 15, 2019, John 12:1-11. 

November 1, 2018 / Kerry Alys Robinson

Life, Death and the Communion of Saints

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My closest friend and colleague for more than twenty years, Fr. Bob Beloin, the Catholic Chaplain at Yale University, died a few weeks ago of glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. Grief, the price we pay for love, is all-consuming. But mercifully, so is faith.

At his Mass of Christian Burial, the homilist began by recalling the words of legendary seminary professor, Fr. Geno Walsh. “Jesus Christ promised those who followed him two things: Your life is going to have meaning and you are going to live forever. If you get a better offer, take it.”

On this day and tomorrow, we remember and celebrate those we have loved in this life who have been born into eternal life. And we are reminded that the invitation to sanctity is not for the unattainably pious or impossibly virtuous, but for all of us. All Saints Day is a joyful feast day and a reminder that we who are living are called to be in communion with those who have died.

The death of those we love can provide an aperture into the afterlife. What our faith teaches us about life and death would suggest that there is nothing generic about the afterlife, and our ongoing relationship with those who have died is not static. Examining and emulating their lives as well as the lives of those formally declared to be saints can make us more conscious of the community to which God calls us. It is striking to ponder the concrete realities of the lives of saints. They are uniquely themselves, like us with deeply human idiosyncrasies, flawed, often struggling, searching for meaning, wanting goodness, yearning for a deeper faith and for God. One thing for certain, the saints we encounter on earth never think they are saints. I suspect this is because their orientation is outward, other-centered, not inward and solipsistic.

The very friend for whom I mourn was an exquisite homilist, who relied on and promoted Catholic Women Preach as an invaluable resource for his brother priests, for deacons and for all lay members who have the gift and therefore the responsibility of breaking open Scripture, to inspire and to instruct as an important aspect of their spiritual leadership. Today’s Gospel text was among his most cherished. How appropriate to pray with the Beatitudes on All Saints Day. Fr Bob referred to the Beatitudes as “attitudes for being.” You are part of the community of saints even and especially when you are poor in spirit, when you hunger and thirst for righteousness sake, when you are merciful, when you are a peacemaker, when you are persecuted. In fact, as incongruously as it might seem when in such a distressing state, Jesus tells us you are blessed.

Before my friend died, he caught me silently crying and asked in all innocence the reason for my tears. I told him I was worried that once he died I would no longer have the inspiration and access to joy his friendship offered me; that no longer would he provide the life-giving motivation to carry on my work on behalf of the Church. I told him, “You and our friendship will be gone and I fear the lasting impact so great a loss will have on me.” His answer surprised me. He said, “None of that will change. After I die, use the present tense, not past. This is our faith. This is what we hold true. The promise of eternal life is not a fiction. We will be bound up in the communion of saints – a belief we profess every time we recite the Creed. We will see each other again. Love doesn’t end with death.”

“We will see each other again. Love doesn’t end with death.” Those words – that belief, central to our Christian faith – have consoled me in the aftermath of his death while coping with grief.

Today pray for the grace to believe in the communion of saints to which you are called and to which you belong. Pray for the grace to cultivate with more intention those attributes of the saints that are common to many, or particular to some. Be grateful. Choose to be more loving. Lean in to mercy. Persevere. Have the courage of heroic virtue. Be forgiving.

Only two weeks ago, on October 14th, Archbishop Oscar Romero and Pope Paul VI were canonized along with five others. Saint Oscar Romero said, “Let us not tire of preaching love. It is the force that will overcome the world.” And Saint Paul VI said, “If you want peace, work for justice.”

Rejoice and be grateful for the saints with whom we can be in relationship and from whom we can continue to learn.

And as you hold closely in your mind and heart those you love who have been born into eternal life, remember that Jesus promises:

“Blessed are you who mourn, for you will be comforted.”

These reflections by Kerry Alys Robinson were prepared for Catholic Women Preach. A link to their outstanding website and video of these reflections is here: http://www.catholicwomenpreach.org/preaching/11012018

September 29, 2018 / Kerry Alys Robinson

The Abundant Life of Fr. Bob Beloin

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He drew the distinction between the good life and abundant life.

Fr. Bob Beloin modeled his entire ministry on abundance. In what was nothing short of miraculous he cajoled unanimous approval from the formidable members of the Saint Thomas More Building Committee to inscribe his favorite quote from Scripture above the entrance to Boisi Hall in the Thomas E. Golden Jr. Center. John 10:10. They are Jesus’s words: “I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

He preached about abundant life from this pulpit and warned about confusing it with the good life. The good life is predicated on enjoying the finer things in life – expensive wine beautifully decanted, the best seats at a Broadway show, outdoor dining, preferably by the water. In contrast he said, “The abundant life is knowing God’s power within you, bringing you far beyond what you could accomplish on your own, in service to making this a better, more loving, and more just world.” One was about luxurious experience. The other was about magnanimous service.

Now let’s be very clear: if ever a man enjoyed the good life while living the abundant life it was Bob Beloin.

We, gathered here today, are all so deeply sad. But just imagine how Hy’s Limousine and Town Car Service feels at the loss!

Throughout his 71 years of life too short, his 45 years as the consummate priest, and his 25 years as Catholic Chaplain at Yale par excellence, he lived with remarkable intention, fully present, fully engaged, and radically other-centered. The secret to Fr. Bob’s abundant life was his unalterable faith in the immediacy of God’s presence, the strength of God’s merciful love, and his concomitant, personal commitment to be a beneficial presence in the world.

Large in stature and reputation, Fr. Bob had abundant energy and a natural appeal to young and old. Greeting a small child after mass, he swooped down and grabbed the stuffed animal – a giraffe – from her unsuspecting hands and quickly folded it into the collar of his chasuble. Wide-eyed she looked up at his towering figure, eyes following her beloved toy. He said, “Hi I’m Fr Bob. I’m part giant.” And then he laughed, with that full unmistakable, infectious laugh we so loved. Laughter his brother Dick and I, years later, would ensure remained a central part of every single day of his illness.

He was always the hardest working priest we have ever known, [sorry gentlemen] but his complete love for his ministry led him to boast that he had never worked a day in his life. Evidence would suggest otherwise – he made his mark wherever he served: Saint Ann’s, Saint Mary’s, Saint Barnabas, and of course his beloved Saint Thomas More Chapel and Center at Yale. At Yale he introduced small Church communities and 14 other new initiatives, built the Golden Center, raised more than $75 million, renovated the Chapel and Residence, established the Center for Music and Liturgy, sold out Carnegie Hall for a sacred music concert, commissioned an exquisite crucifix pointing to the Resurrection, founded ESTEEM, a national young adult leadership formation program now on campuses across the country and added a third Sunday liturgy, at 10:00pm, to accommodate the growing number of students and faculty joining this faith community.

He was the sauce boss in the soup kitchen, the perfect confessor, the most ardent admirer of his beloved choir, and a devoted colleague to his pastoral team and staff. For someone with such a gifted intellect, he was never arrogant. On the contrary he was intentionally disarming, loosely unfastening his collar if he felt that it served to intimidate or create false distance. He was a loyal friend to his high school classmates, to his brother priests, to the staff at Mory’s. When the Game came to the Yale Bowl, his tailgate was a banquet, replete with linen tablecloths -ironed no less – crystal goblets, candles, flowers, bloody marys and the papal flag.

He was as proud to be arrested for protesting the deportation of the Ramos family as he was to be awarded the Yale Medal.

His impact was local, diocesan, national and global. He ran retreats for priests in Australia and served at the American College in Louvain. He wanted to be the very best priest he could be and toward that end met faithfully for more than 30 years with his beloved priest support group. He didn’t just expand Catholic life at Yale, he raised the bar of Catholic campus ministry to inspire other chaplaincies, showing the world what campus ministry can look like with the right vision, tenacity, and an indefatigable pursuit of mission over maintenance.

He was a passionate advocate of lay leadership and collaboration, fiercely promoted the role of women in the Church, reminded us all that it is baptism that confers both gift and responsibility.

If there was one group of people, however, to which he was most attentive it was students. He would say with enthusiasm to every young adult he encountered, “There you are! The hope of the Church, right there!” Bringing a Catholic intellectual and spiritual center of consequence to fruition mattered deeply to him because young adults mattered deeply to him and they deserved an adult, mature faith the better to inform their leadership.

In 2002 following revelations of the sexual abuse crisis in the Church, Fr. Bob took decisive action. Courageous, unafraid, prophetic, and prescient, he hosted a three-day conference entitled Governance, Accountability and the Future of the Catholic Churchin order to be part of the solution. It examined the conditions that contributed to the crisis and began to map a blueprint for care and justice of victims, the restoration of trust and credibility in the Church, and reform necessary to ensure protection, safety, accountability and transparency. He was a fervent advocate of Leadership Roundtable from its inception.

He taught us so much. A few of his life’s convictions and directives:

“Fear is useless, what is needed is trust.”

“‘No’ is a full sentence.”

“The theological term for that is nonsense.”

“Whenever possible, always go first class. Just stay half as long.”

“When you are at the end of your rope, remember that God is just at the beginning of Hers.” Ok, I edited that one, slightly.

And God forbid you spoke about someone’s replacement. “Successor!” he would insist. “We don’t replace people. We succeed them.”

You were blessed, not lucky.

And if you lamented to him what you should do. Or should not do, should have done or should not have done, he would entreat you to “Stop shoulding on me!” He didn’t want our faith, or prayer life, or service or generosity to be an obligation, something we should do, but freely chosen, something we yearned to do. Therein lies abundant life.

He could laugh at himself. Which was fortunate in that he had such frequent opportunity to exercise that virtue, and not only on the annual high holy day of April 1st.

He thought this was particularly funny. As background, we worked together for ten years. It was my responsibility on his behalf to call influential Yale alumni all over the country and secure appointments. On one occasion my call was to a prominent veterinarian who agreed after much persuasion on my part, despite a very demanding schedule, to see us when we were in the greater Philadelphia area. The details were arranged and before hanging up, the veterinarian’s secretary said, “Oh, one more question: What kind of a horse is Father Beloin?”

He was consistently generous. I never saw him pass by a person asking for money without stopping, reaching into his pocket for bills, handing them to the supplicant and saying, “Hi, what’s your name?” Promoting human dignity was his compass. Stopping for coffee, he would remind me that “the difference between a good tip and a great tip is often just a dollar. Always give more.”

His homilies were exhortations of beauty and inspiration. He made it seem so easy. But the truth is he labored for hours with each homily, praying over the readings, making sure he was applying them to the concrete realities and concerns of the day. Often, he would conclude his homilies with the invitation to “Come to the Eucharist and pray for a certain grace…to be more loving, to grow in holiness, to slow down, to cultivate forgiveness.” His homilies were instructive, challenging, and motivating. Truly worthy of standing ovations. But on more than one occasion we were reprimanded not to clap. He joked that if he allowed the applause, he’d have to permit the booing!

Our beloved Fr. Bob, as his colleagues will attest, had great attention to some details. He expected ice to float on the top of a martini. Hot plates for hot food. Chairs, especially for prominent lectures in the Golden Center had to be precisely and uniformly apart. We actually have a tool to measure this. He was berserk if there was “extra furniture” in the sanctuary. “This is the celebration of the Eucharist, not a theatre set!” Communion always under both species. Mass began precisely on time, even though he was frequently late in other arenas because he could “always get three more quick things done right now.” Napkins had to match in color, in presentation and in placement. Only extra jumbo shrimp, for goodness sake. He always rode in the front car of MetroNorth, to be first out to glance back, mesmerized by the passengers streaming into Grand Central Terminal. Opera at the MET would not be complete without dinner on the Grand Tier. The Sacred Triduum was his annual opus. Water had to be warm as a sign of his deep consideration for us when he washed our feet or baptized the Elect. And the fire for the Easter Vigil had to be at least 15 feet tall or it was an invalid mass.

Hospitality was his cardinal virtue. His brother and I read him hundreds of letters written to him over the course of his illness. Again and again people expressed how loving Bob was. A recurring theme: “You showed me what a welcoming, vibrant, loving, and inclusive faith community could be. You brought me back to my faith, and back to the Church.” He presided at our marriages, baptized our children, buried those we loved. He celebrated with us in time of great joy and held vigil with us during our deepest agony. He was always on call and he always showed up.

He didn’t aim for precision and perfection as a sign of his own neuroses; he did it for you, his most fortunate guest, at mass, at dinner, at lectures, at the soup kitchen.

He could also get some details wrong. When two young alumni had their third child he told me with great joy that after two boys they had delivered a girl and he was going to fly to Denver for the baptism. When the mother happened to call the next day, I congratulated her on her baby girl and assured her that Fr. Bob wouldn’t miss the baptism in Denver for the world. She said, “Thank you. Tell him it’s a boy and we live in Phoenix and we should be all set!”

He was a connoisseur of great American steakhouses and tasting menus with wine pairings, the better to toast “Here’s to my brother, and spending his inheritance!” [Sorry Dick!] He knew how to enjoy life to the full: international cruises with his brother, Tanglewood, bungee jumping, parasailing, plane gliding, rollercoasters, trips to Mohegan Sun, daylong excursions with his staff. He lived best in the present moment – and consequently was present to you – so present, that even a conversation by phone invariably resulted in him missing his exit or more inconveniently, his connecting flight.

The depth of his joy was commensurate with his capacity to empathize and bravely attend to us in our times of greatest anguish. When I asked him, only two months ago, how he could bear to bear witness to so much intense sorrow and tragedy in people’s lives, he told me, “It is a real privilege to be invited into people’s lives when they are at their most vulnerable. There often isn’t much to say. It’s a ministry of presence. Showing up and just being there. Sometimes it is so overwhelmingly sad.” He was present in your greatest suffering, the way he believed Christ was.

I can’t tell you how often after a long and very full day, when finally, alone, he would go to the Harding Meditation Room, his favorite space in the Golden Center – where his body lay in repose last night – and pray for you, by name, that God would bless your life, console your heart and bring you peace.

He would forgive us our tears today for he understood that sorrow and loss and suffering crack open the human heart for greater capacity to love and be merciful. He would gently remind us, though, “Don’t try to figure out why people we love die far too soon. Just ask yourself the fundamental question: What does this experience of loss mean for us? How will it help us to be people of light and love, hope and abundance, in accordance with God’s intention?”

Finally, today and for many days to come, he wants his brother and me to thank you. Each one of you, his friends, parishioners and colleagues. Thank you for blessing his exceedingly good and abundant life.

And take his own words to heart:

“Nothing separates us from God and God’s love! What a glorious promise! It turns death, in all its reality into a beautiful thing.”

Eulogy offered by Kerry Alys Robinson during the Mass of Christian Burial for Fr. Robert Louis Beloin at Saint Thomas More Chapel at Yale University on September 28, 2018

 

September 6, 2018 / Kerry Alys Robinson

Protecting Children at the Border and in the Church

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When our son and daughter were little I told them that if we ever got separated – in a park, at a museum, in any public space – they should look for a mother with young children and go to her because she would keep them safe and know how to reunite us as quickly as possible.

As an American and as a Catholic who has spent her life working on behalf of the Church to better equip it to alleviate human suffering, protect the vulnerable, champion justice and exercise a prophetic moral voice in the public square, these days I am bereft on behalf of children.

Our youngest child, now twenty, spent this summer working for our local Congresswoman on Capitol Hill. To her credit, Sophie has not let our national political acrimony or ignominy dissuade her from the conviction that public service is a noble calling especially in advancing the common good. She was struck by the passion and commitment of both colleagues and constituents. At no time was that more evident than when citizens called, without pause, distraught and outraged by our government’s policy of separating children from their parents at the border. One woman’s call was particularly plaintive. Crying, she called to register her full opposition to the inhumane practice. Through her tears she explained that she had just left her son off at summer camp. This admittedly privileged right-of-passage and loving goodbye had left her heart aching for her small son. She could not imagine the brutality of having him forcibly taken from her with no guarantee of being reunited. In total, more than 1,000 people called; the majority were mothers. Today approximately 700 children, including 40 children who are 4 years old or younger, have still not been reunified with their parents.

The staff and volunteers of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, and its indefatigable executive director, Sr. Norma Pimentel, have tenaciously responded to this abominable practice and the plight of refugees. I am grateful for Sr. Norma, for Catholic Charities, for Hope Border Institute and for many other Catholic agencies and people of good will responding with mercy to human suffering at our borders.

I am grateful, too, for the Church which has formed and inspired so many deeply moral heroes and heroines many of whom work tirelessly for a more accountable and transparent institutional Church, while ministering to those in need.

These are not easy days to be Catholic, or to keep one’s faith in what the Church can be at its most accountable, most transparent, and best governed. For 16 years, and especially in the past two months, Catholics in the U.S. have learned with excruciating detail how sexually abusive priests criminally, irreparably hurt children and culpable Church leaders systemically failed to protect them.

Just as my daughter won’t give up on the nobility of public service, despite the dishonorable behavior of some of our country’s leaders, I won’t give up on the Church, despite the egregious behavior of some of its leaders. I will continue to work with people of profound integrity and dedication – ordained, religious and lay leaders –  to effect necessary, managerial reform of the Church and to inculcate transparency, accountability, contemporary best managerial practices, and standards of ethics and excellence in every aspect of the Church.

Most of all, I won’t give up on protecting children.

A good first step, long overdue, is to ensure that women are included in leadership and decision-making, together with men, at every level of the Catholic Church. So much the better if they happen to be mothers.

 

This column by Kerry Alys Robinson was written for and published in Chicago Catholic.

July 13, 2018 / Kerry Alys Robinson

It is Always Possible

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I have been caring for my closest friend, a Catholic priest, since he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in early January. Helping him absorb the implications of such difficult news, accompanying him to doctor’s appointments and treatment, and ensuring there is humor and hope, encouragement and empathy each day has been deeply meaningful and excruciatingly heartbreaking.

Working with Fr. Bob Beloin twenty years ago to expand Catholic life on Yale University’s campus gave me a privileged glimpse into the life of the consummate priest. He, the hardest working priest I have ever known, boasts “I’ve never worked a day in my life,” so fully does he love the priesthood. And yet he has never been off-duty; he has always been available to anyone in need of his uncommonly healing pastoral care.

I learned, while bearing witness to his ministry, that everyone is carrying something. There is true human pain, often invisible, within the minds and hearts and sometimes bodies of everyone you encounter.

For this reason, our friend Bishop Peter Rosazza urges, “Never add to the burden of others or take away their joy.”

During these months of nearly unbearable personal sorrow right in the midst of grace and the beauty of friendship, I have been astonished at the powerful impact of unalloyed kindness. There is the example of Ronnie Meder and his teammates from the Yale Football Ivy League championship team who carried Fr. Bob in his wheelchair up and down a flight of stairs every day for weeks so that we could get him to treatment while we awaited the installation of a customized lift. These strong, compassionate students were never late and made it seem as though it was Fr. Bob doing them a favor, assisting with their strengthening and conditioning. There is the generosity of exquisite talent by composer Julian Revie, mezzo-soprano Karolina Wojteczko, and members of the Saint Thomas More Chapel choir, directed by Richard and Evie Gard, who perform twenty-minute concerts of sacred music and transportive arias in his living room. There is Fr Bob’s brother, who left his home and life in Florida to move into the Chaplain’s Residence to care for him with a magnanimity that is breathtaking. There are the hundreds of people who have prepared meals, sent flowers, written heartwarming letters, brought communion, and prayed, daily, for healing and comfort and peace.

These days I am on the look-out for signs of grace and God’s mercy. And they are everywhere, especially in the seemingly unremarkable acts of charity – a kind word, patience, encouragement, understanding.

I leave Fr Bob’s residence, already tears beginning to fill my eyes now safely out of his view. It is unseasonably hot. A mother and her young son, saddled with grocery bags, stop to ask if they are walking in the correct direction to their destination many blocks away. I begin to answer and then, mindful of the compelling beauty of the mercy that has been so evident these months, I offer to drive the mother and son to their destination. They hesitate and then accept, grateful for the cool air in the car and the distance it has spared them walking. As they take leave, before the little boy gathers up his many bags, he throws his arms around me and says, “Thank you.” But it is they who have given me the blessing.

Everyone carries something and even the greatest pastoral leaders among us can’t truly know the extent and specificity of others’ suffering. Nor can we ever know the difference kindness makes in any given moment.

I tell Fr. Bob I am writing about kindness. Lucid and wise, he remarks that you never know the impact of one encouraging word, one kind intervention, or one merciful action.

“Be kind whenever possible,” he quotes the Dalai Lama. “It is always possible.”

 

This column by Kerry Alys Robinson was written for and published in Chicago Catholic.

December 2, 2017 / Kerry Alys Robinson

Ministry of Hope

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Reflections offered on the occasion of Lilly Endowment’s National Initiative to Address Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders in Indianapolis on November 28, 2017.

 

“I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” – John 10:10

“Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” – 1 Peter 3:15

The beautiful sunrise this morning, brought to mind a favorite quote by Bernard Williams: “There was never a night or a problem that could defeat sunrise or hope.”

In this season of thanksgiving we have much for which to be grateful, not least of which is deeply meaningful work and the opportunity to live out our vocations in the Church and in the world.

Gratitude is central to our faith, to our relationship with God, to authentic prayer, and to a life of effective stewardship.

Fortuitously today is Giving Tuesday, the sixth annual global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration. Make no mistake, generosity is humankind’s birthright. The truth is we are all called to give and receive. And one does not need to be materially wealthy to be generous.

Henri Nouwen observed that the crucial task, the central yearning, of each of our lives is to know, fully and completely, that God loves you just for being you. We spend much of our adult lives doubting this, talking ourselves out of this, refusing to believe it, arguing against it. But every once in a while, we experience the profound conviction of God’s radical unalterable, abundant love for us. And that is a powerful, transformative moment of grace.

Realizing how abundantly God loves you, elicits profound gratitude and desire to love God back. But how do we love God back?

Henri explained that we love God back by being fruitful with our lives, which is to take all that has been given to us and to place it at the service of others, of creation, of life itself. It is to be a beneficial presence in the world. It is to contribute and bless, rather than to hoard or condemn. It is to be the people we are meant to be, to recognize and bring potential to fruition, to be life-giving, to be bearers of hope. It is to make manifest daily exemplary stewardship in the context of God’s abundant generous love.

Faith-based philanthropy and fundraising when done faithfully and well, invite people into a relationship of common purpose, fulfill a noble objective, point to meaning and transcendence, offer hope, and contribute to the lives of others, often those in great need. Both philanthropy and fundraising demand a radical generosity of spirit, time, effort, faith, tenacity and conviction. One is not possible without the other. Both require a relinquishing of self, a disposition of humility before the great potential at hand, and the shared goal of blessing other people’s lives.

Money is valuable, but is not the only blessing we have at our disposal. We also have time, presence, intellectual capital, managerial expertise, talent, mercy, joy, and encouragement to name a few of the blessings we are also called to recognize, be grateful for, and offer.

Leadership Roundtable is honored to be both grantee and partner to Lilly Endowment’s Initiative to Address Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders. We exist to promote best practices and accountability in the management, finances, communications, and human resources development of the Church including greater incorporation of the expertise of the laity.

The church is sui generis by virtue of its divine mission; it is not a corporation in the way that we think of most human institutions, especially those motivated predominantly by a monetary return to the shareholder. Nevertheless, the Church is comprised of people, facilities and finances that deserve to be managed with the highest levels of excellence, care, ethics, and accountability precisely because the mission of the Church is that much more important that the bottom line of a for-profit corporation. (A friend, a Religious Sister of Mercy quips, “If you’re only focused on the bottom line you’re aiming too low.”)

A few years ago, a new pastor attended our Toolbox for Pastoral Management retreat. When he had been ordained a Catholic priest for only 18 months, he was assigned as pastor of three parishes, two with schools. He was drowning in administrative and financial responsibility for which he had been ill prepared in seminary. At the conclusion of the five-day Toolbox intensive, he remarked that the courses allowed him to begin to develop a vocabulary of management and finance. He commented on how practical, accessible, content-rich and sorely needed the material was. And then he said something we have never forgotten. He said he was grateful to know that he did not have to manage in isolation, that there were people and resources to support and assist him. That what we are, at our core, is “a ministry of hope.” In 12 and a half years since Leadership Roundtable was founded, this is the single greatest understanding of and compliment for our mission and tenacious effort to serve the Church we love.

“Christ came that we might have life and have it more abundantly.” To interpret this solely through the lens of material comfort does a disservice to the Gospel. Our invitation is to be in relationship with him, to emulate him, to lose our lives in service to others only to find we have obtained a superabundance of new life, vitality, purpose, meaning, hope and joy.

I can think of no better person to quote than our own beloved and deeply respected John Wimmer, my friend and role model, without whom the initiative we celebrate today would not have been possible. In his exquisite book entitled Blessed Endurance, soon to be published, he writes:

“Hope is the lifeline tossed out to us from God. It sustains us when we feel like we are drowning, and God gently pulls us and the lifeline toward the shores of spiritual growth. With hope, we also have faith—not faith that we will be spared pain and despair but faith in the God who will lead us through the difficult times. Therefore, in our struggle to understand God’s will, let us not concentrate solely on our pain and despair (although we know we are to accept them); instead, let us look with hope and faith toward attaining new, rich experiences of the abundant life God has given us.”

My explanation to anyone who asks me for a reason for my hope is simple: you, Each and every one of you gathered here today, your leadership and your example of what it means to be Christ-like.

Yours is a ministry of hope when your zeal for your ministry and mission demands a commitment to excellence in every aspect of your ministry and every facet that impacts your ministry.

Yours is a ministry of hope when you implement and adhere to high standards of excellence and believe your ministry is worthy of profound generosity.

Yours is a ministry of hope when you are transparent and accountable with your congregation’s finances.

When you recognize, invite, and utilize the talents and skills of all members of your faith communities.

When you conquer fear, when you address your own or your community’s theological ambivalence about wealth.

Yours is a ministry of hope when you see donors as subjects, not objects, people who are looking for meaning, who want to make a positive difference in something rooted in faith, benefiting others.

Yours is a ministry of hope when you make it a joy to give, serve as the catalyst inspiring generosity in others.

Yours is a ministry of hope when you work to lessen the financial burdens of others and show them a way forward.

Yours is a ministry of hope when you lessen the chasm between polarized members – in our Church and in our country.

When you embody mercy, making the world less cold and more just, yours is a ministry of hope.

Yours is a ministry of hope when you are joyful and you celebrate what is right in order to find the strength to fix what is wrong.

Yours is a ministry of hope when you touch the minds and hearts of people in their joy and sorrow, fear and anxiety, and when you dedicate time to ensure excellence in preaching and life-giving pastoral presence.

It is a good way to be: to live in such a manner that everyone who knows you sees that God’s promise of abundance is the hope and joy within you and this promise, hope and joy is their inheritance, too.