Bishop Joseph E. Strickland has released a new pastoral constitution designed to guide the teaching of the Catholic Faith in the Diocese of Tyler for the next 30 years.
Recognizing that the darkness of evil, especially in the forms of relativism, secularism, and apathy, is an ever-increasing threat to humanity, even in East Texas, the constitution lays out an ambitious plan to counter that trend by “allowing the Light of Christ to shine forth in its radiant brilliance” through the teaching of the Faith.
“Our greatest problems are rooted in unbelief caused by ignorance and we must seek new and creative ways to teach and share the wonder of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our Catholic Faith,” said Bishop Strickland. “We cannot allow this unbelief to continue, so I am acting and it is my hope that what is outlined in this constitution, with the help of God, will give us the tools to meet the challenges of the day.”
The new approach to catechesis and evangelization serves as a mandate for all areas of teaching in the Diocese, with special emphasis on the role of priests, deacons, religious, and lay catechists.
Many of the new teaching efforts will focus on the family by accompanying families as a whole and individually according to their season in life. There will also be teaching focused on unique challenges faced by members of the family in the modern world.
“What this points to is a system of teaching that is far from ‘one-size-fits-all’,” Bishop Strickland writes in the constitution. “But is instead custom-tailored to the members of a household as a family.”
Efforts to build and nurture strong Christian marriages will receive special attention.
“The preparation and continuing support we give to couples entering into matrimony is perhaps the most important project we undertake,” Bishop Strickland wrote. In the constitution, he calls for the Diocese to “radically commit itself” to this difficult but necessary job.
The focus on marriage will utilize sponsor couples, an extended period of preparation before marriage, and directed teaching on vocational realities and Natural Family Planning.
Worship and sacred liturgy are another foundation of the new teaching efforts so that “all people of the Diocese will be given the opportunity to know and love Jesus Christ in the Mass.”
Bishop Strickland specifically laments that, because of poor teaching and worship, “many are unable to recognize the Lord Jesus in the Eucharist,” calling this lack of belief the “source and summit” of many of our problems.
“It is of singular importance that every Catholic in the Diocese understands the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist,” wrote Bishop Strickland. “We will focus on this Eucharistic faith and form our people in the deep understanding that reverence for the Blessed Sacrament is respect for the person of Jesus Christ present, here and now, in our midst.”
Specific formation will occur in the areas of ars celebrandi – the way the priest celebrates mass, use of the Latin language, liturgical ministries, and sacred music.
While teaching and catechizing the 120,000 Catholics of the Diocese will be the early focus of the new initiative, the constitution calls for an evangelizing effort aimed at sharing the relationship Catholics have with Jesus Christ with all people in the 33 counties of northeast Texas.
To serve as a hub for the new teaching efforts, Bishop Strickland uses the constitution to establish the St. Philip Institute for Catechesis and Evangelization. St. Philip, an early-Church deacon and evangelist, is known from the story of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 who relies on Philip to instruct him in the proper meaning of Scripture.
The Institute will produce new teaching materials for the diocese and create new methods of delivering those materials. Catechist training and sacramental preparation in the diocese will be coordinated through the Institute. The Catholic East Texas magazine will also be managed by the Institute so that it can continue to serve as a tool of catechesis and evangelization.
The director of the new institute will be announced this summer.
Bishop Strickland concluded, “We will be a teaching diocese and I ask all people to read this constitution in a spirit of love for the Lord and His Church, pray and reflect on the role you can play, and join me in embracing the challenge of our day to go out to the world bearing the Light of Christ.”