In our present times, confusion reigns.  Prominent Catholic politicians conduct same-sex wedding ceremonies and support the systematic murder of the unborn. The secular society echoes Nietzsche as he said, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”  Both the influences of Marxism and the secularist French Revolution seem to have captured the soul of our nation.  Now, perhaps more than ever, Pope Pius XII’s statement “the sin of this century is the loss of a sense of sin” rings true to even the most sheltered Catholic community.

It is in these times especially that the clarion truths of the Gospel must be proclaimed.  And, as our spiritual fathers and modern day apostles, proclaiming the Truth of Jesus Christ crucified can come from no better place than our bishops.  This is a duty that Bishop Paprocki of the Springfield in Illinois Diocese fulfills with courage and out of love for his flock.

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Bishop Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield in IL

In a recent interview with SPES, Bishop Paprocki spoke in length about how the truth evangelizes people to the Catholic Faith.

“Perhaps the most charitable thing that we can do is to teach people the truth…No parent would teach his or her child falsehood; you try to teach your children what is true.  If there are opinions or theories floating around that are untrue in our society, part of what we are called to preach is to preach the truth.  That is not only a very loving thing to do, but it is also the best way I think to proclaim the Gospel because that is what the Gospel is all about—proclaiming the truth of Jesus Christ.”

As one who often gets stuck in the great depth of Catholic intellectual tradition, Bishop Paprocki’s emphasis on simplicity really struck home to me.  In short, he stressed the importance of teaching from the Creeds, both the Apostle and Nicene Creeds, because they perfectly express the faith yet very few today understand them.

“The bulk of both Creeds,” explained Bishop Paprocki, “are about the Trinity.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…that is uniquely Christian.  The Muslim faith does not believe in the Trinity.  Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism — none of them believe in the Trinity.”

Yet sharing the truths of Jesus Christ, even in the most humble and loving ways, means to embrace martyrdom.

“We’d like to live in a world where people are affirming.  We don’t like confrontation, nobody likes that, but the Lord also said, ‘You have to take up your cross and follow me.’ Being a member of the Church is not necessarily being in a state of a little cocoon.  Jesus sent us out to all the whole world to preach the Gospel.  Well, when the Apostles went out to the world, they all died as martyrs except for John.  They had to pay a price for that…We have to be prepared for suffering.  We have to be prepared for martyrdom and martyrdom not necessarily always in the sense of physically giving up your life, but martyrdom in the sense of personal opinion, and people being critical and saying derogatory things about you.  That is a form of martyrdom as well.”diocese-of-springfield-il

Touching on the topic of bishops whose teaching departs from the Catholic Faith, Bishop Paprocki stressed the importance of respectful deference while still recognizing the Church is composed of fallible human beings and that not every statement made by a member of the Church is infallible.

“We give our respect and deference to those in authority.  We see that even in Scripture in the First Letter of Peter.  Peter talked about being respectful of the authorities, of the civil authorities, and he is talking about the people in the Roman empire who were hardly very amenable to the teachings of Christianity…We have to recognize that even in the Church we have people who are fallible human beings.  So, not every pronouncement that everybody makes in the Church is infallible.

Part of what I have tried to distinguish is that even on papal statements we have to make some distinctions. Not everything has the same weight…You have papal encyclicals, papal messages, Apostolic Exhortations, homilies, and letters, so you have to look at each one and say, “First of all, what is the nature of the statement and then, what is the Pope communicating here?” If he wants to issue something that is binding canonically or doctrinally, he will issue an Apostolic Constitution…A papal statement that is made, for example, like an exhortation by its very nature…is that it exhorts people and urges people to follow what is already there.  An exhortation is not designed to change anything; it is designed to promote and foster a greater observance of our faith and our beliefs that we already have.

I think we have to make those distinctions.  I think the public doesn’t always make those distinctions and the media doesn’t always make those distinctions in terms of giving equal weight to something that the Pope says in an impromptu press conference on an airplane to what he might issue as an Apostolic Constitution — those are two different things.”

Given that the laity is also called to “Go forth and make disciples” in union with their bishop, Bishop Paprocki shared that the foremost way to do this is through lives of holiness.

“St. John Paul II said, ‘All pastoral initiatives should be set in relation to holiness.’ It is very basic, but it is so true.  We come off of all kinds of ideas and activities that we should be doing in our Catholic parishes, but it should all come back to…is this promoting holiness?  And…for the person in the pew, the first way to start with that is the life of holiness.  What do you do in your everyday life?…Praying before meals…an examination of conscience and an Act of Contrition before going to bed at night, so the whole day is colored with the sense of being in contact with God.

And then, to take it beyond what we do in our daily lives with just those particular prayer moments, how do we interact with the people that we see at school, at work, our family members at home?  Are we doing all that is consistent with loving God and loving our neighbor?”

Bishop Paprocki has also written two pastoral letters.  The first, Ars celebrandi et adorandi, focuses on the Liturgy and adoring the Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.  “It is really the focus on our sacramental life, our spiritual life,” explained Bishop Paprocki.  His second letter,  Ars crescendi in Dei gratia, goes together with his first as he explains that it “is about growth and inviting people to come into the Church.”  He continued:

“If we are going to do that, we have to start with what I talked about in the first pastoral letter to make sure that our experiences of Liturgy and worship, and the Sacraments are good experiences.  If we invite people into the Church, they should be edified, inspired, and uplifted by what we do…Of course, don’t get me wrong, the Eucharist is always good…but if it is done in a careless way…you run the risk of then somebody coming and saying, ‘Well, I didn’t like that at all; I’m not going back there.’

How do we entice people to come back? That leads to the second pastoral letter…that is really my work for evangelization…I talk about growth and growth, I think, ties into evangelization as the Lord said, ‘Go out and tell the Good News.’  That is what it means to evangelize.  To tell the Good News, He also said to make disciples of all nations, and so I see that as growth in a qualitative as well as quantitative sense…

He wants us to be disciples and He wants us to be committed…He started with His small group of apostles, but He didn’t confine that and leave them as just a small little club that had their own private gatherings in Jerusalem.  He sent them out to the whole world to make disciples of all the nations…We don’t just want a lot of people who are not committed to the faith, so it is both quality and quantity, and I think that is what growth is all about.

How do we do that? I conclude with four points: We have to invite people…[we have] to study and learn our faith…[We need] prayer which is to provide the Sacraments and prayer opportunities for people. [And we need] to serve those who are in need…to serve them with charity and justice.”

We strongly encourage you to read his two pastoral letters. And please keep Bishop Paprocki in your prayers, that he may continue to share the Truth of Jesus Christ with courage and love.  May he continue to strengthen us with his witness to the faith and, when his earthly life concludes, may he hear Our Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”