I am very pleased to receive the
Duc In Altum
award because I do so as the beneficiary of two very important institutions.
One is the
, my religious community, whom I’ve known since the first grade of my life. From them I feel a direct descendance from Father Isaac Hecker, our founder, to Fr. Walter Elliott who was mentored by Fr. Hecker, to Fr. John McGinn who was ordained the year Fr. Elliott died, and Fr. Alvin Illig who came to share Fr. McGinn’s passion to share the Gospel with others not of our faith. Fr. Illig founded our evangelization office in 1977 and spearheaded the revival of the evangelization movement in the Paulists and in the whole country.
The other organization is the
Diocese of Brooklyn, NY
, not only the most urban of all the US dioceses but also one of the few dioceses that has put evangelization at the forefront of its pastoral activity. While we are all committed to evangelization it has always been too easy to study it, to re-organize it, to teach it, or to merge it with other pastoral activities. Brooklyn, under the leadership of Bishop DiMarzio and Ted Musco, have put evangelization at the forefront of their efforts and commitments. What a joy to see this and have a small role in serving it!
Duc In Altum
is the Latin for the words Jesus says to Peter when, having heard Jesus peach for the first time, Peter is asked by Jesus to bring his boat out to the deep waters to fish. Peter, the fisherman who spent the night catching nothing, listens to Jesus in spite of common sense. This does not mean that following Jesus is a crazy or irrational thing to do. Rather, it means we have to be stretched in our expectations. And this stretching only happens when we come to profound trust in Jesus.
I see two meanings in this phrase. One is that sometimes our ministry has to look risky... something that we feel we are taking a chance on because we are doing something new. It is all too easy for church to want to be safe, predictable, controllable, and within budget. Jesus nudges us toward another realization. Unless we go out into the deep, we cannot see the possibilities he has for us and our church.
Secondly, the word “altum” can be translated as depth or heights. Either way, it is telling us that we cannot stay at the superficial level but rather have to plumb the depths of human experience and seek the heights of religious experience. Pope Francis would say we have to accompany each other in our simple humanity, and we have to encounter Jesus again and again.
I am unworthy to be blessed to have given my life and service to the ministry of evangelization. There is no way forward for the Church today without true evangelization whereby we get out of ourselves and our own preoccupations, take the risk of bringing good news to others, and find the “inestimable” riches of Jesus by serving each other through the power of the Spirit’s love. In this way we build the Kingdom, live for what Jesus lived for, and live to bring humankind to the goal God desire for it—the fullness of life and love for every human being touched by the grace of God.