BISHOP COYNE
BISHOP COYNE
All Catholics are called to be "bearers and sharers" of the faith, says Bishop Christopher J. Coyne of the Diocese of Burlington, Vt.

However, that doesn't mean scolding people who aren't in church every week.

It might mean inviting someone to help out at a local soup kitchen, he said; and it certainly means talking about one's own faith in a positive way.

"Don't talk about other people; just say, 'All I know is that I have such joy and peace from my faith, because I know where I'm from and I know where I'm going,'" Bishop Coyne advised.

The Vermont bishop will be the main speaker at this year's Autumn Diocesan Gathering, to be held Oct. 21 at Our Lady of the Annunciation parish in Queensbury. The retreat/workshop day will be live-streamed to St. Francis de Sales parish in Herkimer, St. Mary's in Oneonta, St. Patrick's in Catskill and Mater Christi in Albany.

Bishop Coyne's topic will be, "Communicating the Joy of the Gospel: Reaching the Occasional Catholic."

Learning outreach
The day will also include a Q&A with the bishop, witness talks by speakers from area parishes and discussion among table groups of participants.

The goal for this year's Autumn Diocesan Gathering attendees is to learn how to reach out to Catholics who only appear at parishes on holidays, for weddings and funerals, or when faith formation classes are in session.

Bishop Coyne noted that there was a time when the Catholic Church so dominated American culture that "we just [had] to open our doors, provide good liturgy and be welcoming, and people [would] come."

Today, though, Catholicism is no longer "the Church of the establishment.

"We are missionaries," the bishop said. "We have to go out of the doors" to reach people.

Bishop Coyne's own Diocese of Burlington is working on that. He talked about the "three W's:" first, good works; then words; and, finally, worship.

Catholics have to first get involved in their communities, the bishop explained: volunteering at food pantries or helping families deal with opioid addiction, for instance.

Mission work
"Go to what's already out there," he urged. In his diocese, that means working for community-based charities, instead of just creating parish-based charities that, he believes, can become too insular.

When Bishop Coyne meets "occasional Catholics," he first invites them not to come back to church, but to try something like helping out at a soup kitchen. Learning that there are a lot of good works being done by Catholics can be the key to reigniting someone's faith, he believes.

"It's a major shift in our organizational culture," the bishop said.

That approach seems to be working in Burlington, slowly but surely: "We're turning the tide. I have to remember that the most important thing is that one person in front of me."

Another thing to remember, he said, is that the Catholic Church is dealing with a culture in the United States in which "tolerance is the number-one virtue." Americans today tend to call themselves more spiritual than religious; although they may see themselves as believers, Bishop Coyne said, this is predominantly "a moralistic, therapeutic deism: 'I'm a good person; I don't hurt anybody; I go to God when I need God.'"

Real relationship
But "faith calls us into relationship," he said. "To develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ does not draw us into ourselves."

When he gets the chance to talk more deeply with "occasional Catholics" about their beliefs, Bishop Coyne points them toward the Scriptures. Reading the Gospels in particular helps people understand what Jesus really said, as opposed to what they think He said -- and getting to know the historical Jesus, the bishop added, can spark people to take His teachings more seriously.

Bishop Coyne also noted that U.S.-born Catholics might take a page from people coming to this country from other cultures, who "bring a lively faith with them that needs to be recognized and honored."

Through his talk at the Autumn Diocesan Gathering, Bishop Coyne hopes his listeners get the message that "each one of us who love and care for the Church and see it as a means of salvation [must] take responsibility for [our] own faith and seek to share it with others."