Since we took some time off for the holidays, we need to catch up on a few items.
*** First, once again, a word of sincere thanks to all those who helped to make my 25th Anniversary of Ordination as a Bishop so memorable. The Christmas celebration with employees, the beautiful liturgy and reception at the Cathedral, and the prayerful gathering with so many of our priests were all wonderful events for me personally, and I hope, enjoyable and rewarding for others. Thank you for attending these celebrations, for your cards and gifts, for your gracious words of support, and, most of all, for your prayers.
*** In the last few weeks I’ve done a number of media interviews, television and radio, typical during the Christmas Season. My interviewers were well-prepared, respectful and fair, but they didn’t shy away from difficult topics either. Several times I was asked about the biggest challenge I’ve faced in my twenty-five years as a bishop. My answer? The rapid and widespread decline in the practice of the faith. So many people, especially young people, have left the Church and abandoned the faith. They’re not attending Sunday Mass, receiving the sacraments, participating in their parishes, or following traditional moral norms. The rise of secularism and this “practical atheism” is very disconcerting and has huge implications for the future.
*** Our diocesan “Year with Mary our Mother” has come to an end. During the year we had a number of special events that highlighted our devotion, including the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima at the Cathedral, our pilgrimage to Portugal in August, the celebration of Our Lady of Divine Providence in November, and our Marian Pilgrimage for Vocations. I know that many of our parishes and schools had special events too. I hope that our year with our Blessed Mother has inspired us to renew our devotion to Mary, imitate her virtues, and seek her grace and protection in our lives.
*** As I write this a horrible blizzard, with heavy snow, strong winds and frigid temperatures, has visited our land. Storms like this are more than inconvenient; they’re dangerous. I’m home alone with my dog, feeling trapped and isolated. Like many others I’m cut-off from the rest of the world. But while I have resources upon which I can call, I’m thinking of people in our community who are really alone and isolated – the elderly, the sick, the disabled, the homeless. A storm like this reminds us of our vulnerability, our dependence on God, and our need to watch out for and help one another.
*** But we also want to extend our congratulations and gratitude to those who helped us survive the storm, including: local political leaders, first responders, road crews, utility workers, oil delivery guys, and weather forecasters. And don’t forget the unheralded good folks who checked in on their neighbors, took them meals, and shoveled their sidewalks and driveways. To one and all – job well-done!
*** My only New Year’s resolution is to continue the process of simplifying my life.
I don’t like or want “stuff.” I don’t collect things; I don’t hoard things. Even though my style (or lack thereof) is already simple and uncluttered, I have more work to do in the New Year. I’ll be disposing of clothing, books, magazines, newspapers, files, statues, pictures, souvenirs, and the electronics that clutter my house and my life. I’m convinced that simplicity is a key to personal freedom and spiritual growth. Too much “stuff” just gets in the way. Someday I might move; and someday I will die. I want both transitions to be as smooth as possible.
*** In January, when we recall the passage of the infamous Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, there will be special Respect Life activities throughout our country and in our diocese. As Disciples of Christ, faithful Catholics and good citizens, we need to be as vigilant as ever in promoting respect for life and staunchly opposing attacks on life whenever they occur, including the cruel and violent practice of abortion, and the growing acceptance of assisted suicide, a ruthless political movement that minimizes the value and human dignity of the elderly, the sick and disabled.
*** And in this month we also celebrate Catholic Schools Week. The theme of this year’s observance is “Catholic Schools: Learn, Serve, Lead, Succeed.” If I were creating the theme, I would have added one more verb: “Believe,” for after all, the primary purpose of Catholic schools is to transmit our faith. Catholic Schools around the diocese will host a number of terrific events for this observance, but it’s an opportunity for all of us to express our support and gratitude to all those who make Catholic schools so successful and so very important for our Church and the entire community.
*** We’re still putting away the Christmas decorations but before you know it, the Season of Lent will be here. It’s worth noting that Lent this year has interesting bookends. It begins with Ash Wednesday on February 14th, Valentine’s Day. (And no, there will be no dispensations granted from the Ash Wednesday fast and abstinence so that you can take your sweetie out for a romantic dinner.) And Lent will end with Easter Sunday on April 1st, April Fools Day, which might lend itself to some very interesting homilies about Christ rising from the dead.
*** Some fans have taken to referring to quarterback Tom Brady as GOAT, that is, the “Greatest of All Time.” And here all along I thought it meant that Tom is “Getting Older All the Time.”