Encountering Christ

13th Annual Journey of Faith was a celebration of the people of God
By connie cissell / SUN editor

In the words of Sister Katie Eiffe, CSJ, “It was absolutely wonderful!” She was referring to this year’s Journey of Faith event held Sept. 29 at the OnCenter in downtown Syracuse. Sister Katie is diocesan director of the Religious Education Office and nothing pleases her more than a large group — this time nearly 400 people — practicing what she calls “life-long learning.”

Each year Journey of Faith features speakers from inside and outside the Diocese of Syracuse to present keynote addresses, music and some outstanding workshops. A relatively recent addition, the Bishop Thomas J. Costello Award, presentation takes place after the keynote address.

The keynote presenter was Father Michael Himes, professor of theology at Boston College. With an animated and often humorous approach, Father Himes was able to lead parishioners through a journey where they might discover a way they could encounter Jesus Christ. He followed the theme of the event with his presentation saying that there were many ways to “meet our Lord.” The usual ways — through reading Scripture, listening to preaching, in the sacraments, and through personal and communal prayer — are the conventional one. But, Father Himes said, “We meet the risen Lord in the community, in one another.”

A concrete example of meeting Jesus through one another was explained by reminding the audience that Jesus remains alive because of very real historical events. Jesus encounters people through history, he said. “If God is going to communicate with us, He has to do it through history,” Father Himes said.

He pointed out most people learn of something by “someone telling someone, telling someone who told someone else, who told us.”

He spoke of the “mystery” of God and how one can never fully know or comprehend God because He is a mystery. Father Himes noted that people can never fully know each other or themselves either because they are constantly “in process,” or evolving.

The presentation of the Bishop Costello Award took place after Father Himes spoke. This year’s recipient was Sister Laura Bufano, CSJ. Currently waiting to take over as congregational director for her religious community in January, Sister Laura has served the diocese in numerous positions. She was director of the Office of Liturgy and most recently worked collaboratively with the Cortland Pastoral Care Area during the reconfiguration process.

Sister Laura is a Syracuse native and was pleased to have members of her family there while she accepted the award. Bishop Costello presents the award to the recipient at the event. This year was particularly poignant because he credited the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet for his education and his formation as a child and then for their friendship and collaboration when he was superintendent of Catholic schools.

“The fact that a member of the CSJs has been chosen for this award is a delight,” Bishop Costello said before introducing Sister Laura.

Sister Laura accepted with gratitude and with the notion that the award was not about her at all.

“This award is not about me,” she said. “It’s not even about Bishop Costello. It’s about US. It’s about us saying ‘amen’ to who we are — the body of Christ.”

After accepting her award, Sister Laura asked everyone to join in while she sang the Bette Midler classic, “The Rose.”

The workshops began after the award presentation and event-goers were able to choose from topics as diverse as “Creative Catechesis,” “Keeping Your Parish and School out of Court,” “Living Your Ministry,” “Faith and Science: God’s Call to Stewardship & Our Response to Global Warming,” “The Ever-changing Female Image: Do we buy it?”

Father John Rose, pastor of St. Mary of Mt. Carmel/Blessed Sacrament Church in Utica, spoke on “Life Before and After Parish Consolidation.”  Acknowledging that pastoral leaders are key players in the reconfiguration of parishes, Father Rose noted that reconfiguration is really a process of “becoming who God wants us to be.”

He said the process has to be grounded in prayer and questions like “Where is God in all of this?” “What is God asking of the church?” “What is He trying to give birth to?“ must be asked. Father Rose said the paschal mystery is evident in the process. “There is birth, death and then rebirth,” he said.

He considered the fact that the process of reconfiguration is saturated with grief and loss, adding, “Sometimes during the process you feel like you’re on the Jerry Springer Show.” Father Rose talked about the stages of loss that parishioners go through, ranging from sadness to anger to finally acceptance and hope for the future.

Before describing the process his parish went through, Father Rose talked about the past and how churches were wonderfully alive in the 1950s and 60s with schools being built and a myriad of events taking place in the parishes. “We put all our memories, our social contacts and more into these churches,” he said. But, the Northeast in particular is facing declining numbers of priests and a declining population.

As he went through the death/new life process with his own parish, Father Rose said the actual decision becomes “the easy part.” It is the collaborative process and consensus needed that takes most of the time, he explained. And even though it can be time consuming, it is perhaps the best way to arrive at the decision.

Another workshop, Encountering the Christ who Heals, was presented by teacher and Catholic SUN columnist Sister Katherine (Kitty) Hanley, CSJ.

Beginning her remarks with a laugh, Sister Katherine said she would gladly accept “glory by association” on behalf of Sister Laura’s earlier award presentation. She talked about being drawn lately to “Jesus the Healer,” and described three levels of Jesus’ healing: basic survival or physical healing; human dignity or the restoration of self-esteem, and moral and spiritual healing through forgiveness and reconciliation.

Through Scripture, she said, healings are documented particularly with the Gospels of Mark and Luke.

Restoring human dignity is exemplified in the Gospels when Jesus speaks to the adulteress, Sister Katherine said.

“He tells her, ‘Do not sin again.’ He doesn’t say ‘What you did is inconsequential,’“ she reminded her audience.

Time and time again when people had placed themselves outside the circle, “Jesus healed them from their lack of dignity and said, ‘My darlings, come back into the circle,’“ Sister Katherine said. “This type of healing is often even deeper. It makes them realize, ‘Yes, I can walk with the children of God.’”

Sister Katherine said Jesus heals so that one by one, obstacles to God’s love can be removed. And, healing is also about relationships, Sister Katherine said. “If my relationships are out of wack, then I need healing,” she said. “It may well be that I have to deal with difficult people but I will not be healed until I admit that I am the most difficult person I will encounter today.”

Sister Katherine went through all the ways the church’s understanding of Jesus’ healing is put to use. She said through so many ministries such as chaplaincies, Catholic Charities, the sacrament of anointing of the sick, all health care ministries, jail ministry, outreach to the homebound, missionary work, the sacrament of reconciliation and more are all tied to Jesus’ healing.

“It doesn’t matter how badly you messed up, God’s saving grace is there,” Sister Katherine said. “The Council of Trent told us the graces of the sacraments are not restricted to the ritual of sacraments.”

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