As I sit down to write my next column for The Catholic Sun, it happens to be the Memorial of St. Francis de Sales, bishop & doctor of the Church, as well as the patron saint of authors, journalists, writers and deafness. I find the last patronage interesting because it illustrates so beautifully the importance of communication within the Diocese of Syracuse. This local church’s essential and ongoing desire to clearly announce the Good News of Jesus Christ (the Gospel) to all people where they are at on the road of life helps illuminate some of the ministries sponsored by the diocese: The Catholic Sun, Catholic Television, the Catholic Deaf Community, Catholic Schools, various offices dedicated to ongoing catechesis, and even the weekly Wednesday Chancery e-mail.

These means are meant to assist you and me to take seriously the words of Jesus (as did St. Francis de Sales): “Learn of me for I am meek and humble of heart” (Mt. 11:29). Now is an appropriate time of year for us to consider how we can connect more with Jesus in our lives, especially since on February 22nd — Ash Wednesday — we will begin the holy season of Lent.  A 40-day period in which you and I are invited to connect with our God — Father, Son & Holy Spirit — by connecting more with life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Although we have about three weeks before Lent’s arrival, now is a good time for you and me to consider how through our own prayer, fasting and charitable works we can learn to be more Christ-like in our lives.

This need for Christ in our lives and in the life of our society is especially brought home to me as we again confront the violence abounding across the globe. My thoughts and prayers continue to be with all affected by a spiraling inhumanity and heartlessness in our world — not only in Ukraine, Africa and South America, but right here in our own nation and in our own neighborhoods.  

I grieve with the families and friends of Brexialee Torres-Ortiz and Ava Wood, I express my condolences and that of the entire Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse to all who have suffered such tremendous loss and pain. I wish to express as well my deepest admiration and gratitude to our Catholic parishes and their pastoral leaders who have reached out to these families in their suffering and need. Thank you for being a living gospel for all people to hear!   

In my homily at the Mass for Life held in the Cathedral on Saturday, January 14, I spoke of the need for believers to consider how in our march to promote the sanctity of human life we need to get back to our origins! As St. Paul in his Letter to the Philippians writes: “Our citizenship is in heaven” (3:20). Therefore, every human person — called by name — comes from God and seeks by nature one’s destiny of reunion with God.  

Since our citizenship is in heaven then, we are bound by a greater law! And the greater law is this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. … You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mk 12:30-31). Think of what that means for you and me today in our encounters with one another, especially with those who might rub or irk us the wrong way — that as heavenly citizens you and I are being invited not to yield to anger, to bitterness or to harsh words. Rather, we are being invited in real time to do what Jesus would do!                                    

As I stated at the conclusion of my homily: “There is no way we can evangelize — there is no way we can proclaim the Gospel of Life, if we treat one another like refuse or garbage, because that is not who we are! God does not make junk! And that is why we are challenged … to be that image, that true image in which we are made.”

The beauty of and the struggle for the dignity and sanctity of human life and how to communicate this truth is further highlighted in February as we celebrate Black History Month. As a society and as believers, you and I continue to confront the sad reality that racist thinking and practices continue to wreak on our homeland. As Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles has written in the Foreword of the Our Sunday Visitor Publication, Black Catholics on the Road to Sainthood (2021):

It should not be this way in America. Racism is a blasphemy against God, who creates all men and women with equal dignity. It has no place in civilized society and no place in the hearts of Christians. When God looks at us, he sees beyond the color our skin or the countries we come from or the language that we speak. God sees only his children — his beloved sons, his beloved daughters.   

Throughout history, holiness has always been God’s response to hatred. In every time and place, God raises up holy men and women to proclaim and defend human dignity in the face of evil and injustice.

This invitation to the holiness of life brings each of us back to the ongoing invitation of Jesus, “Learn from me.” It is said that we are never too old to learn something new! May the coming days of February allow us to further explore the meaning of our heavenly citizenship here and now. As the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple (Candlemas Day) on February 2 directs you and me: “Let us go in peace to meet the Lord.” May February provide us with such encounters!

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