‘In my final article as your bishop, I speak to you from my heart, hoping that my thoughts reach your hearts’
By Most Reverend Robert J. Cunningham
Editor’s note: Bishop Robert J. Cunningham will officially retire as the 10th Bishop of Syracuse on Aug. 8 when his successor, Bishop-elect Douglas J. Lucia, is ordained and installed. In advance of that day, Bishop Cunningham offers his final “My Place in the Sun” column, bringing to a close the series that has appeared in nearly every print edition of the Catholic Sun during his tenure.
Writing is both an enjoyable and disciplining exercise. Writing provides us with clarity of thought that frequently escapes the spoken word. When we put our thoughts in writing we go on record — for the present and the future — much more so than with informal conversation.
For me, writing articles for the Catholic Sun — approximately 450 of them — has been a pleasant experience. The challenge has always been to come up with an appropriate theme. Some have come easily; some have not. Today’s column is difficult to write. There is so much I wish to say.
John Henry Cardinal Newman, who is scheduled to be canonized by Pope Francis in October, had a wonderful saying that has always been dear to my own heart: “Cor ad Cor Loquitor,” Heart Speaks to Heart. In my final article as your bishop, I speak to you from my heart, hoping that my thoughts reach your hearts.
As I complete my time as your bishop my heart is filled with gratitude. I am grateful that for ten years God gave me the opportunity to accompany you on the journey of life and faith. I have immense gratitude to almighty God not only for these past ten years, but for 50 years of priesthood.
It is a wonderful blessing to be called to the priesthood and to be part of the episcopacy. The priesthood is a vocation of service that reaches out to all as together we move forward on the journey of faith. In these past ten years here in the Diocese of Syracuse I have, in the words of St. Paul, seen “the breadth and length and height and depth” of so many — priests, deacons, consecrated men and women, and devoted laity — committed to the work of the Church.
Recognizing the years before my ordination, I am mindful of being welcomed into a family with love, formed and educated at home and in schools in our Catholic faith, years of seminary study, and the grace of living in the United States. Faith, family, and country are very important to me.
I am grateful we had the opportunity to celebrate the Year of Faith and the Year of the Family. We reached out to all in our community as we tried to know, live, and share our Catholic faith. Our efforts in evangelization have been simple but consistent. Our endeavors to build up family life, so greatly challenged today, were timely and practical. As the family goes, so goes our nation.
I am grateful for the numerous opportunities to worship God with you and to serve our brothers and sisters throughout the seven counties of our beloved diocese. As we kneel before the Blessed Sacrament, we are reminded that the same Jesus who lives in our Church lives in all the tabernacles in our diocese and indeed the entire world. When we have Jesus, we have all that we need. Moreover, in Him we are all united — sons and daughters of a loving and merciful God.
I have had the opportunity to confer the Sacrament of Confirmation on approximately 600 occasions. Each opportunity was a moment of grace and joy for me. The celebration of Confirmation brought me to the parishes of the diocese where I met the “living stones” that build up the Church in Central New York. What a pleasure this has been!
In addition, Confirmation allows me to direct my attention particularly to the young people of our Church who will receive the special grace of the Holy Spirit to strengthen and guide them throughout their lives. I am grateful that over the years we have encouraged a “culture of vocations” that encourages our young people to consider God’s plan for them. They will find the happiness they desire if they follow His plan.
Confirmation is an opportunity to assure them that God has a plan for them and encourage them to listen to the “quiet, still voice” of the Lord. Most will enter the Sacrament of Matrimony and raise a family. I am convinced, however, that God calls people to the consecrated life and the priesthood. While all vocations are important, may we continue to pray that the “Lord of the harvest” will bless our diocese with vocations to the priesthood — essential to building up the Church through the Eucharist.
I am convinced that the heart remembers too — not facts, however significant they may be, but most especially the people who have walked with me through the years, people who have been there to support, strengthen, and pray for me.
I have immense gratitude for the countless men and women — clergy, religious and lay, in every walk of life, from every station, age, and race — who have inspired, supported, and strengthened me for my journey through life. I have been happy to walk with them as we reached out in loving service to our brothers and sisters.
For the past 10 years, each time Mass was celebrated here in the Diocese of Syracuse, my name has been mentioned at the Eucharistic Prayer. Thank you for praying for me. Be assured that I remember you in the Eucharist every day, including the various intentions which you have brought to my attention. The faithfully departed who have gone before us and the priests noted in the necrology for commemoration are also remembered daily. I promise to remember all of you in the days ahead at the Eucharist asking God to keep you close to Him.
As I write this article I count on God’s grace for refugees and immigrants. Their conditions weigh heavily upon my heart. It is difficult to comprehend so many people separated from their homeland and fearful for their lives seeking a better life for their family and their children and the government struggling to address this grave humanitarian need. Hopefully, in the midst of this complex and challenging situation, we can open our arms to receive the immigrant as we have so often in the past and be enriched by their presence.
In conclusion, I ask not only for your prayers, but also for your forgiveness, if I have failed to accomplish everything you expected me to do. Certainly, it has never been my intention to neglect my responsibilities or to hurt anyone, but only to build up the Family of God in our beloved diocese. I am sorry if I have not fulfilled your expectations according to the mind of Christ. I pray that your goodness to me and to the Church will be rewarded in scriptural fashion, “pressed down, shaken together and overflowing.”
Memories such as those noted in this article are heartwarming. They permit me to take all of you with me and to recall and rejoice in all those grace-filled moments with which I have been blessed. Memories will also remind me to pray for you each time that I celebrate Mass or spend time with the Lord quietly in Eucharistic adoration. Prayers and love have no boundaries.
Ave Atque Vale. These words from a familiar poem came to mind as I wrote this article. Translated they say, Hail and Farewell. They originate from a poem by Catullus — actually a eulogy offered for his brother. While this article is certainly not a eulogy, the words are appropriate. Hail and Farewell to all of you! Many thanks for reading my weekly column. From the beginning of my time as your bishop I have considered my weekly article as a major means of keeping in touch with you. It has been a pleasure for me to know that My Place in the Sun has found a place in your homes and hearts each week.
The journey continues and we look forward to Bishop Lucia’s coming and his leadership and pastoral care of our diocese. May God bless him and all of us as we move into the future.
God bless you.
I will continue to remember all of you in prayer and if you have a special intention you would like me to pray for, please continue to send them to me at the Chancery: 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.