This week I find myself, still after three-years of my appointment as Bishop, doing something for a first time. This will be the first time I attend the Spring Assembly of the US Bishops being held this year on the West Coast in San Diego, Calif. I consider myself especially blessed because my first Spring meeting is the “Special Assembly” that is held every three years and is devoted to spiritual formation for the bishops.  

This year, the guest speaker is the Archbishop of Sydney, Australia — Most Reverend Anthony Fisher who is a member of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans). His conferences this week will be focusing on “Episcopal Fraternity and Communio.” His seven talks to the bishops during the assembly will examine this theme: a) among Christ’s followers — the Apostles; b) in the Church’s Tradition; c) since Vatican II; d) implications for spirituality; e) balancing responsibilities with friendships; f) in our preaching; and g) tying it all together.

So I invite you to pray for your bishops this week and ask the Holy Spirit to continue to empower us with all the graces we need to answer the call to be the successors of the Apostles.  Of course, during our Holy Hours and Masses each day, the people of the Diocese of Syracuse will have a special place in my prayers, as they do each day.

Last week, the priests of the Diocese gathered to celebrate the Priestly Jubilees at Immaculate Conception Church in Fayetteville, NY. Unfortunately, I was ill and not in attendance, but I am most grateful to our Bishop-emeritus, Bishop Robert J. Cunningham, for taking my place as the principal celebrant of the Jubilee Mass. My sincere prayerful best wishes and gratitude to all our jubilarians for their priestly service. As a diocese, we congratulate the following on their special jubilee year: Msgr. Ronald C. Bill, Rev. R. Daniel DeLorme, Rev. Gerald J. Buckley, Rev. Walter S. Florczyk, Rev. James D. Mathews, Rev. John F. Rose, Rev. E. Peter Reddick, Rev. Henry J. Pedzich, Rev. R. Paul Mathis, Rev. Darr F. Schoenhofen, Rev. Jon K. Werner and Rev. Thomas I. Ward. Our prayer for them is summed up in the Latin: “ad moltos annos gloriosque” (to many more glorious years) of sacred priesthood.

Speaking of vocations, I thought it would be good for me to share with you my homily from our Holy Hour for Vocations on Saturday, June 4th. Considering its length, I will use the rest of this week’s column and next week to share my reflections with you on that occasion:

When you and I talk about vocations, I think sometimes we can, as I like to say, “romanticize” vocations. Romanticize it in the sense of, “well, look at those fancy clothes that the priests get to wear, or the bishop,” or the habits or different privileges and customs that are associated with religious vocations.  Reminiscent of the so-called Bing Crosby days “The Bells of St. Mary’s” and “Going My Way,” which were beautiful because they were all about, even in that era and that time, the priests and the religious, in particular, connecting their lives with the Gospel.  

For me, that is the heart of a vocation: connecting with God’s people. As Pope Francis uses the word, “accompaniment.” And it’s accompaniment not in the best of times, but sometimes in the most difficult of times. 

 We often use the reading of the “Call of Samuel” from the First Book of Samuel, which is where we get that beautiful St. Louis Jesuit song Here I Am, Lord from Dan Schutte to speak about this call to accompaniment. But if one goes back to the origin of that scene in Samuel, both society and even the temple were kind of bankrupt! If you look at the little byline in that first reading it says, “In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions …” (1 Sam 3:1), meaning in a certain sense of the word that God was sort of put on the shelf. And so, that is why Samuel was having trouble, because all of a sudden God was talking to him, and he was like — “Who is this? Who is asking this of me?” And you know, isn’t it the same today? Sometimes people will say, “Well, who is this God you talk about? Why would God talk to me?” 

Yet, the God we believe in as Christians is not a God who is watching us from a distance!  Some of you may have heard me say that I like Bette Midler and I like her movies, but I cannot stand the song God is Watching Us From A Distance. God is NOT watching us from a distance!  God is involved with us and that is what we see in our Gospel reading today: the involvement of our God in the life of the human family. Involved in the sense He can even ask two humans and say, “What are you looking for?” (Jn 1:38), and then they can hear Him say, “Come, and follow me, and you will see” (see Jn 1:39).  

Very much inviting them to enter into the journey — to enter into a relationship and it’s from that relationship that one responds to God’s call. That it is the Lord who leads us and sometimes leads us in ways beyond our greatest imagining. This is the story of a religious vocation, the story of a vocation to priesthood or diaconate, the story of a vocation to lay ministry. Ask most of those folks, and they will say, “Yeah, how did this happen?” Even for me this morning talking to you about vocations here, it is three years ago this morning at this hour that I was introduced to this Diocese as the new Bishop. I remember standing in this little room next to this Cathedral Church wondering, “What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to respond?” And yet, what I have discovered in the three years that I have been among you is that it really is all about our openness to God. It’s all about letting God work through us!

To be continued in next week’s column …

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