The month of November is one of my favorite months of the year. First, the Solemnity of All Saints on November 1 and the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed on November 2 are two cherished liturgical celebrations from my early childhood days. I value their rootedness in our ancestry and who we are and who we’re invited to be — God’s holy ones, saints of God — letting God’s light shine through us who are His adopted sons and daughters.
The waning days of the Church’s liturgical year and the Advent of a new year of grace on the last day of this month direct us toward our own goal in life: oneness with God. Two great quotes I saw on Twitter over the weekend were: “The point of this feast isn’t about admiring them — it’s about joining them… and in the meantime, seeking their help amid all our fits and starts…” and “French writer Leon Bloy once said, ‘The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.’”
That is why in this penultimate month of 2019, you and I are invited to consider that “there is still something to wait for.” That beneath the seeming dying this month suggests, you and I are being directed to a new vision as found in the 21st chapter of the Book of Revelation where God’s creation is made anew! Thus, when we focus on the “end things,” it is not sin and death that have the final word, but the Word who is Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe. However, a key question that accompanies us in this month is, “How in my own life have I responded to the Word of God; how has it become flesh in my life over the course of the year?” It is connected intimately with what the Second Vatican Council spoke of as “the Universal Call to Holiness.” How has my life and God’s life connected in my daily living? Isn’t that what we celebrate when we consider the saints, both canonized and uncanonized, how in their lives God can be encountered?
That is why the first week of November is designated now as National Vocation Awareness Week. What better time of year to be reminded that each of us has a call from God? This year’s focus in the Diocese of Syracuse is on the healing ministry of Jesus. “In the Name of Jesus,” what can each of us do so that those around us who are down in life might be lifted by our presence? Even more, have you and I responded to the call of God to serve as Jesus did, whether in ordained ministry, the consecrated life, as a married or single person, yet all in response to our baptismal commitment?
In other words, the month of November invites all of us to consider where we are at in our pilgrimage with God. This journeying takes on new meaning for me next week when I join the bishops of New York State (U.S. Region 2) on a pilgrimage to Rome to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul known as the “ad limina apostolorum,” meaning “to the threshold of the Apostles.” This pilgrimage is so important that it will pre-empt my attendance at the fall meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore.
This visit happens periodically for all the bishops of the world, country by country. Perhaps after five or six years or more, the bishops of a particular country will spend some days in Rome to fulfill two principal responsibilities: first, to strengthen their own response and responsibility as successors of the apostles; and secondly, to deepen their solidarity with the successor of St. Peter, Pope Francis. Both these aims are fulfilled practically by a program containing theological, spiritual, and pastoral aspects.
My time in Rome with the New York State bishops will include:
• Prayer at the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul;
• Special Masses at the four principal basilicas in Rome: St. Mary Major on Monday, St. Paul’s Outside the Walls on Tuesday, St. Peter’s on Thursday, and St. John Lateran on Friday;
• A two-and-half hour audience with the Holy Father, Pope Francis, on Thursday;
• Visits to 12 offices (dicasteries) of the Holy See throughout the week;
Participation in the Baltimore meeting via Internet;
• Mass at the North American College in Rome, where the N.Y. Bishops will be staying during their visit, on Wednesday evening.
So you see I will be working, but I am hoping for one free afternoon and evening to enjoy the sites of Rome and, of course, some gelato!
In preparation for this ad limina visit, each diocese has prepared a report to the Holy See. The report for the Diocese of Syracuse was submitted even prior to the announcement of my appointment as the 11th Bishop of Syracuse. It offers an overview of diocesan life and both the blessings and challenges present in our local Church. This is a help to the dialogue that will happen between the Holy Father and his advisors with the New York bishops.
I ask for your prayers for the safety and success of this visit. Please know that in each Mass offered, the people of the Diocese of Syracuse and your loved ones and intentions will be close to my heart. In this month of Thanksgiving, know that I am grateful to be your bishop and to call Syracuse my home until I am called to the New Jerusalem (I hope and pray!).
I would be remiss if I did not close by saluting our veterans and their service to our nation and world as we call to mind the soldier-bishop-saint Martin of Tours and observe Armistice Day on November 11. May this day dedicated to the cause of world peace continue to ring out the words of St. Pope Paul VI: “No more war, war never again!”
God’s blessings on your week!