Faith is an enduring journey. Over the Labor Day Weekend, I traveled to Buffalo to visit family and friends. Those few days provided the opportunity to reflect on my journey of faith. I visited the graves of my parents and grandparents who passed the treasure of their faith on to me. I celebrated Mass at St. Louis Church where I was pastor when I was named a bishop. I drove through the familiar streets of Buffalo noticing the parishes, Catholic schools, and institutions with which I was familiar during my years of ministry in the Diocese of Buffalo. All too often, I lamented the closing of many of these institutions. All of these occasions evoked gratitude for my faith nurtured by rich memories of people and places.
As I was thinking about my recent trip to Buffalo and this week’s article for the Catholic Sun, I continued the trip down memory lane.
The first stop along the way was the fond memories I have of sharing faith with others on pilgrimages to Ireland and Italy. Some of you have joined me on pilgrimages to Ireland. Together we enjoyed the beautiful Emerald Isle, its landscape, small villages and larger cities, the hospitality of its people, and of course the sacred landmarks that are part of its spiritual heritage.
Others joined me on the pilgrimage to Rome for the canonization of our local saint, Mother Marianne Cope. We experienced the hustle, bustle, and rich heritage of the Eternal City. We enjoyed its beautiful basilicas, quaint neighborhood churches, and sites associated with numerous saints, especially Peter and Paul. We marveled at the treasures of the Vatican Museum that shelter the rich culture of past generations. We experienced the joy and pageantry of the canonization ceremony, an audience with the Holy Father, and so much more.
These excursions were more than sightseeing opportunities and trips to sites of historical significance. True to their name “pilgrimage,” they were journeys undertaken to visit sacred places. They were expressions of our faith and religious devotion. “To go on a pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself, where his grace has shone with particular splendor and produced rich fruit of conversion and holiness among those who believe” (Benedict XVI, November 6, 2010).
The memories associated with the pilgrimages to Ireland and Rome continue to nourish my faith and elicit deep gratitude for this beautiful gift. Moreover, they remind me of my responsibility to share this treasured gift with others.
The second stop along the way was the celebration of the memorial of Saints Joachim and Anne that we celebrated on July 26. Joachim and Anne were our Blessed Mother’s parents and Jesus’ grandparents. On their memorial, I recalled that all of us are pilgrims traveling to our eternal home. Faith is a pilgrimage and no one makes the journey alone. “Our ancestors, each in their own time were godly people whose virtues have not been forgotten. Their wealth remains in their families, their heritage with their descendants” (Sir 44:1, 10-11).
Mary learned about her Jewish faith, the importance of God’s sacred word, and the longings for a savior from her parents. She lived her Jewish faith and, together with St. Joseph, passed it on to Jesus. Jesus, in turn, attracted followers who were sent forth to share the good news of salvation “with the whole world.”
In this Year of the Family, may we acknowledge our ancestors, especially parents and grandparents, who introduced us to the faith, helped it to grow, and prepared us to pass it on to others.
The third stop along the way was a refrain from a song used often at the conferral of Confirmation: “We are a pilgrim people; we are the Church of God — a family of believers, disciples of the Lord.” The journey of faith is a lifelong trek. Pilgrim people do not stand still. They are always on the move with their eyes set on the goal, the end of the journey — eternal happiness.
“Always remember that life is a journey. It is a path to meet Jesus. It is a journey on which the Christian continually meets Jesus, watches Him and is watched over by Him” (Pope Francis, December 1, 2013). “Follow me” is Jesus’ invitation to all of us. Beginning with our baptism, we are on a pilgrimage through our temporary homeland, our eyes set on our heavenly home.
Jesus accompanies us on our journey of faith. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the celebration of the Eucharist where we are nourished by God’s word and the sacred Body and Blood of Jesus.
During August, the Sunday Gospel readings were from the Bread of Life Discourse, the 6th chapter of St. John’s Gospel. These readings assured us that when we receive the Eucharist we are fed with the new manna, the new bread from heaven that sustains our spiritual lives just like the manna in the Old Testament sustained the Israelites’ physical lives. Jesus, the Bread of Life, strengthens us to live as faithful Christians and disciples of the Lord. The Eucharist is food for our journey of faith, food that helps us to arrive safely at our heavenly homeland.
In these troubled times as we confront the horrific sin of the sexual abuse of children and youth, we need the grace flowing from Christ’s sacrifice in the Eucharist more than ever. As you gather to celebrate the Eucharist, I ask you to join me in praying for the Church. On September 15, I have asked all parishes to celebrate a Mass of Forgiveness on the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. As Bishop of Syracuse, I will be personally praying and fasting for my sins and any failures I have made and invite others to join me as a community of faith. We will also be praying for the healing of all victims of abuse. I invite you to join me in prayer and fasting as suggested by our Holy Father, Pope Francis. He reminds us that Catholics pray and fast “to open our eyes and our hearts to other people’s sufferings and to overcome the thirst from power and possessions that are so often roots of evil.” May fasting and prayer open our ears to the hushed pain felt by children, young people, and those who are disabled.
For me, even in these difficult times, a trip down memory lane recalling pilgrimages to sacred places, thinking about my ancestors in the faith, remembering words from a familiar hymn, and receiving the sacred “food for the journey” remind me that we do not make the journey of life and faith alone. We travel with a “family of believers, disciples of the Lord.” With joy and hope may we continue the journey of life and faith!
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.