Often when I begin to write my Catholic Sun article I have a particular topic in mind. Such was not the case as I prepared to write this week’s column. My thoughts drifted from one topic to another. I decided therefore to offer a reflection that followed a stream of unrelated but important topics that crossed my mind.
I awoke this morning to a beautiful day. How fortunate we are that summer, in its waning days, continues to provide us with bright sun and warm temperatures. As is my custom, I began the day with the Divine Office. Often God’s word or the words from one of the Fathers of the Church or a saint come as bolt of lightning with a message that, written centuries ago, apply to our current day. Such was the case this morning when I read St. Augustine’s sermon in the Office of Readings.
In a sermon for pastors of his day, St. Augustine reminds them of the infidelity of some of Israel’s shepherds. “Shepherds of Israel,” he writes, “nourished themselves rather than nourishing the sheep,” namely those entrusted to their care. He continues, “True shepherds take care of their sheep, not themselves. This is the principal reason why God condemns those shepherds: they took care of themselves rather than their sheep.” Speaking in the first person, St. Augustine concludes his sermon, “I am a Christian and must give God an account of my life. I as a leader must give him an account of my stewardship as well.”
Bishops and priests all over the world read this sermon today. I prayed for myself and for them. When necessary may we seek forgiveness for times we have failed to be good shepherds. Daily may we invoke God’s grace to live our calling faithfully, tending the people entrusted to our care with love and compassion.
Later in the morning, I ventured to downtown Syracuse and the Festa Italiana to celebrate Mass. The Italian heritage was evident on the joyful faces of all ages, the familiar ethnic food, pastry, and music. As I looked over and mingled with the crowd, I thought about the rich heritage that immigrants brought to our country. Most of us can trace our lineage to Italy, Ireland, Germany, Poland, France, or any number of countries. There was a time in our history when Americans recognized and embraced the idea that we were a “melting pot” of many different nationalities united in the ideals of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. I am not sure this is the case today.
The immigration and refugee issues of our day are complex. Yet, in this complexity, we cannot lay aside our responsibility as Christians to recognize the face of Christ in those who are seeking entrance into our country, to reach out to those most in need, and to pray and work for the enactment of just immigration policies.
After the Festa, I stopped in my office before I went to my residence. When I entered the lobby area, I immediately noticed the statute of Our Lady of Sorrows. We recently placed the statue in this prominent place inviting all who enter the Chancery Office to pause and pray for hope and healing for victims of abuse and for all who are sorrowful at this time.
As I stood before the statue, my thoughts turned to the previous day, Saturday, September 15. As you may know, I asked every parish to celebrate Mass on the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows asking forgiveness and healing for the victims of sexual abuse. I am grateful to all who attended their parish Mass on this occasion and note particularly those who joined me at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Vestal on Saturday.
Who better than our Blessed Mother, under her title Lady of Sorrows, understands the sorrow that accompanies so many today? Who better than she understands the sorrow that victims of sexual abuse experience and carry with them for a lifetime? With an anxious heart, Mary endured migration to a foreign land to protect her infant son, worried about His safety when He was “lost in the temple,” and grieved as He passed her on the way to Calvary. Standing at the foot of the cross, Mary watched her son die and later held Him in her arms. Sorrow was a part of Mary’s life. She lived through its pain and anguish many times. She is always ready to receive the sorrow that we bear and take it to her Son who alone can offer us the enduring love and compassion we desire.
My final thoughts in writing this article took me to the upcoming week when our priests and I will be in Alexandria Bay for the annual clergy convocation. We have many fine, holy, and faithful priests serving in our diocese. They too are suffering in these days. Please pray for them and for me.
As I noted this week in one of the television interviews I gave, I find my consolation during this time in the firm assurance of God’s abiding presence. All of us, including myself, have strayed from God’s presence. Sometimes we seriously offend God and the members of His Body — our brothers and sisters. God, however, does not stray from us. He remains steadfast in His love and mercy. Like the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, when we turn our hearts back to God, He embraces us in mercy and the comfort of His presence. This is my faith and enduring hope.
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.