Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"Surrounded by grace"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the Feb. 3, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

I’m often struck these days by the notion of gift. That life, with all it contains, is a gift. I look at my own life and I have to smile in wonder and marvel at the gifts God has given me. Some of it is pretty obvious: recently, my election to the presidency of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference. The day Pope Paul VI chose me as the new bishop of Yakima. God calling me to priesthood. And God’s gift of grace to meet these challenges and recognize these opportunities. I never could have imagined it.

There are difficulties and challenges in everyone’s life. In my own life and ministry, there was the challenge of leaving home in the Methow Valley as a very young boy to travel thousands of miles away to study in the seminary in Ohio. Challenges as a teacher and, later, rector of a high school seminary, Mater Cleri in Colbert. The challenges of leadership as a pastor, as a chancellor, as a bishop. Every moment, full of opportunity; every moment, full of challenge; every moment, surrounded by grace. Every moment, a gift.

Talking with parents, I hear similar stories. The joy of a newborn baby; trying to meet the challenges of raising that child; the unique challenges of each stage of a child’s development, from infancy on up until – well, I’m told pretty reliably that you never stop being a parent. Every moment, full of opportunity; every moment, full of challenge; every moment, surrounded by grace. Every moment, a gift.

Hindsight offers us that perfect 20-20 vision that lets us see exactly where the gifts might have been, where the challenges were, what opportunities were truly available. That recognition can be tougher in the present moment. But really, all of life is a gift from God.

These past days, this present reality in Church: sometimes it’s hard to see our situation as an opportunity, let alone a gift. We are beset by challenges at every turn. As Church, we are doing our very best to reach out, to minister, to be the face of Christ in the world. We are all acutely aware that even as we do so, we are under intense scrutiny. With all of the distractions that brings, it can be hard to remember that we still minister as a Church. Our diocesan family, spread throughout the 13 counties of Eastern Washington, continues to be Church, to do Church: to gather for joyful celebrations of Eucharist; to celebrate the other sacraments; to educate our children in Catholic schools, in religious education programs, in youth ministry, in campus ministry. We continue to reach out to ethnic communities. We celebrate in times of joy, we console in times of grief.

We educate our future priests and deacons. God willing, two men will be ordained priests in December. Eight men will be ordained deacons in June; this spring, two men will be ordained deacons as part of their journey to priesthood.

Just like the rest of life, all of ministry is a challenge, and an opportunity, and a gift. And it is surrounded by grace.

With trust in God’s grace and guidance, I took the step of filing for Chapter 11 Reorganization in Federal Bankruptcy Court last December. If it is God’s will, the diocese will emerge from that process stronger than before.

Yes, this means that some of the diocese’s operating budget is devoted to the costs of the Chapter 11 Reorganization process. I have a responsibility to you to be a good steward of what you give in support of the Church’s ministry. I have another responsibility as well: to be a good steward of what has been given in the past. So many people have been so generous in helping build up the Church in Eastern Washington. We must honor, and respect that generosity, and the fruits of those sacrifices. That, too, is part of my stewardship as bishop.

Certainly, I wish that the diocese did not have to face these particular challenges. They also provide us with opportunities. The Church always has been an institution that must cope with the flaws of its members, including its leadership, including the people in the pews. We all gain in some way from the abundant example of saints, from the Apostles to Mother Teresa of Calcutta. They are part of our family. The sinners, too, are part of our family – and we are all sinners. We are faced with challenges, yes, but also opportunities: opportunities to really live our commitment to Church, our commitment to one another. We all are family – saints and sinners. We all are Church – in good times, and in bad. We all face challenges – and we all face opportunities. And those challenges, and those opportunities, are surrounded by grace.

This issue of the Inland Register contains information about the Annual Catholic Appeal. The Appeal is the major source of funding for the diocese’s ministry in the next fiscal year: educating future priests and deacons, training catechists, communicating the Gospel in ways large and small. I hope that you will prayerfully consider your commitment to this year’s Annual Catholic Appeal. If you have never given before, please consider doing so this year. If you have donated in the past, if this year you can possibly increase your pledge, I would be most grateful. This is not hyperbole; I do not exaggerate: Your commitment and generosity to the Church are more important this year than ever before.

As St. Paul said, I thank God when I think of you. Thank you for being a part of this diocesan family. Thank you for standing with me to face the challenges, to recognize the opportunities, and to accept joyfully and gratefully the gift of God’s grace.

Know that I pray for you each day. Please pray for me as well.

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