Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
"The busy month of November"
by Bishop William S. Skylstad
(From the Dec. 1, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)
As we conclude the Church’s liturgical year, November seems to be a busy month. It begins with the remembrance of our loved ones who have died, as we celebrated the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls. The National holiday of Thanksgiving always rings a vibrant cord within us, for indeed, we do have so much for which to be grateful.
Before that, however, the Catholic bishops of the United States always meet the week before Thanksgiving for a national plenary session of three and a half days. We met this year in Washington, D.C., as is our tradition – the headquarters of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is located there, near The Catholic University of America. Beginning next year, however, the meeting will take place in Baltimore, about 45 miles from the nation’s capitol. There were several reasons for the move. First, the cost of hotel rooms is cheaper in Baltimore. In addition, the facility is somewhat larger; it will be easier to accommodate the almost 300 bishops who normally come to the meeting. Baltimore is also the location of the oldest archdiocese in the United States. And next November, the Archdiocese of Baltimore will celebrate the rededication and renovation of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which dates back to 1795.
Our agenda this year was quite full. The meeting begins on Monday. On the Saturday before, the Administrative Committee of the USCCB meets to finalize the agenda of the meeting. The Administrative Committee is really the steering body for the conference. It also meets in October and March to oversee the work of the Conference and set up the agenda for the spring and fall meetings. The Administrative Committee consists of the chairs of some 30 standing committees, as well as a bishop representative from each of the 14 bishops’ regions in the U.S.
The staff and directors of various offices at the USCCB headquarters numbers over 300. I think people in general would be amazed at the diverse and complex work the Conference constantly addresses in serving the Church here in our country. Dedicated and skilled staff are of tremendous assistance to the bishops and their work.
On Sunday afternoon before the plenary session began, there were three workshops. The first was on the death penalty and the constant work of the Church in advocating the abolition of the death penalty. Progress is being made: Attitudes in the Catholic community have changed, with a drop from 70 percent support a few years ago to about 48 percent support today. The second and third workshops in the later Sunday afternoon were on Catholic Campus ministry and Ex Corde Ecclesiae, which discusses the relationship of the Church to Catholic colleges and universities.
The plenary meeting is divided into two sections: open and executive sessions. In the session open to the press, several significant actions items were discussed and voted upon.
The first was the new lectionary for Masses with children. As always, liturgical translations bring about disagreement, but the new lectionary was approved readily, by a two-thirds majority. The second document was a statement on the Church’s teaching on the death penalty. This document passed with an almost unanimous vote. Pope John Paul II was strong about his teaching in this regard. A few years ago, the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in this regard was also modified and strengthened. The Church sees this matter as part of the continuum of respecting human life. Although the state does have the right to execute a person for a grave crime, the Church asks that option not be exercised as such actions continue the cycle of violence.
The third document of considerable importance was the statement on the ministry of the laity. The explosion of lay ministry in the Church has been a great blessing. This document clarifies and affirms that ministry, placing it in context of the call that the gifts in the Church be used in service to the family of faith and to the world.
For the past two years, the bishops have been discussing the structure of the Conference and the need to review our plans and priorities. This focus has been brought about by a concern for our stewardship of resources and how best we address the needs of the Church and her mission. Considerable discussion at this recent meeting, both in the large group and in regional gatherings, reviewed the direction of the USCCB and its structure. There has been an increased emphasis on how participation can be enhanced and how the bishops can be more reflective together on our ministry and collegiality of working together. The length of the smaller regional gatherings has increased, and in the middle of our meeting, we prayed together during a holy hour. All of this speaks to the fact that all of us are called to constantly address our ministry in conversion and renewal.
We have now begun a new liturgical year with the season of Advent. New beginnings and a fresh start are opportunities to appreciate and deepen our relationship with the Lord and one another. During this time we strive to prepare ourselves even better for the coming of the Lord. The marvelous gift of faith helps us to see and experience ever more profoundly a gracious and generous God who continues to bless us richly with presence and guidance on our journey of faith.
Blessings and peace to all!
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