Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
by Bishop William S. Skylstad
(From the Feb. 23, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)
“… we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
These are words taken from our Mass, words that the celebrant prays for all of us.
The words remind us of something crucial to the life of faith: We do not know the day or the hour of Jesus’ return. We simply know, for certain, that the day, the hour, will come. And so, we wait – and we wait joyfully.
One of the joys of faith is knowing – not trusting, not hoping, but knowing – that good will prevail. That God is with his Church. That no matter the trial, God will give us grace sufficient to do his will, to do his work, to preach the Gospel with a voice filled with certainty, with love, with joy.
Jesus our Brother lived as one of us. He remains with us. Where two or more of us are gathered, he told us he would be among us. He promised us the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, a promise fulfilled at Pentecost, a promise fulfilled each and every day.
We are loved by God, who cares for us, who guides us, who remains with us. Our God strengthens us, rejoices with us, grieves with us, as we wait, joyfully, for the triumphant return of his Son in glory.
We can too easily become distracted by the pressures and incidents of the moment, particularly when the moments are not to our liking – when we feel that we have failed, or we have difficulty seeing the hand of God in whatever twist or turn life has taken.
The distractions are just that: distractions. My brothers and sisters, the fact is, we are called by God to give joyous example of life in Christ – Christian living that preaches the Good News with fervor, with charity, with warmth – with fire!
We are an Easter people, and we have every reason to be filled with joy. We are loved by God! Our God loves us so much that he gave us his Son! And it is God’s Son who died for us, and rose for us. Yes, there was Good Friday. But that is not the end of the story. Even as we sometimes experience our own Good Friday, we cannot allow ourselves to stop there. Our focus, our goal, our calling is to be an Easter people: a people of faith, and joy, and hope – joyful hope.
It is so tempting to allow ourselves to become fixated on the unknowable future. We can play “what if” games all we like. None of us has a crystal ball. No one knows what the next moment might hold, let alone the next day, the next year.
Trying to force God’s will into our plans, trying to bend God into a shape that’s more convenient to our view of the universe: That is not what it means to be an Easter people, waiting in joyful hope.
It doesn’t take much to allow ourselves to become paralyzed with fear of the future. It happens every day, even within the context of Church. Perhaps we live in a parish whose pastor has announced that he will be moving to another assignment later this year. Do we allow ourselves to stop ministering? Do we allow ourselves to stop preaching the Gospel? Do we sit back, and cross our arms, and take a “wait and see” attitude until we have a new pastor? Especially, a new pastor who passes our personal muster?
Anything that stops us from preaching the Gospel, from living the Gospel, is contrary to God’s will. Discouragement, no matter its source, has no place in the life of the believer.
Listen to the words of the Gospel story. Over and over again, we believers are told, in one way or another, “Be not afraid.” Do not be afraid.
Our loving God knows just how paralyzing fear can be. God knows how difficult is the path of the believer. And it has always been difficult, from trying to live the interior life of faith, to witnessing the Gospel to the ends of the Earth.
God understands the uncertainty of so much of our lives. God understands our worries about money, about health, about love, about relationships. God understands that so much of our lives are unpredictable. So much can change, quite literally, in a heartbeat – and not necessarily for the better.
But God also promises us his presence, his Spirit, his love, his strength, his Grace. God promises that he will be with us, always, to the end of time.
That is our task. It is our task today; it has always been our task, our charge from God: to believe, and to live that belief. To cry out, like the father of the boy possessed by the demon, “I do believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
We have much to be thankful for.
Come to Mass, and really pay attention to what you see. I look out on our communities of faith, and I see so much for which to be joyful: senior citizens who provide the steady presence of life and experience, anchoring their parish in living history. I see young families – yes, sometimes noisy, and sometimes rambunctious! But also, so full of life, so hungry for God’s life. I see young people who are searching for meaning, searching for relationship, searching for community – and finding it.
Pay a visit to any of our religious education programs. Drop by a class on a Sunday morning. Watch the eager faces of children – sometimes noisy, sometimes rambunctious, but so full of life! So full of God’s life! And hungry for knowledge about God’s love, present in their lives.
Talk to a youth minister. Many of our parishes have thriving youth programs, with teens who channel their enthusiasm for life, for love, for relationship – channel those powerful energies into helping build the Kingdom of God right here in Eastern Washington, building a community that reaches out and touches the region.
Take a look at any of our diocesan schools. You will see hard-working professionals, well-educated, talented. They dedicate themselves to not only teaching our children the fundamental tools of life-long learning, but also envelope those lessons within the context of our Catholic Faith. Their care and their compassion are evident; their own joy in their ministry is a source of genuine inspiration.
Look at the volunteers who give so generously of themselves, from the women who sew quilts every week in the Catholic Pastoral Center, to the people sorting donations in parish food banks, to those involved with the St. Vincent de Paul Society, or Catholic Charities’ Childbirth and Parenting Alone program. Look at the people who give of their time and resources to agencies and programs that are not Catholic – to community food banks, to shelters, to youth programs, because their Catholic faith calls them to generosity, calls them to service – calls them to share their joy in their faith with the world.
I see much that I have seen, in one form or another, for as long as I can remember – not just as a bishop, but as a Catholic, sitting in the pew on Sunday morning with my family.
That has not changed. Still we gather as a family of believers, to worship, to learn, to embrace the Paschal Mystery.
And part of that Paschal Mystery is uncertainty.
But part of that Paschal Mystery is joy.
We have so many reasons to be joyful. Our communities continue to celebrate the sacraments: babies are baptized; children receive the Sacraments of Initiation; adults come to explore and understand the life-giving complexities of our faith. Marriages. Ordinations. Comfort for the sick and the dying. Comfort for those who grieve.
We have done these things, and so much more, for so long. And we will continue to do them. We will not be paralyzed by fear, or by uncertainty. Jesus does not ask his disciples to stand still and tremble. Jesus asks us, his disciples, to proclaim the Gospel. Jesus calls us to live the Gospel in our homes, in our schools, in our workplaces, in our communities.
We embrace the experience of our Catholic faith. We are embraced in turn: by our fellow believers, by the sure knowledge that God loves us and is with us in all we do.
This is not the end. Some day, all will be made right; all will be perfected. Some day, our Savior will return in glory.
In the meantime, we wait – and as we wait, we live – in joyful hope.
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