Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"Staying focused"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the March 1, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

We are now in the beginning of another Lenten season. Each Lent provides all of us – both as individuals and as a community of faith – an opportunity to assess our lives and enter actively into a penitential spirit. We enter that spirit with a sense of hopeful expectation and joy. As I write this just a few days before Ash Wednesday, several people have mentioned to me how they look forward to Lent. I sense their need for Lent, and I see how they realize that they benefit from the experience of Lent. Indeed, don’t we all!

Yesterday, on the Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time, I visited St. Aloysius Parish to celebration Confirmation and First Eucharist, and for a parish visit for all of the Masses. The readings were from the Gospel of Luke, in which Jesus tells us to “love our enemies,” and from the First Book of Samuel, sharing the episode between Saul and David. Saul is trying to hunt down David. David is presented with an opportunity to easily kill Saul, but in an extraordinary act of compassion and reverence, David tells Abishai, his companion, that they must respect Saul, God’s anointed one.

Relationships in our community of faith are a vital necessity. They give vibrant witness to Jesus’ call to love one another, especially to love those who hate us or even don’t like us very much. There past four years have not been easy for our diocese, as we have sorted out the Chapter 11 process. Now it seems that is coming to a resolution that will lead us out of bankruptcy. Throughout these four years, some relationships have been strained. We have come to the painful awareness of the large number of people who have been harmed by sexual abuse over the past 60 or more years.

Some individuals in our community have not agreed with the course of action we have taken, but with significant consultation at several different levels, we are at a place now we could never have reached without the legal process.

In a sense, all of us have been harmed by what has happened. First and foremost, we are mindful of those who experienced the abuse. This tragic series of events has had a profound impact on the credibility of the bishops, the parish communities, the image of our Catholic community, and our larger community. In many instances, relationships have been strained or broken. Yet, we go back to the Gospel to listen to the words of Jesus, and we remind ourselves: of who we should be, and of the witness we are to give. Those are words of the Savior which lead us to healing, reconciliation, and wholeness.

In yesterday’s Gospel passage from Luke (6:27+), Jesus is very direct and challenging: “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you … stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.” Then, a few verses later, we find Jesus saying: “The measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”

The question we can ask ourselves, especially during the Lenten season, is this: How do I measure? We can measure with bigotry, put-downs, negativity, harshness, arrogance, self righteousness – the list can go on and on. As the old saying goes, the chickens eventually come home to roost. That way of measuring will invariably come back to us like a boomerang. That is what Jesus is telling us. On the other hand, love, forgiveness, “doing to others as you would have them do to you” come back to us as well, in powerful, constructive, healing ways.

Jesus expects us to take the initiative with these qualities, without expecting anything in return. Yet the reality is that there is something coming back to us that makes us more faithful disciples of Jesus and much more peaceful in our hearts.

Over 20 years ago in Gary, Ind., an elderly grandmother was brutally robbed and murdered by four teenagers. The grandson seethed with rage until one day he asked himself what his grandmother would think. He knew the answer. Then another thought came to him: What would she expect of him as her grandson? He also knew the answer to that. Soon he became the advocate of the 15-year-old girl who was scheduled to be executed for the crime. Her sentence was eventually commuted to 60 years in prison, partially through the efforts of the grandson. When criticized for his action, he replied: “Forgiving Paula did more for me than for her.”

“The measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”

Healing, reconciliation, and restoring relationships have so much to do with that positive spirit of initiative and trust in God’s grace working in our hearts. One evening, that grandson came to realize what his grandmother would think, and what she would expect of him. It was a sign of how the power of the Spirit can work in our lives, often in very surprising moments.

During this Lenten season, we have the opportunity to assess how we live up to the call of Jesus. With so much going on in our lives, it is easy to lose focus and determination. As a community of faith, may we encourage and support one another in becoming ever more strongly committed to the life-giving words of the Gospel.

May God bless you and give you peace.

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