Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
"The Word became flesh ..."
by Bishop William S. Skylstad
(From the Dec. 20, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)
“The Word became flesh.”
These words from the Gospel of St. John frame for us a powerful moment in salvation history: the Birth of the Savior. The Messiah has come. During these weeks of Advent we have been preparing our hearts for the celebration of that moment over 2,000 years ago. St. Paul in his writings talks about how in the past God has come to us in various and diverse ways, but in these last times, God has come to us through his Son. His Son established the Church, and in that Church we celebrate the sacraments which provide for us a special opportunity of continuing encounter with our God. That opportunity is especially evident in the celebration of the Eucharist.
However, we encounter Jesus in other ways as well. In the Gospel of St. John we further hear about the contrast of light and darkness: “The light shines on in the darkness, darkness that did not overcome it” (John 1:5). The light of Jesus will always overcome. There is enough darkness in our world today to be reminded of this powerful truth: Jesus is the savior of the world, and no darkness will ever overcome the gloominess we may feel or see.
Jesus came as Savior and Light. His salvation for the world is especially known by us in his passion and death. But the redeeming presence of Jesus should not only be relegated to a single moment in history. His saving Presence is dynamic and alive – yes, even in the greatest darkness of our times. Fanaticism and terrorism grip our world. Places like Iraq, Darfur, and even the Holy Land, for example, indicate to us how deeply entrenched darkness can be. Addictive behaviors of violence in street gangs in our own nation leave us mystified as to how to deal with this disintegration of the human spirit that should speak of reverence and respect for every person.
In our own Church, we have experienced a terrible violation of the mission of Jesus, who said, “Let the little children come to me.” We too in our faith family have experienced darkness. The Light of Christ reminds us of our tremendous responsibility to carry out the mission of Jesus, with great faithfulness, with great hope. Jesus is indeed the Light of the World. He it is who has given us our mission, to be his light.
As part of the non-monetary settlement of the diocese’s Chapter 11 Reorganization, I have agreed to go to each of the parishes where a priest credibly accused of sexual abuse has served, whether or not abuse was reported in that parish. At the parish, I express an apology and ask for forgiveness. By early next March I will have visited the 30 parishes (out of 81) where abuse has occurred or where a priest abuser has served. So far I have visited seven. The visits will continue after the first of the year.
The parish visits include public prayer. We are using the Church’s traditional Evening Prayer format, with a focus on lamentation and atonement. The service begins with a hymn, followed by the recitation of three psalms. The first psalm is dedicated to the victims; the second, to those who have abused; and the third, to the healing and renewal in the Church. Following the psalms is a brief Scripture reading, a homily, the Magnificat (the prayer of praise by Mary when she greeted Elizabeth), intercessions, a closing prayer, and final hymn.
A simple reception is provided by the hosting parish. The comments about these services have been overwhelmingly positive. The main negative comment by parishioners I have heard so far is that they wished many more of their fellow parishioners had come. I think those who participate experience the light of Jesus in this simple celebration of prayer. Jesus continues to come as the Word made flesh and as light.
I write this after traveling with Providence Sister Myrta Iturriaga to Coyote Ridge Correctional Center in Connell, to celebrate with the prisoners the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The pastors and the parishioners of the local area assisted with the arrangements, music, and hot chocolate and Mexican pastries after Mass. The Light of Christ comes – yes, even in prison.
This, too, is the season in our diocesan life when we take up the Christmas collection for the needy in Eastern Washington. On behalf of all of us, this effort supports outreach to the vulnerable and those who need assistance. This is a great opportunity to live out the mandate of Jesus to love neighbor. Perhaps our generosity can bring some light to the “darkness” of their lives. The light of Jesus as he comes should spur us onward with a sense of urgency and caring.
The Word made flesh…. Jesus comes and continues to come. We are all part of that exciting news that breaks open a world waiting to begin anew with love and hope.
May God bless all of you and your families with joy and much peace.
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