Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
"Hope and 2008"
by Bishop William S. Skylstad
(From the Jan. 17, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)
A new year always offers a refreshing way of looking at life and beginning anew. Although our civic new year does not correspond with the Church’s liturgical year, nonetheless, Jan. 1 is a significant date. We can count our blessings of the past year, and when we do, we should include those things that may not been easy for us, yet still were moments that matured and enriched us.
Certainly, our journey here in the diocese the last four years has not been easy. I hope and pray that as we emerge from our Chapter 11 process that reconciliation and healing will continue to move forward. Only the victims of clergy sexual abuse know the full effects of this sad history. We must continue to pray for them and ourselves. None of us will ever be the same.
As we begin 2008, we have much work and ministry to be about in the Church. Our pastoral life continues in so many different ways, even though some of our important ministries have been significantly curtailed or eliminated, at least for the time being. That has been difficult to face. Yet we are called to find creative ways of doing our best to serve the needs of the Church. For me personally on my spiritual journey, the question I constantly ask of myself is: What is God calling me to do and be today? Even though the Church has always experienced her brokenness in one way or another, we are called to repent, preach, and live the Good News, and “put on the new person,” in the words of St. Paul.
One of the powerful aspects of our Christian tradition is that there can always be a new beginning point in our lives. Some of our greatest saints have taught that lesson well. Paul and Peter in the early Church would never have become great saints if they had allowed their past to be a millstone around their necks. Both men had pasts of which they certainly were not proud, but that did not stop them. As their later lives of ministry unfolded, they were men filled with vibrancy, joy, and enthusiasm as they served God’s people. They had every reason to hope.
So do we. That reason to hope is not founded on clearly seeing a light at the end of a tunnel; rather, it is founded on trust: trust in the Providence of God. They knew God was with them. They knew that ultimately it was the Lord, through the power of the Spirit, who directed their lives. We, too, have the opportunity to examine our own hope and attitude of looking to the present and the future.
On Nov. 30 of last year, Pope Benedict issued his encyclical on hope: Spe Salvi (“In Hope We Were Saved”). Some suggest that this encyclical may be the second of a three-part series corresponding to the three theological virtues of the faith, hope and charity. As you know, love was the theme of his first very popular and powerful encyclical, Deus Caritas Est.
The following are a few quotes from this latest encyclical that touched me in a profound way. I think the Holy Father’s words speak for themselves:
• A world without God is a world without hope (Eph 2:12). Only God can create justice….The image of the last judgment is not primarily an image of terror, but an image of hope, for us it may even be the decisive image of hope. Is it not also a frightening image? (44)
• St. Augustine once described his daily life in the following terms: “The turbulent have to be corrected, the faint-hearted cheered up, the weak supported; the Gospel’s opponents need to be refuted, the insidious enemies guarded against; the unlearned need to be taught, the insolent stirred up, the argumentative checked; the proud must be put in their place, the desperate set on their feet, those engaged in quarrels reconciled; the needy need to be helped, the oppressed to be liberated, the good to be encouraged, the bad to be tolerated; all must be loved.” “The Gospel terrifies me” – producing the healthy fear which prevents us from living for ourselves alone and compels us to pass on the hope we hold in common. (29)
• Since man always remains free and since his freedom is always fragile, the kingdom of good will never be definitely established in this world. Anyone who promises the better world that is to last forever is making a false promise; he is overlooking human freedom. (24)
• A first essential setting for learning hope is prayer. When no one listens to me any more, God still listens to me. (32)
• We need the greater and lesser hopes that keep us going day by day. But these are not enough without the great hope, which must surpass everything else. This great hope can only be God, who encompassed the whole of reality and who can bestow upon us what we, by ourselves, cannot attain. (31)
• All serious and upright human conduct is hope in action. (35)
These few quotes as well as the entire encyclical provide much food for thought and reflection. As we begin 2008, may we always be a diocesan community of vibrant hope, knowing the Lord is with us and guides us through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Blessings and peace to all.
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