Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"The future"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the July 3, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

We all dream about the future, at one time or another, especially when we are younger. Life choices limit that dreaming somewhat. The aging process also tends to limit lifeís possibilities.

A defining moment in my life will come next March 2, when I will reach 75 years of age. That date is still a few months down the road, but its significance will grow in the days ahead. Already Iíve had a number of comments and questions about that birthday. I hope I can shed as much light as I can about the impact age 75 will have on my life.

If he is so blessed as to live to age 75, every bishop in the world is required to send his letter of resignation on that date to the Holy Father. From that point, several possibilities exist. The resignation can be accepted almost immediately by the Holy See. Sometimes, accepting the resignation is delayed for a time. Sometimes, if the resignation is accepted, an administrator is appointed by the pope, until a new bishop is chosen. Sometimes decisions are made immediately, although there have been instances in our country when a bishop has had to wait for a period of time, even years, before his resignation was accepted. In the case of a cardinal, the delay can be even longer.

The presence of retired priests and bishops in the Church is a relatively recent phenomenon. Thatís because in general we all are living longer. For example, over 25 percent of the bishops in the United States are retired. I suspect this reality would probably be reflected all over the world. Unless physically or mentally limited, retired bishops continue to be very active in their retirement years. As you know, that also is true for priests. Many of the retired priests of our diocese continue to be very active, but they do not normally have the responsibility of administration, or a pastorís responsibility.

Nationally, a number of retired bishops remain very involved in the life of the Church. For example, Cardinal McCarrick, the retired Archbishop of Washington D.C., has extensive experience in international relations. He continues to use that gift. Some bishops engage in retreat work, especially for groups of priests and bishops. Other bishops will substitute for pastors on weekends, or serve as an assistant priest in a parish.

So there are lots of possibilities, depending upon the gifts, the health, and the energy of the one who has retired. As for myself, I am leaving my options open until a new bishop is appointed. I hope I can be of some assistance and help to him, whoever he might be. Presently I live in the rectory at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes in downtown Spokane. Once the new bishop is appointed, I will decide where I will take up residence.

Of course, all of this depends on my continued good health. A change of health can change everything else.

For instance, a number of people have asked about my limp the last few years. Although Iíve been aware of it since childhood, I know that in recent days it has become more noticeable. Three of us five siblings carry a genetic trait, some kind of muscular neuropathy. There is a threshold of muscle strength that seems to lower as we get older. Although the condition is not painful, climbing high steps has become increasingly challenging for me. Iíve had biopsies and examinations by doctors who are experts in neurology, but no one has yet come up with a definite diagnosis. The fact that two muscles next to each other can exhibit considerably different strengths adds to the mystery. So a lot of life is mystery! The complexity of the human body is incredible. What a gift it is to all of us. But the aging process also has its way of pointing to the future, to the great day of final transformation, the transition from Earthly life to eternal life. And today is one day closer than yesterday.

So far, I have been blessed with remarkably good health and energy. Thus, I must count my blessings, as we all must do. Perhaps my faithfulness to the NordicTrack exercise machine these last 28 years has helped. I also have placed a high priority on rest and prayer. Exercising on the NordicTrack in the early morning has been a great place to pray and meditate upon the rosary (counting on fingers works very well!).

But I must recognize that as I age, my body will become more limited. I hope that condition will provide the opportunity of being able to come closer to the Lord and appreciate even more my dependency upon him. I must also be grateful for rich blessings in my life: my family, my home in my youth, my Faith, the Church, my priesthood and, these last 31 years, my life as a bishop.

The journey of faith continues.

Blessings and peace to all of you.

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