Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"Beginning anew"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the Jan. 15, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

To say the least, we have begun a new year in complex circumstances. The worldwide economic order has substantially collapsed. The tragic bitterness and hatred between Hamas and the Israelis have erupted into destruction and terrible loss of human life. In the Spokane area as I write this, we are in the grips of a winter like no other. Also as I write this, the Catholic bishops of Region XII are on retreat at the Palisades Retreat Center in Federal Way for six days. This has become an annual event since the time of Bishop Topel, head of the Spokane Diocese from 1955-78, who initiated this time of reflection which he deemed so necessary for the bishops’ own spiritual journey. The practice has spread to other regions of the country as well.

There are 13 of us here, with Archbishop Niederauer of San Francisco leading us in reflection and prayer. What an important time for me personally! In addition, we were invited to the silver anniversary celebration of Archbishop John Vlazny of Portland just before Christmas. On behalf of all of us, I congratulate him on this milestone in his episcopal ministry.

But back to our present situation in our country and our world as we begin this New Year:

On the one hand, we can look at the present moment pessimistically, with a lot of handwringing and fear. On the other hand, we can ask ourselves: What does God expect of us as we experience these tough times? Some of us have it much worse than others, but these days I can’t help but think of what is happening to the pastor and parish in the Gaza Strip. Two years ago I visited Msgr. Manuel Musallam and Holy Family Parish, with its school for over 1,000 children. They have been much in my prayers. As our Holy Father has indicated, the poverty of hatred and the poverty of thinking complex situations can be resolved by force need to be addressed.

We, too, can be impoverished by behaviors and attitudes. Lack of forgiveness, lack of respect for the dignity of human life from the moment of conception to natural death, lack of generosity, lack of a communitarian spirit and solidarity with one another in the human family, lack of justice: all of these diminish us individually and collectively. Jesus came to be a light to the world. As Savior of humankind, his message of salvation must be taken seriously and not marginalized by indifference and/or lack of response. What we observe today in parish, neighborhood, country, world, calls for a positive response from each of us. I would suggest we consider how faith, hope and love can guide us through our present troubled waters.

Faith calls us to a deep trust in Divine Providence. God is in charge of our lives, and God asks of us obedience. The Blessed Virgin Mary understood this well as she approached her own life. As troubling and mysterious as was the call to be the mother of Jesus, she said “yes.”

Life is mysterious for all of us. All of a sudden, we have come to the rude awakening that complex financial systems and “sophisticated” people who were running them don’t give assurance and security anymore. For many, life’s savings and equities have been lost. Perhaps a silver lining in all of this messy business will be to assist us to appreciate what is really valuable and a treasure in our lives. Our faith-filled relationship with God is the only complete answer to that quest.

Yes, for the moment, there are a lot of negatives around. But Jesus also asks us to be people of hope. Hope gives us the vision of future possibilities. Failure and brokenness are a part of all of our lives. Yet they should not be sources of despair or helplessness. Ultimately, God’s promise will be fulfilled. That is the great hope of our lives. Yet, each of us individually and together must put our hands to the “plow” to plant again and begin oftentimes anew. There is something humbling about what we are experiencing. Maybe a bit or quite a bit more humbled, we will be much more spiritually healthy.

Finally, God calls us to love – to love God, and to love one another as ourselves. Of course, the foundation of our lives must be based on knowing God loves each of us, and in turn, we are invited to love God back. From that foundation, we are to love neighbor, be neighbor. With all of the winter snow, I am very impressed with how considerate folks are to one another, whether in driving or assisting one another. We need one another’s help. We love everyone that we might make them the person God calls them to be. We are generous with what we have because God has richly blessed us and asks us to share in stewardship. That means sacrifice and going out of our way.

These three simple but powerful virtues are there for our living a full and rich life. They are also virtues that transform us, our culture and our world. May God grant us the wisdom, courage, and persistence of living in a way that enables others to see how Christ’s presence in us can make a difference.

Blessings and peace to all.

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