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USCCB president addresses nation’s bishops

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The Dialog’s website has been running stories this week from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ fall meeting in Baltimore. The following is the full text of Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York is president of the USCCB. Below is the full text of his Nov. 14 address to the conference.

“Love for Jesus and His Church must be the passion of our lives!”

My brother bishops: it is with that stunningly simple exhortation of Blessed Pope John II that I begin my remarks to you this morning.

“Love for Jesus and His Church must be the passion of our lives!”

You and I have as our sacred duty, arising from our intimate sacramental union with Jesus, the Good Shepherd, to love, cherish, care for, protect, unite in truth, love, and faith . . . to shepherd . . . his church.

You and I believe with all our heart and soul that Christ and his church are one.

That truth has been passed on to us from our predecessors, the apostles, especially St. Paul, who learned that equation on the road to Damascus, who teaches so tenderly that the church is the bride of Christ, that the church is the body of Christ, that Christ and his church are one.

That truth has been defended by bishops before us, sometimes and yet even today, at the cost of “dungeon, fire and sword.”

That truth — that he, Christ, and she, his church, are one — moistens our eyes and puts a lump in our throat as we whisper with De Lubac, “For what would I ever know of him, without her?”

Each year we return to this premier see of John Carroll to gather as brothers in service to him and to her. We do business, follow the agenda, vote on documents, renew priorities and hear information reports.

But, one thing we can’t help but remember, one lesson we knew before we got off the plane, train, or car, something we hardly needed to come to this venerable archdiocese to learn, is that “love for Jesus and his Church must be the passion of our lives!”

Perhaps, brethren, our most pressing pastoral challenge today is to reclaim that truth, to restore the luster, the credibility, the beauty of the church “ever ancient, ever new,” renewing her as the face of Jesus, just as He is the face of God. Maybe our most urgent pastoral priority is to lead our people to see, meet, hear and embrace anew Jesus in and through His Church.

Because, as the chilling statistics we cannot ignore tell us, fewer and fewer of our beloved people — to say nothing about those outside the household of the faith –

– are convinced that Jesus and his church are one. As Father Ronald Rolheiser wonders, we may be living in a post-ecclesial era, as people seem to prefer

a King but not the kingdom,
a shepherd with no flock,
to believe without belonging,
a spiritual family with God as my father, as long as I’m the only child,

“spirituality” without religion faith without the faithful Christ without his church.

So they drift from her, get mad at the church, grow lax, join another, or just give it all up.

If this does not cause us pastors to shudder, I do not know what will.

The reasons are multiple and well-rehearsed, and we need to take them seriously.

We are quick to add that good news about the church abounds as well, with evidence galore that the majority of God’s People hold fast to the revealed wisdom that Christ and his church are one, with particularly refreshing news that young people, new converts, and new arrivals, are still magnetized by that truth, so clear to many of us only three months ago in Madrid, or six months ago at the Easter

Vigil, or daily in the wonderfully deep and radiant faith of Catholic immigrants who are still a most welcome — — while sadly harassed — — gift to the church and the land we love.

But a pressing challenge to us it remains . . . to renew the appeal of the church, and the Catholic conviction that Christ and his church are one.

Next year, which we eagerly anticipate as a Year of Faith, marks a half-century since the opening of the Second Vatican Council, which showed us how the Church summons the world forward, not backward.

Our world would often have us believe that culture is light years ahead of a languishing, moribund church.

But, of course, we realize the opposite is the case: the church invites the world to a fresh, original place, not a musty or outdated one. It is always a risk for the world to hear the church, for she dares the world to “cast out to the deep,” to foster and protect the inviolable dignity of the human person and human life; to acknowledge the truth about life ingrained in reason and nature; to protect marriage and family; to embrace those suffering and struggling; to prefer service to selfishness; and never to stifle the liberty to quench the deep down thirst for the divine that the poets, philosophers, and peasants of the earth know to be what really makes us genuinely human.

The church loves God’s world like his only begotten Son did. She says yes to everything that is good, decent, honorable and ennobling about the world, and only says no when the world itself negates the dignity of the human person . . . and, as Father Robert Barron reminds us, “saying ‘no’ to a ‘no’ results in a ‘yes.’”

To invite our own beloved people, and the world itself, to see Jesus and his church as one is, of course, the task of the New Evangelization. Pope Benedict will undoubtedly speak to us about this during our nearing ad limina visits, and we eagerly anticipate as well next autumn’s Synod on the New Evangelization. Jesus first called fishermen and then transformed them into shepherds. The New Evangelization prompts us to reclaim the role of fishermen. Perhaps we should begin to carry fishing poles instead of croziers.