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Reaching out with the arms of Christ

By Bishop Terry R. LaValley

May 21, 2014

Letter on Responsibility of Social Outreach in light of the Dignity of the Human Person and Sanctity of Family Life

Any discussion of the dignity of the human being or the sanctity of family life must include the reality of the significant challenges encountered by so many individuals and families in our communities throughout the North Country.

For instance, economic uncertainty causes an increase in family stress, relationship breakdown, addictive behaviors and a diminishment in the overall quality of life of the individual, the family and the community.

As a family of faith seeking to build up the Kingdom of God here on earth, we are compelled to see with the eyes of Christ the people who live on the margins of our society.  As you know, this has been a central theme of Pope Francis’ homilies and teachings.

We are mandated to reach out with the arms of Christ to those who are on the outside of our community and invite them into our circle of love and support.

When we look into our own hearts what do we see? Are they filled with the compassion of a loving, accepting God? Or do we find ourselves judging others?  Do we see ourselves as an elite group with little room for the homeless, the hungry or the person struggling with addictive behaviors? Do we understand what it means to go to bed at night hungry and scared like one out of five children in the United States do?

Poverty is both an economic and a moral issue. How a society distributes its resources reflects the priorities of that society. Budgets are moral statements. Budgets must be viewed through the lens of just principles and mercy.  So many individuals and families today live on the margins of social, financial, emotional, educational or employment support systems. (De Vol, Payne, Smith, Bridges Out of Poverty, 2006)

The widening gap between the rich and the poor affects everyone. The document Communities of Salt and Light (USCCB, 1993) is clear in its foundational principle that for a parish to be Catholic, it must see and hear the needs of the most vulnerable members, pray and reflect on these realities and then act in deliberate and effective manner to enhance the quality of life for all individuals and families. Saint John XXIII in his document, Pacem en terris, reminds us that everyone deserves access to the goods of their particular society.

Saints like Bridget of Ireland, Francis de Sales, and Vincent de Paul have taught us that the corporal and spiritual works of mercy are integral components of evangelization.  The Blessed Mother and St. Joseph left us a legacy of risk taking and courage in response to God’s call to break open the Word and participate in transforming the world. 

Solidarity with vulnerable people is one of the principles of Catholic Social Teaching. Solidarity means “standing with” our sisters and brothers.  The principle of solidarity urges us to open our minds and tenderize our hearts to women, men and children locally, nationally and internationally who are suffering from hunger, homelessness, isolation, violence, the ravages of terror and other forms of exploitation, abuse, deprivation and marginalization.

“Let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.” (1John 3:18).   Jesus’ prayer and relationship with the Father was expressed and witnessed in healing the sick, feeding the hungry, reaching out to the excluded and changing hearts. Jesus is the Word given to us by the Father to teach us about justice tempered with mercy. He lived each moment with a deep sense of reverence for every human being He met on His journey. 

Jesus the Christ was about inclusion not exclusion. His life shined with the light of understanding, compassion and gentleness. As followers of Jesus, we are the Body of Christ, united in our common humanity.  Each person, every family is to be welcomed and cherished in our communities.

As the Church of Ogdensburg embraces our mutually shared vision, we keep before our eyes and hearts our Sacred Purpose:  Christ led, Christ-fed, and hope-filled, the Diocese of Ogdensburg joyfully invites the people of the North Country to the journey of faith through the proclamation of the Gospel, the celebration of the Eucharist and the Sacraments, and the loving service of neighbor. 

Charged by our baptism, nourished by the Eucharist, impelled by God’s Word, our loving service of neighbor expresses our gratitude to the God Who loves us all unconditionally.   

We are fortunate and I am so grateful for the compassionate ministry to our vulnerable sisters and brothers provided by our Catholic Charities and the local outreach by many parish groups such as the St. Vincent de Paul Societies and the Catholic Daughters and Knights of Columbus.

Let us all be especially attentive to the unique struggles of our sisters and brothers and extend to them Jesus’ helping hands.                                                                                                                                         

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