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Retreat was time to reflect, pray; time of hope

By Bishop Terry R. LaValley

January 16, 2019

As you know, I accepted Pope Francis’ invitation and joined about 260 bishops from across the United States for a recent seven-day retreat at Mundeleine Seminary outside of Chicago. Reverend Raniero Cantalamessa, a Franciscan Capuchin priest, was our Retreat Director. He has been the Preacher to the Papal Household since his appointment by St. John Paul II back in 1980. Pope Francis asked him to lead us in this week-long opportunity for focused prayer and reflection. The Holy Father desired a climate of prayer and silence and an environment for the bishop to experience an intense personal encounter with the Lord. He prayed that the bishops might receive the strength and light of the Holy Spirit to find the right solution for the problems that afflict the Church in our country today.

Father Cantalamessa’s theme was taken from Mark 3:14: “He appointed twelve [whom he also named apostles] that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach…” All of Father Cantalamessa’s reflections were centered on the two themes: “To be with Jesus” and “to preach the Gospel,” both essential aspects of the apostolic mission with which I have been charged.

Father began by relating to us what an American Capuchin brother said to him, partly in jest but also somewhat seriously: “I don’t think you are as great a preacher as people say. You have been preaching for so many years to the Roman Curia and I don’t see any conversion taking place there.” Father Cantalamessa responded, “Brother, I’m too busy trying to convert myself than to think I can convert others.” He told us the same thing. He said that he did not come from Rome to convert us, but to encourage us, for right now, that’s what you need the most.” He was right.

Father set the tone by assuring us that he wasn’t going to talk about pedophilia or give advice about eventual solutions. That wasn’t his task, humbly admitting a personal lack of competence to do so. Instead, it was to be a time for taking a break, as the psalmist says, “away from the strife of tongues” (Ps.31:21), and to listen to the voice of the Lord of the Church. It was time well spent for me personally.

I’ve met with individuals who have been victimized by Church leaders, and I entered the retreat with my heart aching for the victims. My heart aches for the faithful. Righteous anger has surfaced, trust has been compromised, and faith in Christ’s Body, the Church, severely fractured. My heart aches for our many, many clergy who continue to serve in our parishes today with such valiant faith in the face of confusion, anger, and pain. Their devotion to and sacrifice for the Church and their steadfast love for our parishioners provides us all with such comfort, hope and consolation. The Church of Ogdensburg is blessed with self-sacrificing pastors for which I am so grateful.

Father Cantalameesa observed that it’s interesting that the word “hope” does not appear in Jesus’ preaching. The Gospels report many of his sayings on faith and charity, but nothing on hope. After Easter, however, we witness a literal explosion of the notion and sentiment of hope in the teaching of the apostles. Hope takes its place beside faith and charity as one of the three theological virtues.

Our hope comes from the resurrection of Christ. We are a resurrection people, the Church born of hope. By resurrecting Jesus, the Father not only gave us “proof positive,” but he also gave us living hope. The resurrection is not just a premise on which the truth of Christianity is based, it is also a power that unleashes and nourishes hope. While we believe in the resurrection of the body, we also need a resurrection of the heart. Our Retreat Director reminded us of the strong reason on which to base our hope today. He cited Matthew 7:24-25. The house built on rock is the Church and the rock upon which it is built is Christ. He said that the fiercest winds are not those that lash the house from the outside, but those that cause a tempest within. But not even they can bring down the house. Be not afraid!

With much passion and in good faith, as you can imagine, many have shared with me their solutions to the problems in the Church today. I try to listen carefully and bring to prayer what I hear. Let us all continue to pray for victim/survivors of clergy sex abuse. I am grateful for the prayerful support that I have received. We remain vigilant and determined that our efforts will never wane in providing a safe environment for all.

Father Cantalameesa reminded us of a passage from the prophet Haggai: “Now be strong, Zerubbabel…be strong, Joshua, son of Jehozadak, high priest, Be strong all you people of the land and work! For I am with you…my spirit remains in your midst; do not fear!” (Hag.2:4-5) – prophetic words for this moment in time.
Let us all stay with Jesus and give witness as a Resurrection people with confident hope and joy. Thank you for your prayerful support. We remember that Jesus is in the boat with us as these turbulent waters lash upon us.

Take courage, says the Lord, I am with you! AMEN.

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