“What is life about? Why am I here? Why did God create me?” Father Mark Gurtner, vicar general for the Diocese of Fort Wayne South Bend, spoke on these questions in his 2004 homily, which was featured in the 2020 Annual Bishop’s Appeal video. The homily may be nearer to 20 years old, but these timeless questions seem to have a greater prominence during the pandemic and social unrest that has been unleashed throughout the year.
In 1977, a young man named Kevin Rhoades from Pennsylvania surely asked himself the same questions as he entered the seminary. As he recorded supplementary videos that reflected on the theme of this year’s appeal, “Spreading the Light of God’s Love,” Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades elaborated on the mission of the Church and its impact on his own life. “Especially my first couple of years of college, when I was discerning about my life’s future and what my vocation would be, and it really was in prayer that I had this great desire, to serve the Lord, to help others to experience God’s love for them.”
Bishop Rhoades answered these age-old questions in his life by saying “yes” to his vocation. “I feel by serving Christ as a priest, as a bishop, that brings so much meaning to my life,” he stated.
He knew his calling to the priesthood but didn’t know that that calling would take him to shepherd God’s children as bishop of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, then the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. “My greatest desire is to bring God’s love and the light of God’s love into a world where there is a lot of darkness, to overcome evil with good.”
Along the path of his vocation, Bishop Rhoades recognized the work the Church has done in spreading that light into the world. He witnessed this firsthand in his work as a parish priest in a multicultural, inner-city church and took this experience into his ministry as bishop, reaching into the wider world of the universal Church. “Christ called and empowered the apostles to carry on His mission … We are one body, in Christ throughout the world … it’s really a beautiful thing -— the universality of our Church that we should never take for granted.”
Crucial to spreading the Gospel in the world are the ministries that the ABA supports: notably, the Catholic school systems, education of future priests and outreach ministries. When he looks at the diocese, Bishop Rhoades stated that: “I see young adults becoming more engaged in the life of the Church, I see a lot of Catholics committed to the Church’s charitable mission, doing so much to reach out to the poor and needy. That gives me a lot of hope.”
The light of God’s love answers a deeper need in the hearts and minds of faithful Catholics, especially in times of hardship and strife. The sacraments give graces that help God’s children to live out His calling in their day-to-day lives. The ministerial work of the diocese fulfills the physical and spiritual needs of people from every background and of every need.
Bishop Rhoades reiterated the importance of reaching out to others with the Lord’s love. The Church is intended to act as an instrument of healing to all those who suffer. “Pope Francis speaks of the Church as a field hospital – a very beautiful image. We encounter evil in our lives on this earth, and yet the Lord wants to free us, He wants to liberate us from the power of sin.”
Sometimes God calls his faithful to endure this suffering. During those times, faith is lived out in reliance on God; calm and peace can only be found in the immense love that is Jesus Christ. In his last recording for the appeal, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades continues in his personal journey to spread God’s light and love as he encourages his flock to remember that Jesus calms the stormy seas. Throughout the turmoil of life, particularly with the increased anxiety and depression that have followed for so many, Bishop Rhoades emphasized how it is more important than ever to find light and hope in the Church’s teachings and in Christ Jesus Himself.
“As Catholics we have such a spiritual tradition. We have the rosary, we have meditation and Scripture, Eucharistic adoration … so many avenues where we can experience the peace and the comfort of our Lord. … The important thing is just to be still and let yourself experience the loving presence of Christ in your minds and in your hearts. And then I just let Christ’s love sink in.”
Everyone is searching for meaning and peace in their lives, and this search cannot be separated from God’s greater plan for each individual. In what feels like the timeliest of circumstances, the 2020 Bishop’s Appeal video concluded with the words of Father Gurtner regarding the purpose of life: “Life is about being so in love with Jesus that we can say to Him: I would do anything for you. I would face any hardship, I would bear any cross, I would go anywhere and do anything … for you.”
To view the Annual Bishop’s Appeal video and the supplementary videos — “ABA Theme – ‘Spreading the Light of God’s Love’”; “The Light of God’s Love throughout the World”; “The Light of God’s Love through Ministry”; “The Light of God’s Love as an Instrument of Healing”; and “The Light of God’s Love Calms the Storm” — visit diocesefwsb.org/aba.
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