December 13, 2011 // Uncategorized
Parish visits and Catholic Charities
One of my goals after my installation as Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend was to visit and celebrate Holy Mass at all the parishes of our diocese. I wanted to do so within two years. Happily, I will have accomplished this goal this Sunday, December 18th, when I celebrate Mass at Saint Catherine of Alexandria Parish in Nix Settlement. I still need to visit and celebrate Mass at Saint Paul Chapel in Clear Lake, a mission of Saint Anthony Parish in Angola, which I hope to do next year.
Visiting, celebrating the Eucharist, and preaching the Word of God in our parishes has been one of my greatest joys as bishop. I wish to thank all our parish priests and all the parishioners for the warm welcome I have received in every parish. It is inspiring to see the vitality of parish life in our diocese, amid the great diversity of parishes: urban, suburban and rural; large and small and mid-sized. I have enjoyed learning the history of our parishes as well.
The Church of Christ is concretely present in our parish communities where the faithful gather together in prayer, where the Word of God is preached and the sacraments are celebrated. God’s wonderful gifts of grace are received and all are called to respond with faith, hope, and love to the call of the Gospel.
Blessed John Paul II once said that the parish is more than an association. He said that “it must be a home where the members of the Body of Christ gather together, open to meeting God the Father, full of love and Savior in his Son, incorporated into the Church by the Holy Spirit at the time of their Baptism, and ready to accept their brothers and sisters with fraternal love. …”
In visiting our parishes, I have often spoken of the need for our parishes to be “evangelizing communities.” By this I mean that a parish should never be closed in on itself, but always reaching out beyond the parish to welcome new members and to spread the Gospel to others by word and deed. The Church is missionary by its very nature. We are to heed the mandate of the Lord “to go and make disciples of all nations.” There is a strong sense in our parishes of the essential relationship to the bishop and the diocesan Church as well as to our Holy Father and the universal Church.
As a diocese, we have embarked on the Catholics Come Home campaign which I wrote about in the last issue of Today’s Catholic. This effort to welcome home our brothers and sisters who have not been active in the practice of the faith is an important expression of our commitment to the mission of the new evangelization. Of course, we are called to reach out to the unchurched with the saving message of the Gospel, yet I think it is important to give a certain priority to outreach to those who are already Catholic, yet are not coming to church. Let us pray fervently during this time for the return of inactive Catholics to the practice of the faith.
As we approach Christmas, the Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord, we are especially mindful of the needy in our midst. As we recall the poverty and humility of Our Savior’s birth, we are called to recognize Jesus’ presence in the poor and to extend His love to those who are in need.
It is appropriate that every Christmas in our diocese a special collection is taken up in our parishes for the support of Catholic Charities. As we plan our Christmas gifts, I invite you to be generous in this collection, a monetary gift in support of the work of Catholic Charities of our diocese.
So many individuals and families are assisted daily in our diocese by Catholic Charities. The needy receive assistance with basic needs, such as housing, utilities, food and clothing. I think, for example, of the Retired Seniors Volunteer Program, which has served over 4,000 families and over 15,000 individuals this past year. Through this and many other programs, the Church is reaching out in love to our neighbors in need. Catholic Charities of our diocese provides services to nearly 20,000 people each year.
Catholic Charities is in special need of our generosity this year. It has had to continue its work with fewer resources due to less governmental funding. We need to try to make up for this by increasing income from donations.
I wish to thank all those who support the mission of Catholic Charities through their gifts. I also wish to thank the dedicated staff, employees, board members and volunteers of Catholic Charities.
In the second part of his beautiful encyclical God Is Love, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI wrote about the charitable mission of the Church. He wrote: The Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God, celebrating the sacraments, and exercising the ministry of charity. These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable. For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being.
As we prepare to celebrate our Savior’s birth, let us focus our attention on “the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And let us remember the later words of Jesus in the parable of the last judgment: “As you did it for one of the least of my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). In the words of Pope Benedict, Love of God and love of neighbor have become one: in the least of the brethren we find Jesus himself, and in Jesus we find God.
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