March 2006 - Volume 10, Issue 8
United In Service
By The Most Reverend William E. Lori, S.T.D., Bishop Of Bridgeport
Not long ago, I visited a parishioner in the hospital. Used to a life of vigorous activity, he was clearly struggling with the limits his illness imposed on him. He spoke about his prognosis and we prayed together for a while.
As the visit drew to a close, he asked me about some projects under way in the diocese, projects of which he is so much a part. "I can't help you in quite the same way right now," he said, "but while I'm here in the hospital, I can at least pray for you and all the people the diocese is trying to help."
Later that day, as I reflected on my visit with this gentleman and prayed for his recovery, I also began to think how beautifully he exemplifies the theme of this year's Appeal - "United in Service." By prayerfully offering his suffering as a gift, he managed to turn even his illness into an asset for the Lord's mission in the diocese. By his gift of self, he remains "united in service."
The theme of this year's Appeal is no mere slogan. Unity and service go to the heart of who we are as God's People in Fairfield County. The unity to which we are called is profound. In all our diversity, we are called to profess "one Lord, one faith, one Baptism" (Ephesians 4:5). We are invited to profess the true and life-giving faith and share in Jesus' one sacrifice of love, His Cross, and Resurrection. Through Jesus we "have access in the one Spirit to the Father" (Ephesians 2:18). In fact, the Church's unity is modeled on and rooted in the unity of the selfless love that exists among the Persons of the Trinity (II Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, 4). And as your bishop, one of my principal responsibilities is to foster unity within our diocesan family of faith, a unity rooted in God's utterly generous love: a unity of faith, worship, and service.
The source and sign of our unity is the Eucharist. In the banquet of Christ's sacrifice, we open our hearts to the Word of Life and participate in the very act by which Jesus gave Himself to His Father, to His followers, and to all humanity. Our oneness in Christ manifests itself in our heartfelt worship of God and our selfless love of neighbor.
Just as Jesus, the Lord of all, became the servant of all (Mark 9:35), so, too, are we called "to serve in love" (see Galatians 5:13). Serving in love means looking beyond our own interests and seeking instead the good of others, including those whom we may never meet and those who are unable to pay us back - at least in earthly terms. To serve in love means looking to the good of one's parish but also taking the wider view of the Church in Fairfield County.
As members of the diocese, we should be aware of the matchless impact of the educational, charitable, and spiritual services our Church provides in the 23 towns of our county. And even as we seek to strengthen the ability of the diocese to serve the needs of others, so also we must continue to manifest deep concern for the Church elsewhere - for example, the charities of our Holy Father, those who still suffer from the aftermath of Katrina, or those missionaries who labor in developing countries.
I invite you to reflect prayerfully on the theme, "United in Service." You face a lot of competition for your time, your abilities, and your resources. Many wonderful organizations in Fairfield County provide service to the community. But since in unity we share in Christ, I daresay that no other charitable organization should have quite the same claim on us as the local Church - the diocese united with its parishes. For the service the Church provides is not a side line or an add-on; rather, it is an essential expression of our shared thanksgiving to God for the love He has showered upon us. Because we experience ourselves as loved by Christ, we are enabled to see Christ in those who need our assistance.
In his beautiful encyclical letter on God's love, Pope Benedict XVI puts it this way: "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" (Deus Caritas Est, 25). The Appeal is one very important way I invite you to participate in the ministry of charity.
This year's theme suggests the need for greater participation in this year's Appeal. During the past five years, the Appeal has succeeded admirably. Last year, more than $10.6 million was raised and, except for the cost of the Appeal itself (9 cents on the dollar), all of it was used for Catholic education, Catholic Charities, religious education, vocations, seminary formation, services to our retired priests, ongoing formation for priests, deacon formation, and programs of spiritual and intellectual enrichment. Yet only about 24 percent of the 118,000 Catholic households in Fairfield County participated in the Appeal; the national average is 28 percent. If our participation rate this year increased by just a few percentage points, not only would the Appeal more than succeed financially, but, even more importantly, we would be on the road to greater unity as a family of faith, united in service.
Giving is not always easy. Selfless love is sacrificial love. But as you consider your gift, I hope you will realize that the funds you contribute to the Appeal are used well and wisely. For example, some have voiced concern that funds from the Appeal might have been used to pay down sexual abuse settlements. In fact, those funds come from insurance and the sale of land. Even more importantly, those settlements are just about paid off, and the diocese is greatly reducing its overall indebtedness. Furthermore, the resources of the diocese are managed by an excellent team and accounted for in a highly professional and accurate manner. All this enables us to use our resources efficiently.
This results in more and better services. For example, Catholic Charities is now a source of low cost housing and greatly expanded immigration services; the Catholic Schools Office is providing greater services to principals and teachers; and there are new initiatives under way to strengthen religious education, youth ministry, and family life ministry.
Many of you have already received letters from me and others have been at the vicariate receptions and other gatherings in support of the Appeal. Others will hear about the Appeal at Sunday Mass. I hope you will respond generously. If you have never made a gift to the Appeal or have lapsed, please consider giving generously. If you have consistently supported the Appeal in the past, I thank you and ask you to please consider increasing your gift. I owe a very special debt of gratitude to my brother priests for their hard work in promoting the Appeal in their parishes and in the Vicariates. In a special way, I want to thank Msgr. Thomas Driscoll and Msgr. Blase Gintoli for their leadership. Likewise, I am grateful to John and Jody Myers, the chair-couple of this year's Appeal, for their tireless efforts.
Above all, I thank each of you for joining with me, your clergy, and your fellow parishioners in serving the needs of others - united in service!
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