October 2006 - Volume 11, Issue 3
The Bigger Picture
"You're looking wonderfully well, Bishop," people have been saying to me a lot lately. And the more I hear that, the more I realize what a difficult period we've been in! Indeed there are always worries aplenty, more than enough to produce that haggard appearance the public sometimes looks for in its leaders. And truth to tell, one morning I did linger for an extra moment before the mirror wondering if I should be looking a bit more shop-worn. One's appearance can easily change but, as of this writing, I can still be identified with the official photograph that was taken five years ago, soon after I arrived!
Now I don't expect anyone to ask me, "How do you do it?" After all, I don't look that good! But I can tell you that, with God's help, I try to keep my equanimity by staying focused on the big picture. And as you might expect, the broader vision I have in mind is not quite the same as that of a CEO or a political leader. So please do allow me share with you what is in this "big picture" that is so important for me and for you.
First and foremost is the Lord and His plan of salvation. Recently, after boarding a plane, I sat down and began to pray the Breviary. As the plane started to taxi down the runway, the passenger next to me asked, "Are you doing that so the plane won't crash?" "No, I just do it because I love the Lord," came the spontaneous reply, and then I settled in for a pleasant flight. The Breviary (officially known as The Liturgy of the Hours) is a very important way of my keeping the big picture in focus. It is a way of framing one's whole day in prayer, in loving communication with the Lord, from sunrise to nightfall.
This extended daily prayer is largely made up of the Psalms. Often I think of them as a sort of mirror in which are reflected every thought, every emotion and anxiety, every intractable problem and struggle. But in the inspired poetry of the Psalms, I also see an ever brighter reflection of Christ, the true light that enlightens every person (cf. John 1:9). When, with the Psalmist, I exalt, lament, and reflect on the experiences of daily life, I am encouraged to entrust my life and ministry more and more to Christ. As this happens day by day, I sense a growing amazement at the depth and beauty of the Lord's sacrificial love, so utterly real and so readily available to us at each and every Mass.
That is why last Saturday evening Msgr. Edward Howley struck a responsive chord in me during his homily for the 40th Anniversary Mass at Saint Thomas More Parish in Darien. "Do not let your hearts be troubled" (John 14:27), he intoned, just as he had done many times before when he served as founding pastor of that parish. Our hearts can remain calm, trusting, strong, and loving only to the degree that we've welcomed the presence of Christ and His love in our lives.
In quiet, reflective prayer, I often find myself repeating the words of Saint Paul, "[He] loves me and gave his life for me!" (Galatians 2:21). And as I experience more and more the love of the Good Shepherd, I can find the vision and strength needed to be a shepherd after His mind and heart.
The big picture includes not only Christ's love for me but, indeed, for all humanity. And it surely includes all those whom I serve and with whom I serve in the course of my ministry. What a comfort it is for me to realize that Jesus has breathed His Holy Spirit upon us, the Spirit who unites as members of Christ's Body, the Church! What a joy that the Holy Spirit continues to instill in us Christ's reconciling love, especially through the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Penance. So often I find peace in meditating on the truth that the Lord's love is so much bigger and more powerful than the petty divisions that hinder the mission of the Church. If only we, the Lord's disciples, would tap into His mercy and truly allow it to be the foundation of our lives!
This "big picture" is also filled with the images of those who carry forward the mission of the Lord's Church in Fairfield County and throughout the world. At a recent Pastoral Council meeting, a member asked me, "Bishop, in just a word or two, what's your vision for the Church?" "Participation," was my reply. "The Church will be strong and united the more her members participate in the love of the Persons of the Trinity by sharing Christ's life through proclamation of the Word and the celebration of the Sacraments, and by sharing His love with the poor."
I saw this participative vision taking shape a few nights ago at a dinner I hosted for more than 175 people representing the Advisory Boards that have been formed for all our Catholic elementary and high schools. As I walked from table to table, I met men and women of faith and accomplishment who were truly invested in the future of our young people and in the future of the schools that serve them.
I also see increased participation in the offing as the new Pastoral Plan for Evangelization is introduced in our diocese. This plan is the result of widespread consultation and prayerful reflection. Based on the essential mission of the Church and flowing from the content of the listening sessions that were conducted last spring, the Pastoral Plan identified five priorities for the diocese and many ways in which those priorities can be accomplished. Every parish, in light of its own unique situation, will be asked to select at least one way to better fulfill each of the five priorities for each of the next five years.
I also see this "big picture" taking shape in the efforts of qualified and dedicated priests and lay persons from the College of Consultors and the Finance Council whom I appointed to a Task Force to strengthen parish financial procedures and controls. They are hard at work putting together a plan that will far exceed the minimum requirements of civil and canon law and give parishioners greater knowledge and confidence that parish resources are being used well and wisely.
We live in a world that seems to relish conflict - not only the armed struggles going on around the globe but also the controversies and disagreements that divide us in civil society and even in the Church. But a continual focus only on human conflict and weakness narrows our vision and causes us to miss the great things the Lord continues to accomplish in our midst!
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