Earlier this year, en route to World Youth Day, Pope Benedict XVI spoke to journalists about the universal bond between all Catholics and his hope that believers would find comfort and inspiration from knowing they are part of something much, much larger than themselves.
"Believers often feel isolated in this world," the pope said. "Here they see they are not alone, that there is a large network of faith, a great community of believers in the world -- that it is nice to live in this universal bond of friendship."
While massive events such as World Youth Day or diocesan gatherings bring this point home in a very visible way, there are other examples of community and collaboration toward a common purpose and mission that are more subtle, but no less powerful.
I think of this because of a very interesting confluence of events this month.
On Nov. 14-16, I will be attending a meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which brings together bishops from all over our nation. The stated mission of the USCCB is to act collaboratively and consistently on vital issues confronting the church and society, to foster communion with the church in other nations within the universal church under the leadership of the Holy Father, and to offer appropriate assistance to each bishop in fulfilling his particular ministry in the local church.
I always am gratified to be able to work closely with my colleagues in areas that affect every aspect of our lives as Catholics. I must say that throughout my own years as bishop, I have found the exchange of ideas and teamwork on concrete issues and policies tremendously helpful to me and to the ongoing life of our Diocese of Rochester. The issues we discuss at our gatherings are the issues here; the concerns of Catholics nationwide are the concerns of Catholics in our corner of the world. This year, for example, our meeting will include discussion on a wide range of issues that, in one way or the other, connect us all: health care, religious liberty, the defense of marriage, anti-abortion efforts, good financial stewardship, interreligious dialogue, among others.
Then, just a few days after the meeting of the nation’s bishops, I will travel to Rome with Archbishop Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York and my brother bishops from all the dioceses of New York state to visit with Pope Benedict XVI and Vatican officials. This is our ad limina visit, which occurs at intervals of about every five years. It is required of every bishop to meet with the pope and give an account of the current state of our individual dioceses, as well as to discuss issues, concerns, accomplishments and plans for the future.
While these visits involve much detailed preparation and advance work, I think it is marvelous that we have both this individual and group time with the Holy Father to talk about the good and faithful people in our own dioceses, the mission we are trying to accomplish, and our hopes and dreams. The pope has a global perspective, of course, which adds mightily to our discussion and is most enlightening and educational. I am always grateful for these meetings and the knowledge that, though we are separated by an ocean, a culture, even a language, we are inextricably linked in our common bonds of faith and charity, pastoral concerns for the church, for the faithful, and for the building up of God’s Kingdom.
A third event at the end of November further shows our great unity through the central act of our faith that is the Eucharistic Liturgy. For while I am in still in Rome, English-speaking Catholics back home will join with Catholics throughout the U.S., and in fact the whole English-speaking world, to begin using the much-anticipated, newly revised Roman Missal. I am thankful for all those who worked hard throughout our diocese these past months to prepare us for the changes that the third edition of the missal will bring to our worship. I believe the work we have done at diocesan events and in our parishes to learn more about the Mass and its meaning has brought us to deeper understanding of our faith and closer together as a people of God. It has been no small task to prepare for the significant changes the new missal brings, but we have done it with good teamwork and shared purpose.
Like the Holy Father, I am thankful for these opportunities, which serve to remind me once again of the solidarity of our faith, our unity of purpose and our willingness to work together. Being part of a community of faith is life-giving and energizing, enabling us to do more than we could ever do by ourselves. It is good to know we are not alone, that millions of like-minded souls are rooting for us, praying for us, working for Christ together. This is true whether in our parish or in the joining of minds, hands and hearts for Christ and the church across the nation or across the world.
Peace to all.