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home : bishop : columns

2/25/2016 9:00:00 AM
BISHOP'S COLUMN
Living the Way of the Cross
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER


Lent is, above all, a journey with Jesus, an invitation to walk with Him by living the Way of the Cross.

This way leads to hope and eternal life - the life that lasts. It is what our hearts long for and what Jesus fulfills. Our journey with Jesus is not only about knowing Him, proclaiming the Good News and doing good works, but of living a life of sacrifice. It is the Way of the Cross.

This is what tests our faith and makes it credible. It is not just about good words and deeds, let alone counting them, but about how we live.

Shortly before the inauguration of his Petrine ministry, Pope Francis had reminded his brother cardinals (and us) that "Christian truth is attractive and persuasive because it responds to the profound need of human life, proclaiming convincingly that Christ is the one Savior of the whole man and of all men."

This is why our faith in Jesus Christ, with its roots in the faith of Abraham, is something we can live and wear with confidence. "This proclamation remains as valid today," Pope Francis continued, "as it was at the origin of Christianity, when the first great missionary expansion of the Gospel took place."

Without making any sweeping proclamations, writing any new books, transferring any large amounts of wealth or power or even sporting the different languages he knew, Pope Francis began by bearing witness to the eternal truth of the Gospel message: The world is looking for redemption that only comes from the mercy of Jesus Christ through the Way of the Cross!

Another Francis, standing before Pope Innocent III as he sought permission to found a new order in Assisi, was asked by the pontiff what his rule would be. "The Gospel," Francis replied.

We do not know exactly which passages he proposed, if any -- but, judging from the rules that eventually shaped the three orders he was to found, St. Francis of Assisi was inspired by the Lord's call to take up our cross each day, leave everything else behind and follow Him.

Pope Francis has been able to touch the hearts of many because he is calling us to live the clear standard of the Gospel. He understands well the need for reform - he has used the word "purification" -- within the Church, as well as the unjust structures that plague society, of which the list is long and formidable.

His priority, however, has been to begin with relationships, not governance structures, though that most certainly follows. His closeness with the people, beginning as bishop of Rome with the people under his immediate pastoral care and extending through Italy and to the entire world, is attested to every day.

Much like his namesake from Assisi, Pope Francis' "program" is the Gospel itself, lived as Christ would live it in us today.

"What would Jesus do?" (WWJD) is an oft-cited sound byte of advice on how to live an authentic Christian life, but this simple prescription is challenged by the many and complex situations in which all disciples of Christ find themselves each day.

By his example, Pope Francis has been showing us how even the busiest, most "important" people can find time to pray, visit the sick, be in communication with God and one another -- and even be silent -- in spite of the many pressing demands of modern living.

As our Lenten journey leads us toward the holiest week of the year, we need to take the time and find a place to seek the forgiveness of God and neighbor, particularly through the sacrament of penance. Experiencing personally the mercy of God and then extending it to others is the beginning of peace in families, workplaces, organizations, nations and the entire world.

This sacrament is so full of opportunities of grace that it is no wonder it has been known under many different names throughout Christian history: penance, confession, reconciliation, forgiveness and, perhaps most appropriately, the "sacrament of peace."

Unfortunately, for many Catholics who have not experienced this sacrament for a while, it seems anything but a peaceful experience to think about giving it another chance.

It may be that that the setting itself was once intimidating. Older Catholics remember when the regular way of going to confession was to wait on a long line, typically on a Saturday afternoon, to enter a very small, very dark box called a "confessional."

There may have been a lot to remember -- memorized prayers, the number and kinds of sins, the penance assigned -- so that the focus might appear to have been more on the sins than the absolution, more on the sinner than the Savior.

Today, it is still possible to confess in this manner, but there are other options. Penitents can choose to sit face-to-face with a priest, who can help with the prayers and the confession itself. Often, there are prayer cards or posters as memory aids.

While most parishes schedule confessions at regular times, they also note that it is possible to make an appointment to meet with a priest at some other time, either in the church or a chapel or even in an office or some other suitable place in the rectory.

Nowadays, a penitent who wishes to make a good confession should never have to feel in a rush or under pressure to come up with a detailed, memorized list.

Will the priest ever yell? Some Catholics cite experiences or hearsay about being treated in a disrespectful or condescending manner during confession. Priests are sinful human beings and need to seek forgiveness themselves if they treat a person unkindly or dismissively.

Jesus never did this with sinners. Not only did He welcome them, He seemed attracted to them, like a shepherd who goes after a lost sheep to bring the wanderer back to the fold. Priests today have been well-prepared in how to welcome penitents and are there to assist them in meeting the forgiving Lord. Many people find it useful to have a regular confessor who knows them well and can give more personal care, not unlike a physician whom one sees regularly.

I also hope and pray that all Catholics in our Diocese will make the sacrifice of time to come together in parishes for other liturgical celebrations commemorating the Way of the Cross, to renew and deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ.

On March 17 at 7 p.m. at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, during the Chrism Mass, I will bless the sacred oils to be distributed to all of our parishes. Ideally, this Mass is celebrated on the morning of Holy Thursday. We have taken the liturgical option of transferring the celebration to a time when attendance is more accessible to everyone.

The oils that are consecrated that day will be used for the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, holy orders and anointing of the sick. I hope that people from every parish throughout our Diocese will join with me for this celebration.

March 17 also happens to be St. Patrick's Day. St. Patrick was first and foremost a missionary; what better way to honor him than by imitating his evangelizing spirit and taking back to our parishes the signs of the sacramental ministry of the Church?

As Pope Francis exhorts us: "When we journey without the cross, when we build without the cross, when we profess Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, we are worldly: We may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord." Our sacramental celebrations, our sacrifices, our doing the works of mercy, are signs for us and for the world of how genuine is our desire to know, love and serve our Lord.

We want to live that journey with Him, not just talk about it or count up numbers for our databases. That is the Way of the Cross.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)





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