As I have just completed six years as Bishop of Albany (April 10) and near the 47th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood (July 2), I find myself overwhelmed with gratitude for the blessings in my life, the people God has sent his Holy Spirit into, “to teach and remind” me, which is what the Spirit does for all of us (Jn 14: 26), if we open our hearts in faith and trust.

I also find myself, despite the turmoil and downright brutality that we are seeing more and more of these days, at least if we watch the news with our eyes wide open, thanking God how blessed I have been by my family and friends and many of you who are reading this column. I want to say “thank you!”

Yes, these are tough times for all of us and in sharing my joy in God’s goodness and many blessings, I do not wish to lord this over anyone who is in sorrow, pain, depression or doubt. Maybe you have lost a job, a loved one — perhaps even your good health — and have suffered greatly from spiritual starvation during the lockdowns. I do not blame anyone for being disappointed, frustrated or angry, at me, the bishops, the politicians or anyone else who failed to act or lead or inspire as hoped for.

When people ask me how I am doing, shuttling between two dioceses, hopefully neglecting neither, I often say “stressed and blessed,” but to be honest, my stress is not personal or about my own anxieties, which pale in comparison with so many others who I worry about. I have probably never in my life felt more grateful to God or been happier as a priest and never less fearful or anxious about God’s closeness to us. You may wonder what planet I am living on to say this, but the conviction comes from my awareness of my utter unworthiness and inability to be doing anything I am doing if it just depended on me, without God’s tremendous grace in all those around me whom I am graced to live and work with. As the psalm goes, “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124: 8).

I wanted to share with you this confidence so that you might know it does not come from anything I am or have earned, but only what has been given me. I hope this may give some small bit of encouragement to anyone who might feel at their wit’s end. I want to say to our priests again, thank you! You are doing some of the finest work of your ministry. And I know your people love you and pray for you, even though they might not always tell you that and even drive you crazy at times. Thank you for understanding.

Parents and grandparents, and those who stand in for them, you are wonderful. No one (but God, of course) sees all the sacrifices you are making, the worries you are trying to shield your family from. I read in various polls (not sure I trust many of them) that some 50 percent of adults in America have not been so unhappy any time in their lives as they are now. I hope this is not true, but it certainly feels that way to many, I suspect. The good news is that some 80 percent of children have never been happier, so you must be doing something right.

Maybe it’s being home from school or with more people around the house. We know that this is not everyone’s experience and that, in all likelihood, many incidents of domestic violence and abuse are going unreported, so we need in our extended parish families to remain on the lookout for children and vulnerable adults who have been marginalized and neglected in this pandemic, and now even more with all the horrible things happening in the streets of our cities. Parishes need to be oases of safety.

Thank God things are beginning to open up. Pastors and parish teams have been doing yeoman’s work to make the Mass and other parish gatherings safe and welcoming, despite the necessary restrictions and precautions. I am so grateful for everyone’s cooperation and please stay patient with anyone needing more time to get their act together.

A special shout-out to fathers during this week when we remember them, living and deceased. I am so grateful for my own dad, who taught me so much more about what spiritual fatherhood is all about than I could learn in school. The way he loved and respected my mom, sharing in household responsibilities, even though he was the primary breadwinner, and how he encouraged me and all of my four siblings to be who God called us to be, always putting faith and family first.

I know some dads may be questioning themselves right now. Something I read struck me as very true to my own experience as well, which I would like to share. It is the words of commentator Paul Harvey, who observed: “A father is a thing that growls when it feels good, and laughs very loud when it’s scared half to death. A father never feels entirely worthy at the worship in a child’s eyes. He’s never quite the hero his daughter thinks, never quite the man his son believes him to be — and this worries him, sometimes. So he works too hard to try and smooth the rough places in the road for those of his own who will follow him.”

When I was preparing to write this column, praying how to say what was on my mind and how to say it without being misunderstood, I found myself replaying at first all the horrible things I was seeing. I was wondering if I am alone in questioning if we are going through a lot of this with “eyes wide shut,” not realizing that we are not being told the truth about what underlies some of the signs and slogans that speak one thing but conceal another agenda. I was looking to say something true, not necessarily wise, or insightful or even motivating. Just truthful. What came to me was the realization that the most honest thing I could do was not to pretend I really had something to say that any of us could not. After all, anyone else’s eyes are as good or bad as mine and, with a little mental effort and a lot of prayer and reflection, can form our own ideas about what is happening. I will certainly continue to share mine and I hope no one is ever afraid of discharging their conscience, albeit it with patience and charity. In time, I think this will happen as more and more people discover that we need never fear the truth, nor to speak it, even if it is not the loudest or most popular voice.

But for now, what is most true, what I felt compelled to share, was what I know from the depth of my being is real. And that is that God loves me — all of us — and has been extraordinarily, undeservedly, good to me. And so have you. So I just wanted to say “thank you.”

It seems particularly appropriate to say this as we celebrate the reopening of our public Masses, for this is what Holy “Eucharist” means — to give thanks. And since the Eucharist is THE action that both defines and forms the Church family, it makes so much sense to remember that the truest thing a family can do is to thank God and one another. No doubt the more we can do this in our communities, small and large, thanking God and one another for the gift of each other, the less we will need to get caught up in all the labels and isms by which we seem these days to be judging one another. Children of a loving God can always find a home in one another’s hearts.

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