I am writing to you from Chicago, where the bishops of the United States are finishing a weeklong spiritual retreat recommended to us by Pope Francis.
The retreat has been led by the preacher of the papal household, Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap., who is focusing our attention on the vocation and responsibility of bishops in this moment in the Church.
We are praying together as a visible sign of our unity as bishops and our communion with the Holy Father. There is a collegial spirit here and a firm commitment to address the causes of the abuse crisis we face and continue the work of renewing the Church.
On the first day of the retreat, Francis sent the bishops a long and challenging letter. He concluded with a quote from St. Mother Teresa. I want to share it with you:
“Yes, I have many human faults and failures. … But God bends down and uses us, you and me, to be his love and his compassion in the world; he bears our sins, our troubles and our faults. He depends on us to love the world and to show how much he loves it. If we are too concerned with ourselves, we will have no time left for others.”
As we begin a new year, I think this is an important point for all of us to reflect on — and especially those of us who hold leadership positions.
None of us is perfect, and this side of heaven, none of us will be. We sin. We make mistakes. We hurt other people. We make the same confession in every Mass: “I have sinned … in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.” In this life, there will never be a day when that is not true.
God knows this about us. He knows your heart and my heart better than we know ourselves. Jesus did not come for the righteous, but to save sinners. And that means every one of us. That is the mystery of God’s love for us — that even though we are sinners, he comes to bear our sins, to die for us, and to bring us forgiveness.
This does not excuse sins or crimes or the hurt that is done to others. Everyone needs to be held accountable and make reparation for the wrongs they commit.
But we need to remember that God goes with us, in our afflictions and in our struggles. He is always bending down to reach out to us, to lift us up. He knows our faults and failures and yet still he calls each one of us to do his work in the world. What a beautiful thought Mother Teresa gives us: “He depends on us to love the world and to show how much he loves it.”
Throughout the retreat, Father Cantalamessa asked us to reflect on the words of the ancient prayer, “Veni Creator.”
We need to trust more in the Holy Spirit. We need to have confidence that we are always living in God’s loving presence.
God will never abandon us or leave us alone. We need to call on him, personally and constantly. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to come to us, “with Thy grace and heavenly aid to fill the hearts which Thou has made,” as the prayer says.
We need to live more and more by the virtue of hope, with our eyes on heaven as we work for God’s kingdom on earth. Our hope is in Jesus and his promise — that if we follow him, he will show us the path to eternal life.
So, now is the time for us to really live our faith in Jesus Christ — with new understanding, new commitment, and new love.
These have been some of my thoughts and reflections during this retreat. My prayer and penance this week have been offered for the victims and survivors of abuse, that God might help them to find healing and wholeness once more.
I have also been praying for all of us — and especially our leaders — to have a better understanding of the immigration issue, as this is “National Migration Week,” designated by the U.S. bishops.
As we know, the federal government is partially shut down — and the central sticking point is related to immigration.
So we need to keep praying and working to help our leaders to see their responsibility to set aside political considerations and come together to do what is right and fix our nation’s long-broken immigration system.
Pray for our leaders this week. And please pray for me and my brother bishops and I will be praying for you.
And let us turn to our Blessed Mother Mary to ask her intercession and to learn from her example. May she help us to make this new year a time of hope and new opportunity for loving and serving God.