By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published March 20, 2008
The Bishop’s Chair in our Cathedral provides me with a unique perspective on the life of this local Church. As I gaze out on the assembly at the Cathedral of Christ the King on any given day, I can see the individual faces of faith, but I also catch a glimpse of family life here in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. On Palm Sunday, I saw scores of families who came to Mass early to be a part of the “Donkey Procession” that initiated the 9 a.m. Palm Sunday Mass. Little ones with parents in tow came to pet the two donkeys and to carry their palms in procession as the Gospel story of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem recalls.
I saw parents grapple with toddlers who seemed restless quite soon after the procession entered the church. A group of our youngsters proclaimed and dramatized the Gospel story of St. Matthew’s Passion from the children’s Lectionary. Johann Sebastian Bach had set that same story to music several centuries before. The narrative has thus known many different renditions.
As our children read the abbreviated text, proud parents (and grandparents) listened once again to the drama that reveals the depth of Christ’s patient and generous love for us. Unlike watching children at a soccer game or school pageant, the story of Christ’s Passion was far more than a play. It is the Church’s recollection of events that transcend all time and remind us of the enduring love that Christ has for us all.
I played peek-a-boo with a toddler whose family sat in the first pew and shared in the proclamation of God’s Word. The little one was alternatively held by mom, dad and big brother. But, above all, the little one was present for an important gathering of his family. He was being introduced into a moment of Faith—even as he was being taught a lesson of patience and deep love. Faith is most often taught in the context of family. While we might all want to believe that a statement from the Holy See or an edict from the Bishop is the way that Catholics learn their Faith, these proclamations while true and important are not the means by which most people come to Faith. We come to believe through the witness of those who have believed before us—parents, relatives, friends, neighbors and fellow parishioners. We come to Faith by having parents carry us to events, hold us, embrace us and encourage us to see through their eyes of Faith the truth of the Mysteries of Jesus Christ.
This week, I will bless oils, wash feet, walk the way of the Cross, ignite a new fire, bathe and anoint new Catholics and, above all, gaze upon the faces of those who hold our Catholic Faith sacred in their lives. Some of these people gather only during Holy Week and Christmas. Some of these people might not consider themselves the best of Catholics. Some of these people have many questions about the Church, but they still come to share in the wonder of this week that we call holy.
The eyes of that toddler who peered over the altar rail still fascinate my heart. He was fortunate to live in a family where Faith is important. He was fortunate enough to have parents and a big brother who love him and love the Lord Jesus. May he grow into a man of Faith—believing and accepting all that our Church teaches about Christ, about life, about God’s Kingdom, about his future responsibilities to live as a charitable and compassionate man.
Happy Easter, my dearest brothers and sisters in Christ. From where I sit at the Bishop’s Chair, you look pretty wonderful and I feel blessed indeed to have that view.