Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

What I Have Seen and Heard (November 22, 2007)

Published noviembre 22, 2007  | Available In English

Cal Ripken Jr. seized the existing record for consecutive games played when he retired from Major League Baseball in 2001. I watched my personal and far less spectacular record end this past week. In November 1983 I attended my first U.S. Bishops’ Conference meeting. I had been appointed a bishop only a couple of weeks earlier. As the youngest of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin’s four newly appointed auxiliary bishops, I was clearly the Benjamin of the conference of bishops 24 years ago at 35 years of age. I have attended each one of the succeeding November meetings until this year! I watched the annual autumn gathering from the comfort of my couch—with more than a trace of nostalgia.

I was the junior bishop in the United States when I attended that first bishops’ meeting and rubbed elbows with some of the ranking prelates of the day—Cardinals Dearden and Krol and Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan. I quietly took my place in the assembly and sat and listened to the conversations that described the pastoral issues that the U.S. bishops were facing at that moment in our history. Over the years, I have come to know all of the bishops and to enjoy and treasure their friendship. Many of the issues that we faced 24 years ago are still very much pastoral concerns for us today: the catechesis and formation of young people in the Catholic Faith, the communication of the Church’s doctrinal and social teaching as a motivating foundation for Catholic voters, the many liturgical issues that continue to dominate almost every meeting—and I suspect will continue to do so for the foreseeable future—fiscal accountability for bishops both locally and as a conference. There is a certain sameness that marks the agenda for the USCCB because the pastoral concerns that we face as bishops are persistent, universal and enduring. The only variables are provided by the times in which we live.

Twenty-four years ago, the catechesis of our young people did not have to compete with the attraction and versatility of the Internet, text messaging, blogs, or any of the related benefits of cyberspace. Yet that is the environment in which religious education finds itself today. Religious programs, catechetical materials and textbooks must attract and keep the attention and interest of our young people who are bombarded with information and values that run counter to Catholic doctrine and morality. Catholic teaching remains consistent with Gospel values and the heritage of the Church’s Faith, but our young people are exposed to values and attitudes that challenge them each waking hour. It was the same 24 years ago—it was the same 200 years ago.

“Faithful Citizenship,” the bishops’ pastoral statement on evaluating and judging the political challenges that we face as Catholics has undergone a fine-tuning that represents the most comprehensive and extensive review in the history of that resource. We Catholics are called to value, respect, and protect Human Life—beginning with the innocent life that commences within the womb and including all the stages of human existence that follow until and including natural death. As Catholics enter the voting booth, it is critical that we understand our Faith and the moral principles that spring from that Faith. Bishops must teach and inspire our people to know and live our Faith at all times, but perhaps never more importantly than in the process of electing our public officials.

God willing, I will be in attendance at the November meeting next year, and I know most of the pastoral challenges will be there since as bishops we must continue to confront all of the current difficulties that belong to us as the pastors of the Church at this moment in time and that will await us tomorrow.