Ignore God’s goodness at your own risk

Archbishop Aquila

In these times of trial, it is easy to forget or overlook the stories of faith, joy and vibrant life that are a part of the fabric of our Church. The Psalms remind us, it is essential to “call to mind the deeds of the Lord” and to “remember his wonders” (Psalm 77:11), since failing to do so can lead to despair and a hardened heart. To help us all celebrate God’s goodness, I would like to recall a few moments where I’ve seen it recently.

As 2019 began, I had the privilege to see and be a part of one of God’s wonders. After spending several days on retreat with my fellow bishops at Mundelein Seminary, I made the short trip from Chicago to Indianapolis, where the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) was holding its biennial SEEK conference for students wanting to encounter Jesus and seek the truth.

It’s hard to describe the energy and enthusiasm that the more than 17,000 students from 626 campuses brought to the event, but a few moments from the gathering might give you a glimpse of the experience.

Saturday night, the vast conference room was filled with young people adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and coming to him for healing in reconciliation. In the words of Amy Gasper, who spoke to The Criterion, “You get to see how hungry people are for the Lord. It makes my heart leap for joy.”

I had the privilege of hearing confessions for over two hours and seeing the healing Jesus brought to young people as they heard the words of absolution pronounced over them. They experienced the mercy and tenderness of Jesus welcoming them home and the great joy in heaven over one repentant sinner.

During the Mass on Sunday morning, the Solemnity of the Epiphany, I encouraged the young people in attendance to allow the grace of their relationship with Christ, the light of Christ in them, to overcome the darkness that the world and the Church are experiencing. What I said in my homily applies to everyone: “Jesus can heal any wound. He can restore any disorder. He can bring light into darkness.”  We must put our faith, our full trust and confidence in Jesus!

A few days later, I spoke from the west steps of the Colorado Capitol to a crowd of energetic, joyful pro-lifers from northern Colorado and beyond who came to stand up for the unborn at the Celebrate Life March. Despite the snow storm just a day before, thousands of people cheered the witness of the McGarrity family, who have eight children, four of them with Down Syndrome. The crowd cheered their generous embrace of life and laughed along with the excited shouts from their kids.

A short while later, downtown Denver witnessed doctors, nurses, moms, dads, children, a mariachi band, Native American dancers and so many others marching through its streets to publicly support life at every stage, from conception to natural death.

Then on Friday, Jan. 18, the nation witnessed what organizers called the largest pro-life March for Life in recent memory. By and large, most of the people marching were from Catholic parishes, schools, universities and apostolates. The march had a strong presence of young people, a palpable atmosphere of love, a sense of unity and hope.

The message of hope was also present in Pope Francis’ words during the Jan. 16 General Audience, in which he reflected on the Lord’s Prayer and the fact that God’s love for us is not impacted by our sins and shortcomings. “God is looking for you, even if you do not seek Him,” he said to the crowd. “God loves you, even if you have forgotten about Him. God sees beauty in you, even if you think you have squandered all your talents in vain.”

We need to adopt God’s view of ourselves and the Church, asking him for the grace to see and love as he does. The Holy Spirit is at work in the Church, bringing healing to those in darkness and encouraging people to shine the light of Christ in the world. The evil one would like us to wallow in despair and convince us that things are hopeless.  Place your hope in Jesus and turn to him for healing. You will not be disappointed, and then you will become the light of the world!

Featured image provided by FOCUS

COMING UP: Repenting and renewing our role as shepherds

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Jesus tells the disciples in St. John’s Gospel, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” contrasting his goodness with the thieves who come only to steal and destroy.  This past week my fellow U.S. bishops and I sought to act as good shepherds by approving three measures to increase our vigilance and prevention of the evil of sexual abuse by bishops, shepherds who have betrayed the flock entrusted to them.

This last weekend we celebrated Father’s Day, which should remind biological and spiritual fathers of their great responsibility of protecting and raising up new life. This mission is further emphasized by the Rite for the Ordination of a Bishop, which says, “In the Church entrusted to you, be a faithful steward, moderator and guardian of the mysteries of Christ. Since you are chosen by the Father to rule over his family, be mindful always of the Good Shepherd, who knows his sheep and is known by them, and who did not hesitate to lay down his life for them.” This is the model for all bishops.

But the scandals of Theodore McCarrick, Bishop Bransfield and others have made it clear that our vigilance has not been adequate. To quote from the just-issued “Affirming Our Episcopal Commitment” statement, “We, the bishops of the United States, have heard the anger expressed by so many within and outside of the Church over these failures.  The anger is justified; it has humbled us, prompting us into self-examination, repentance, and a desire to do better.” This sentiment was clear in my interactions with my fellow bishops in Baltimore this past week.

As evidence of our commitment, we overwhelmingly passed a set of directives for the bishops’ conference to implement Pope Francis’ Vos estis lux mundi document on handling abuse by priests and bishops. These directives include the creation by May 31, 2020 of a third-party phone and online system that receives reports of potential violations by bishops, the establishment of a protocol in which the Holy See designates and authorizes metropolitan archbishops to investigate cases of alleged abuse by bishops, and the expectation that the investigating bishop involve lay experts in assisting with these inquiries. For any investigations that falls under my jurisdiction, I will ensure that lay experts are involved, as I’ve done throughout my time as a bishop. As the new directives indicate, I will also appoint a lay person to receive complaints from the third-party reporting system, publicize how to make reports, ascertain the credibility of reports and gather any additional information necessary for an investigation to commence.

I also want to highlight that the bishops overwhelmingly approved protocols for imposing limitations on former bishops who were removed from office for grave reasons and that we adopted a code of conduct for bishops, which explicitly states that the Dallas Charter will now include bishops.

All these measures are in addition to those we have been enforcing since 2002 in relation to preventing sexual abuse of minors by priests. The Archdiocese of Denver has a strong track record of actively working to protect children, including annual audits, background checks of employees and clergy, and a code of conduct that previous bishops and I have all signed, and a robust training program aimed at fostering safe environments for children. The effectiveness of these measures over the past 20 years has made us a model for other institutions seeking to combat abuse.

Pope Francis rightly noted in a January 2019 personal letter to the U.S. bishops that the consequences of our failures cannot be fixed by being administrators of new programs or committees.  They can only be resolved by humility, listening, self-examination and conversion.

My brother bishops and I hope that by obeying the Word of God, seeking the will of the Father and embracing what the Church expects of us, we will imitate Christ, the Good Shepherd.

Read more

Pope Francis’ motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi can be read at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/motu_proprio/documents/papa-francesco-motu-proprio-20190507_vos-estis-lux-mundi.html

The USCCB Directives implementing Vos estis can be read at: http://www.usccb.org/about/leadership/usccb-general-assembly/2019-june-meeting/upload/usccb-modified-amended-directives-2019-06.pdf

Reach out

Christi Sullivan serves as the Protection Specialist for the Office of Child and Youth Protection and can be reached at 303-715-3241 or Christi.Sullivan@archden.org.

Victims of abuse can reach out to Dr. Jim Langley, the Victim Assistance Coordinator, at 720-239-2832 or Victim.Assistance@ArchDen.org.