My dear sisters and brothers in Christ Jesus:
During the past months of April and May, I was privileged to celebrate Holy Mass with the Conferral of the Sacrament of Confirmation upon many of our young people. More than ever, our youths need the gifts of the Holy Spirit – wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and wonder and awe in the presence of the omnipotent and loving God – to navigate their way in a very complicated and divided world, accompanied by the challenges of the proper use of social media and an atmosphere of violence that has threatened and even taken the lives of our children.
Serious and problematic trends in today’s society, which are counter to the message of Jesus Christ’s Gospel, were indicated in a poll conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago and funded by the Wall Street Journal; its results were released on March 27 (see March 28 article by Jonah McKeown of Catholic News Agency). Among the findings, it was noted that “Only 30% of 2023 respondents overall said having children was very important to them, compared with 59% in 1998 and 43% in 2019.” Equally disturbing was the finding that “39% said ‘religion’ was very important to them. By contrast, in 1998, 62% of respondents to the same question said religion was very important to them.”
I made reference to this survey in my homily at the Confirmation ceremonies. I explained to our candidates for the Sacrament of Confirmation that making lasting commitments, accepting responsibility and contributing to the common good by works of charity are virtues that are supported and strengthened by the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the presence of Jesus in our lives. Without God, our loving Father, His Son, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, we deprive ourselves of making good, holy, wholesome and positive decisions, and lack the very foundation for a happy and fulfilling life. I shared with our young people that they are at an age when they are able to cultivate the virtuous life and not to postpone doing what is necessary to live in the light of Christ with the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Naturally, the continued support of parents and sponsors in practicing the faith with their children in our parishes is essential.
On May 21 at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, we celebrated the milestone anniversaries of marriage for the faithful who have become one in mind, heart, body and soul in the Holy Sacrament of Matrimony and have cooperated with God in bringing new life into the world. For those who have not been blessed with children, we also recognize their invaluable support to parents as loving family members, dear relatives and friends, and understand and appreciate we are all members of the family of God.
Yet the esteem for the union of husband and wife in the Holy Sacrament of Matrimony instituted by Christ Himself (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1660) has sadly declined. In the poll referenced above, “only 43% said marriage is very important.” The very structures that support society, the family as the “domestic church” (see Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, no. 11) have been greatly weakened, and our children are suffering the consequences. How much more evidence is needed to demonstrate the need for God, the message of Jesus in the Holy Gospels, the practice of our Catholic faith, weekly in-person attendance at Holy Mass, the reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation/Confession, parents attentive to the religious education of their children and our Catholic schools being authentically Catholic with a strong, visible and vibrant Catholic identity.
In his book, Seeking God’s Face, Pope Benedict XVI of beloved memory wrote: “If God is not praised, everything collapses” (p. 55). He went on to say: “Whenever there is a breakdown in morality, man becomes disgusted with his humanity and ceases to understand and accept his fellow men” (p. 94). Throughout the history of the Church, in every age popes and bishops, those entrusted with the pastoral care of God’s people, have had to be attentive to the signs of the time, which, according to how they responded, either supported or weakened the ordained ministry they shared to confirm their brothers and sisters in the faith (see Luke 22:32), either fostered unity or created division by unholy alliances seeking glory and power in this world and forgetting the very prayer of Jesus for His disciples: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth” (John 17: 15-16). Sadly, in every age, ills of the past have been repeated, most noticeably a departure from faith in Jesus Christ who is the Truth.
In his Allocution in the General Audience of July 3, 1968, Pope St. Paul VI spoke these words: “In the unsure and agitated sea of this world today, let us hold to this fixed and supreme orientation point: Jesus Christ. He, the light of the world and our life, at once pours forth in our hearts two cardinal certainties: one about God and one about man. Both are to be followed with love. If we will do so, we should fear nothing. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or anguish, or hunger, or nakedness or danger, or persecution, or the sword?… In all these things we are but victors by the power of Him who has loved us (Rom 8:35-37)” (see The Credo of the People, commentary by Candido Pozo, S.J., p. 214). In his Allocution that followed on July 10, 1968, Paul VI continued this theme: “A morality without Christ or the Church, a humanism without authentic understanding of human nature – such things will not bring us to a good end. Let our faith preserve us from such fatal errors, and let it be for us a light and a teacher in our search for personal and social perfection” (ibid., p. 220).
The words of Paul VI are as true today as they were then; one could say they were prophetic in the best sense of the word. With great esteem for Paul VI, Pope Francis on the occasion of the canonization of this saintly pontiff spoke these words in his homily: “Paul VI spent his life for Christ’s Gospel, crossing new boundaries and becoming its witness in proclamation and dialogue, a prophet of a Church turned outwards, looking to those far away and taking care of the poor. Even in the midst of tiredness and misunderstanding, Paul VI bore witness in a passionate way to the beauty and the joy of following Christ totally” (October 14, 2018).
During this month of June, the Month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, our children and young adults complete the 2022-2023 academic year. Many will be graduating from high school and going on to college or pursuing vocations and work possibilities. Knowing the challenges before them, I ask that you join me in constant prayer for their success, safety and true happiness and satisfaction in their life choices guided by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit whom they received on the day of their Confirmation. I pray that always they bring Jesus with them, attend Holy Mass every week and recognize that all real truth resides in God, and the peace and joy for which we yearn is only found in His Son, Jesus Christ. Again, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI: “The gifts of Jesus Christ are, after all, not purely future gifts – they reach into the present. Christ is invisibly present here and now. He speaks to me in many different ways in the present. He speaks to me through Holy Scripture, through the Church’s year, through the saints, through everyday events, through the whole of creation. The world, when I am conscious of His presence in it, looks different than when it is obscured by the mist of an uncertain origin and an uncertain future. He speaks to me, but I can also speak to Him. I can complain to Him. I can present Him with my sufferings, my impatience, and my questions, in the knowledge that He is always present and listening” (Pope Benedict XVI, opus cit. p. 110).
On Sunday, June 11, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi. On this same day we begin the Parish Year of the Eucharistic Revival. As you are aware, the Eucharistic Revival has as its fundamental purpose “to restore understanding and devotion to this great mystery here in the United States by helping us renew our worship of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.” For our parishes, this is an excellent opportunity to ensure Jesus Christ, present in the Most Blessed Sacrament, is at the very heart and center of all we do and “to discern how we might ‘heal, form, convert, unify, and send’ our parishioners through a ‘rekindled relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist.’”
Thus, the Parish Year is the most pivotal of the three-year Eucharistic Revival and its success is important for all our parishes. I am truly edified by the number of parishes that already are engaged in celebrations, educational opportunities and programs centered upon Christ present in the Most Blessed Sacrament.
As we bring to the Our Lord all our concerns and needs, I ask that He bless us and that His Sacred Heart will be embraced by our hearts as we gaze upon Him always present in our tabernacles.
Begging the intercession of Our Mother Mary and our Diocesan Patron, St. John Fisher, whose feast day we celebrate on June 22, I remain
Devotedly yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend
Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester