As this February 2023 issue of the Catholic Courier was going to press, and after having completed my column for the issue, I received word early the morning of January 22, 2023, of the death of The Most Reverend Matthew H. Clark, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Rochester, following a period of declining health. Our diocesan family is now united in prayer, accompanying Bishop Clark over the threshold from this life to the next, confident that, for the Lord’s faithful, “life is changed not ended, and when this earthly dwelling turns to dust, an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven” (Roman Missal, Preface I for the Dead). Like Pope Benedict XVI and St. Peter referenced below, Bishop Clark, as a successor to the Holy Apostles, also received the mandate from Jesus to feed His sheep, which he did with dedication as our diocesan bishop for more than 33 years. Now we ask Jesus, the Good Shepherd, to grant eternal life to His servant, Bishop Clark; may he rest in the peace of the Lord.The Most Reverend Salvatore R. Matano
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
In the beautiful post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to His apostles by the Sea of Tiberias, St. Peter professes his love for Jesus and, in turn, Jesus says to Peter: “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15). In the years that were to follow, the apostles would go to the farthest ends of the earth following the command of Jesus: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Over the last several weeks there have been many stories and commentaries about our Holy Father of beloved memory, Benedict XVI. So very often, he has been esteemed as a scholar, an outstanding teacher and one deeply committed to the person of Jesus Christ, who always was the heart and center of his catechesis. Benedict XVI had encountered Christ and he so deeply desired to have others, his flock, encounter this Jesus. Like Peter, the first Pope, Benedict XVI took to heart the mandate given to the first Vicar of Christ: “Feed my sheep.”
How very fitting it is then that we celebrate Catholic Schools Week, which began on January 29 and continues through February 4, in the same issue of the Catholic Courier commemorating the life of Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Benedict XVI, in his meeting with Catholic educators at the Catholic University of America during his pastoral visit to our nation in April 2008, declared:
“First and foremost, every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth (cf. Spe Salvi, 4). This relationship elicits a desire to grow in the knowledge and understanding of Christ and his teaching. In this way those who meet him are drawn by the very power of the Gospel to lead a new life characterized by all that is beautiful, good, and true; a life of Christian witness nurtured and strengthened within the community of our Lord’s disciples, the Church.”
The presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the education and development of the human person is not something additional to or even extraneous to the pursuit of truth. Jesus, alive in our midst, inspires, guides and embraces the Catholic educational community in its pursuit of the ultimate Truth Who is Christ, the Savior of humanity.
In his “ad limina Apostolorum” (“To the threshold of the Holy Apostles”) address to the Bishops of New York state on October 15, 1988, St. John Paul II made it clear that the essential service of the many Catholic schools and religious education programs in our nation depends upon the strength of their Catholic identity. He told the Bishops:
“Catholic institutions … which educate a large number of young people in the United States of America, have a great importance for the future of society and of the Church in your country. But the degree of their influence depends entirely on preserving their Catholic identity. This Catholic identity has to be present in the fundamental direction given to both teaching and studies. And it must be present in the life of these institutions which are characterized by a special bond with the Church – a bond that springs from their institutional connection with the Catholic message. The ‘adjective’ Catholic must always be the real expression of a profound reality.”
Thus, identifying a school, a religious-education program as Catholic means identifying every aspect of its life as Catholic, centered in Jesus Christ. In order to preserve the integrity and identity of the foundations of Catholic education, the school family, faculty, students, staff and parents, must themselves be committed to the faith and be disciples embracing the mission of a Catholic school, demonstrated in word and in action. In our Catholic schools, our Catholic faith presents a way of life; its rich formulations, its Creed, unfold the most lasting and transcendent Wisdom, the very foundation upon which we build our lives.
Pope Francis also has stressed the great need for Catholic institutions of learning as expressed by his predecessors. At a meeting with a delegation from English-speaking Catholic universities on April 20, 2022, Pope Francis said that Catholic education and formation are more important than ever in “an age awash in information often transmitted without wisdom or critical sense.” He continued: “As educators, you are called to nurture the desire for truth, goodness and beauty that lies in the heart of each individual, so that all may learn how to love life and be open to the fullness of life.”
The need to know our faith in order that we may know Christ has been a constant teaching of the Church. The question remains: “How will we let this affect us personally?” On February 22, 2023, Ash Wednesday, we will begin the holy season of Lent. These 40 days are a time to enter Christ’s classroom and look into our hearts to assess honestly and realistically our relationship with Jesus, not just by words but by deeds. The time-tested ways to have a fruitful Lenten season are as true today as they always have been: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Prayer, which reaches its culminating moment at Holy Mass every week, is truly enriched by our attendance at daily Mass during this solemn season of spiritual introspection. This is accompanied by the reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Confession, that worthily we will receive Our Lord in Holy Communion. These are in-person encounters for which there is no substitute. Christ coming to us, our person united to His very person. For this very reason, pastoral visits to the sick are essential, so that they, too, are able to encounter Christ in the Sacraments.
In an age where some have so much and others die of hunger, fasting helps us to unite with our suffering sisters and brothers and creates within us a spirit of generosity, almsgiving, by which we share what we have with those who have so little or nothing. This provides a real beatitude, not just an ideal or a pious platitude, but a concrete expression of living out Christ’s command: “Love your neighbor.” During His earthly ministry, Christ fed both body and soul: He multiplied the loaves and the fish, and then instructed them about the Bread of Life.
I pray that this forthcoming Lenten season leads us to the joy of the Resurrection so that in our own lifetime we can repeat those last words of Benedict XVI: “Lord, I love you.”
Invoking the intercession of Our Mother, Mary, and St. John Fisher, our Patron, we pray for Mary’s strength as she followed her Son along that Via Dolorosa, as we make our Lenten pilgrimage to the Risen Christ, particularly mindful of the sick, the outcast and the foreigner, the isolated and the imprisoned, the materially and spiritually impoverished, who so much need the hope and joy of Easter.
With my continued prayers for you and asking a remembrance in your good prayers, I remain,
Devotedly yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester