I don’t much enjoy doing business by phone, especially in matters of great importance. My preference is to meet face-to-face with others because, as we all know, communication is much more than just a verbal exercise. We “say” much to one another by gesture, posture, facial expression and the play of our eyes. I have to confess, however, that I enjoyed a recent business phone conversation a great deal, notwithstanding the reservation expressed above.
That 50-minute conversation was with two gentlemen with whom we have been consulting about our next steps in pastoral planning. They wanted to hear from me about a number of topics related to the challenges of pastoral planning: What are my hopes about what our community will be like at the end of the next phase of planning? What are some of the challenges we face? Where does our strength lie? What are rich opportunities that we can pursue? What assets do we bring to the endeavor? What is the spirit of the people? What is the disposition that our clergy and their sister and brother pastoral leaders bring to this continuing challenge? What are the hopes, concerns, dreams and fears of the faithful of the diocese?
I think that the conversation so stimulated me because it put me in touch with the spirit of the people of this diocese and what you have achieved in recent years. Our synod experience was a foundational part of that conversation, as were the stages of our pastoral planning to which the synod gave birth. I told the men about the spirit that you have brought to the effort, the hard work you have done, the obstacles that you have faced with grace and courage and determination. I went on in such fashion that I was tempted, toward the end of the conversation, to apologize for bragging about you too much!
There was no apology, of course, because I was doing more than telling the truth about your faith, your generosity and your concern for one another and for your sisters and brothers in need.
Through the remainder of the day, my mind went back to the conversation several times and to that awareness of those virtues that you manifest. Such virtues are gifts of the Holy Spirit which not only draw us close to the Lord, but which strengthen all of us for our common mission to announce the saving love of Christ. We do this, certainly, with words. But sometimes we speak to others more strongly and clearly through what we do and how we treat others.
My opinion is that such a positive disposition is of great importance at this time. There are so many problems that trouble the human family. On the international scene we have an ever-widening gap between those who have and those who have not. Children starve and suffer abuse. Women are oppressed. Ethnic and religious enmities generate the murder and persecution of great numbers. HIV/AIDS ravage many nations.
Our nation struggles with the agony of the situation in Iraq. Why did we ever get into this mess? How do we get out with integrity and honor? And, how do we struggle with those questions without seeming unpatriotic or not supportive of our troops? And, how about the economy and the cost of health care and the security of pension plans?
There are no easy answers to those questions. There are no facile solutions to the many more local, more personal problems that all of us could name.
But, our faith reminds us that there is always hope because God’s love will never fail us. In our tradition, a true sense of that awareness of God’s faithful love is not an invitation to us to sit back, relax and wait for God to do it. Rather, such a grace prods believers to do what they can to make things better. Instead of saying, “we can’t,” the believer says, “we can — with the help of God.”
Peace to all.