My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
In this issue of the Catholic Courier we celebrate the special anniversaries of our priests, religious sisters and permanent deacons, expressing our gratitude for the many years of service represented among these servants of the Lord.
On Dec. 17, 2013, following upon my nomination to the See of Rochester on Nov. 6, 2013, and prior to my installation as diocesan bishop on Jan. 3, 2014, I wrote to the priests of our diocese. On this present occasion celebrating our priest jubilarians, I wish to renew some of what I wrote:
“In these recent weeks surrounding my nomination to the See of Rochester, I have reflected upon those beautiful documents of the Second Vatican Council entitled Christus Dominus and Presbyterorum Ordinis which speak so eloquently of the relationship between the Diocesan Bishop and his priests, who are his first collaborators in priestly ministry. As one called to be your Bishop, I ask for your prayers that in accord with the conciliar documents, I will be a true shepherd and father to those entrusted to my pastoral care.
“As I write this letter, I renew my own esteem and love for the priesthood of Jesus Christ which we share, and by which, we became ‘living stones, built as an edifice of Spirit, into a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’ (1Peter 2:5). Because of our priestly ministry we recognize so profoundly that the Most Holy Eucharist is the heart and center of all that we do and it is the Eucharist which binds together the family of God, most especially in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. But without the priesthood, without those who act in persona Christi, there is no Eucharist and thus, the Church we cherish ceases to exist. This reality places upon us an awesome responsibility to be who we are called to be, an alter Christus, in service to the Lord, His holy Church, and His people. It demands that we truly support one another in fulfilling the sublime duties entrusted to us. The unity for which Jesus prayed in that beautiful prayer recorded in chapter 17 of Saint John’s Gospel, that we ‘may all be one, is a unity that must begin first with the Bishop and his priests.
“It is this unity which will make us truly effective in serving God’s people with an undivided heart and ever conscious of why we were called to the priesthood. You bear the beautiful title ‘Father’ which binds you to those you serve in the family of God. This reality carries with it the responsibility to lead God’s people to salvation, to nurture their faith, to support them in their trials. In sum, to be truly present to them in the many circumstances that are a part of daily life. As I bear the title ‘Bishop,’ I am reminded that the entire Diocese is my family and, as a true shepherd, I must seek out those who are lost so that I may have the joy of welcoming them back to the community of faith. How can these demands, both earthly and transcendent, ever be accomplished unless we work together!”
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In the long history of our diocese and in the church universal, religious sisters have made extraordinary contributions in every area of ecclesial life, educating countless numbers of young people, ministering to the sick, the poor, the homeless, the refugee and the orphan. These faith-filled women have so generously dedicated their lives to Jesus Christ and to His people. Knowing that Jesus is the very source and the giver of life, our sisters embarked upon a sacred journey many years ago to help others rejoice in the beauty and transcendence of Christ’s life. Their consecration to Jesus and His mission has been made real and visible by the willingness of each sister to accept the solemn vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. The vows are a beautiful way to seek, to find and to strive for the goal of perfect love because they actually sum up all of our human existence. All that they have, they willingly give to God in the vow of poverty; all that they are, the total gift of self, they give to the Lord in religious chastity; and all that they do, they give to the Lord in service to His people in the vow of obedience to His will. Rightly understood, the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience should not be looked upon as heavy burdens but as generous gifts, not as walls separating religious from the world of other women and men, but as channels of grace enabling them to serve and to love God’s people more sincerely and more deeply.
On this occasion, we rejoice because the religious sisters honored and the members of their respective communities have come forward to reawaken in the hearts of us all a deep sense of God’s presence in our lives and Christ’s invitation to become one with Him, especially in our encounter with the Eucharistic Christ. Over the years, through their many apostolates to the family of God, they have called our attention to that deep yearning each of us possesses to be united with God, Our Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, and to be guided by the Holy Spirit.
Dear sisters, you have spent your lives in fidelity to the Gospel and with a profound love for the church’s bridegroom, Jesus Christ. Through you, the Catholic faith has come alive and inspired those who are most in need of it: those many people searching and determining the future direction of their lives and beginning that journey to Christian perfection, recalling the words of Jesus: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew: 5:48).
With the restoration of the permanent diaconate following upon the Second Vatican Council, our diocese has been blessed with the dedicated service of our permanent deacons, who with the support of their wives and families, have accepted the call of Christ to ordained ministry, blending together the challenges of family life, work and ministry. Such a commitment is only possible for those who truly love God, His church and the family of God.
Our permanent deacons are co-workers with the bishop and priests “unto the ministry” (Lumen Gentium, 29) of serving the flock. They are called to be an instrument of unity, peace and reconciliation within the Body of Christ so that the church they serve will radiate the presence of her cornerstone, Christ the Lord. Our deacons’ ability to accomplish this task garners its strength from their personal relationships with the Lord as demonstrated by their profound reverence for and devotion to the Most Holy Eucharist, which has attracted them to serve Jesus, the poor, the foreigner, the outcast, the forgotten and the lost, the imprisoned and the refugee – this is the community served by the permanent diaconate. Our permanent deacons are found ministering in the most challenged sectors of society. Willingly, they embrace this challenge. In our parishes, they assist our priests in the administration of the sacraments, proclaiming the Word of God with zeal and fidelity, and in outreach programs to our youth, families, the elderly and so many others, again giving witness to the presence of Jesus in the sacraments and becoming the One they receive by the witness of their own lives.
Flowing from the permanent deacon’s love for the Eucharist, there bursts forth a strong prayer life rooted in the recitation of the Divine Office, contemplation upon the sacred Scriptures, self-examination and renewal in the sacrament of reconciliation, and an appreciation for and identification with the virtues of our fellow workers in the church who have gone before us, the saints!
I am so very grateful to our permanent deacons and to their families for enriching the spiritual, pastoral, sacramental and ministerial life of our diocese. In particular, I ask God’s blessings upon our permanent deacon jubilarians and their families, whose sacrifices make it possible for our permanent deacons to serve.
This diocese is so very grateful to all our jubilarians, our priests, religious sisters and permanent deacons, who have blessed God’s people through their fruitful ministries in the church — ministries that have affected so very many lives over these many years, reaching into our very own times. At the same time, in the name of our jubilarians, I express my gratitude to our devoted laity, you my dear people, who assist, support and pray for our priests, religious and permanent deacons in our common baptismal commitment to witness to Jesus Christ through the many apostolates of our parishes, institutions and Diocese. Your cooperation and collaboration are deeply appreciated.
God Bless all of you, our dear jubilarians! May you have continued happy and fulfilling years in service to Christ and to His church. May Our Mother Mary intercede on your behalf before her Son and may you always imitate Mary’s virtues of self-sacrifice, humility, charity and fidelity.
United with our entire diocesan family in assuring you of our prayers and gratitude, I remain
Devotedly yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester