“The joys and hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men (and women) of this age, especially those of the poor or in any way afflicted, these too are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.” (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Para. 1)
I can’t think of any words from the documents of Vatican Council II that I have seen quoted more frequently. Every time I read these words, I take comfort, encouragement and challenge from them. They allow me to think of my own dreams, joys, anxieties and sorrows as being of concern to the church. They remind me that — because we are human — our journey to faith is one that usually unfolds gradually over the years. They encourage me that even my stubbornness and sin cannot stand against the compassionate love of Christ of which the church is meant to be a reminder and sign. Most importantly, the words push me to include always in my prayers the concern and dreams, the pain and hopes of those with whom I share this journey of faith.
While I cherish the words, I thank God no less for the witness of people who embody in such impressive ways that concern and compassion for the human family. Examples:
a) I had the privilege recently of speaking about the office of bishop to the people of St. John’s in Clyde. Their program — which runs through the year and explores a range of topics — is very well-attended. I think that a big reason for that is that the program is designed to help the people of the parish to relate faith to life and life to faith in very practical ways.
b) With both Catholic Charities of Wayne County and Catholic Family Center, I have participated in events which both raised money used to support sisters and brothers who need our assistance and expressed gratitude to people who have offered such support. In both cases, it came across clearly in word and attitude that those who offer such support to sisters and brothers are much aware that in giving they receive a great deal. Why? I think that is because when we come in human touch with the vulnerability and need of a neighbor, we come in touch with our own vulnerability and need. And, then we learn that no one is too rich to receive and no one is too poor to give.
c) On Sept. 11, we celebrated Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral with Rochester’s firefighters and emergency-response personnel. We remembered those who perished on 9/11 and those who suffered the loss of loved ones on that horrible day. But, we also remembered local firefighters who died in the line of duty. To me that gathering was one which collected in our beautiful cathedral women and men who are deeply familiar with both what is noble and life-giving in human experience and with what is painful and leads to death. In the event they gave witness to their belief that, ultimately, it is the goodness of God alive in the human heart that will prevail.
My invitation to you is to spend some time with the above quotation. It may help you to be in touch in a clear and focused way with the hopes and joys, the grief and anxieties of your own heart or the hearts of those who are dear to you. That can be good because it can turn us to God in prayer. It can be good because it reminds us that we are not alone in our humanity, and that we are always in the prayer of the great church.
Peace to all.