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home : bishop : columns

1/7/2016 9:00:00 AM
BISHOP'S COLUMN
Make it happen
A New Year's reflection
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER


"History is made up of three kinds of people: those who make it happen, those to whom it happens and those who wonder what happened!"

Whoever first observed this was onto something. Each of these options is a personal choice. What will yours and mine be?

As 2015 fades into history and a new year begins, it is only natural to reflect on the persons and events that, for good or for ill, seem most to have defined or shaped the past year's character.

Because of last year's seemingly relentless surge of violence, economic and political refugees, and increasingly hostile ideology and stereotype-fueled clashes, there is a strong temptation to see recent history as a tidal wave overwhelming us.

As Christians, we do not close our eyes to what happens in the world around us; nor are we ever content to just let things happen. We live in the constant awareness that the kingdom of God -- the world as it is destined to be under God's reign -- breaks the barriers that history often throws into the path of those who seek to live lives of virtue on Earth that conform to the heavenly living that the Beatitudes extol.

The beginning of a new calendar year, therefore, is as good a time as any to let go of those memories, resentments and lost opportunities that we too often, by clinging to them, empower to control our present and darken our future. It is an invitation to re-anchor our lives in the One who will never abandon us to despair.

After the horror of Good Friday, something very wonderful happened: People who were dragging themselves to the tomb of Christ in order to finish up their post-mortems suddenly found themselves running around for the joy of finding it empty.

"Do not look for Him among the dead," the angels told them -- and, of course, Jesus Himself would appear to many of His disciples in the days before His ascension, commissioning them to tell the Good News to the world: that their lives could be changed from gloom and drudgery to joy and freedom.

For Christians, death no longer has power over this world. No matter how bad it has been or may seem to have become, the deeds of death are no basis upon which to deprive us of a glorious future that is grounded in the Risen One. We, too, rise again from the ashes of our sins and failures by the power of God's grace.

So, 2016 need not be defined or determined by what happened or did not happen in 2015 or any year before it. Every new day is a resurrection!

Closer to home, in the midst of the many challenges so many faith communities on all levels face in our Diocese at this time, we have a golden opportunity to take a good look at our strengths and challenges, so that more of God's faithful people can bear witness to the power and glory of the risen Christ personally.

To do this, everyone must know and feel that he or she has a special role to play in Christ's Church and that no one should be made to feel anything but accepted, welcomed and loved. In the midst of events that threaten to bury the value and significance of every human person, we affirm the dignity and God-given purpose of every human life, from the moment of conception, through death and into eternity.

We need to show this in bringing the Gospel of hope to one another, person to person. This is what evangelization is all about today: being a missionary disciple with everyone we encounter.

If there is one New Year's wish that I have as Bishop of our wonderful Diocese, it is that each and every one of us will come to know the power of our personal story, our spiritual journey of faith. This is not something we Catholics are used to or comfortable with. Often, we have been inclined to assume that the value of our faith is in the degree to which a judgment may be made (by whom?) on the quantity and quality of our good actions or the degree to which we "succeeded" in following all the rules.

If we really want to spread the Gospel, we might do better to find in our hearts the courage to share our personal struggles, the sins and weaknesses we suffer from and take to the Lord, in whom we have received God's mercy -- as well as the forgiveness of others.

It is not self-pride to celebrate God's successes in and through us! God will always succeed if we give Jesus the permission to change our lives.

If we take a little time to reflect and can be honest with ourselves, many of us would have to admit we have experienced real conversions in our lives. Many more of us, no doubt, need to and recognize these changes as such. They may not always be ground-shattering, like the radical turn around in the life of St. Paul. They can be very subtle and often slow, with many up and downs like with St. Peter, but they are real.

Sharing them with others is not just for our own sense of consolation or well-being. The spread of the Gospel and the salvation of our friends and neighbors depend upon it:

• the things that, but for the grace of God, we might have done or said, but did not;

• the attitudes or resentments we once gave harbor to, perhaps, but don't cling to;

• the habit or relationship we once could not imagine living a day without, which now has become only a sad reminder of the time we wasted and which the Lord as mercifully given back to us at the dawn of new holy year of grace, to be spent more lovingly and generously;

• the gift of just being alive today and no other time in history, so that we can bring to the world a blessing it never knew before; or

• the grace to know that you may be the only Christ that some other person may ever know.

Each of us is being summoned to be that "holy door" of mercy through whom Christ wants to be born again in our time, to set the world God passionately loves on fire!

Like the aforementioned three types of people, the choice belongs to you and me. Will I be just a spectator, a sideliner who watches the world pass me by? Or will I bring to the world personally the Lord and Savior it wants and needs so desperately -- the real love we are all looking for -- by letting Christ touch my heart and change my life?

Nothing is more persuasive than receiving a personal testimony, a witness to a life turned around. All of us have some story of faith to share, either from our personal experience or from the lives of those who touched us so deeply that we were changed. No hope nor dream, no wish nor concern is too small or insignificant to share. Remember that God chooses the weak things of the world to confound the proud.

Let us, each and every one, step up to the plate and bear witness. This is our time in history. With God's grace, the new year is yours and mine to make!

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)





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