Last month was the 14th Annual Bishop’s Dinner and because we are in the 35th Anniversary year of the diocese we honored three who were instrumental in our early years, our founding Bishop Phillip Straling, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word (founders of St. Bernardine Hospital) and Rabbi Hillel Cohen, a longtime interfaith partner of the diocese. The evening was a wonderful celebration of our past and of those who were inspired by the Holy Spirit to lay a solid foundation for our diocese. We are a comparatively young diocese but we have strong roots. Recounting the stories of the early days with humor and poignancy at the dinner was a reminder of God’s blessings to our local Church and also of the holiness of these forerunners that we are called to emulate.
At the same time, we have entered into Confirmation Season, when I have the honor this year, with help from Bishop del Riego, Monsignor Lopez, Monsignor Wallace and Father Seleccion, of welcoming 5,200 youth and 1,766 adults as fully initiated members of our Catholic faith. I can’t help but think a little more about the future of our Church at this time. It is a moment of excitement and emotion for the confirmandi and their families. I share in the joy of the moment and I feel the presence of the Spirit in these young Catholics. But I also think about the next leg of their journey. Will they find ways to learn and grow in their faith without the structure of their religious education classes and activities? Will they discern and seek a ministry in which to exercise their spiritual muscles? Will their parish welcome and encourage them in that ministry? One thing is clear to me amongst these questions. We must continue to accompany them in this time of transition, for it is a time when they can either strengthen their connection to our faith or drift away from it.
Another upcoming event that turns my thoughts to the future is the ordination of Toan Pham as our newest diocesan priest. We will all share in the hope of that day, May 24, as Toan begins his journey as a priest. He will help the people of our diocese to encounter the Lord Jesus and to live the Gospel. I wonder what will mark Toan’s journey in priestly ministry. How many men will come forth in the years to come to join him in the priesthood? What is the path that God intends for us to meet the sacramental and pastoral needs of such a huge Catholic population that continues to grow rapidly? Please promote and pray for vocations!!!!
Of course, these are not just questions of today. When we honored Bishop Straling at the Bishop’s Dinner it was mentioned that he, too, wrestled with how to serve the people with a shortage of priests – and that was when the diocese was newly formed! Part of his response was to create ways to educate and form the laity so that they might assume more leadership in parishes. I have been proud to continue that legacy in our diocese.
I suppose that is where the past helps us to deal with the enduring questions of the future. We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. We take what they have left behind for us and we dream and plan for tomorrow.
And with help from the Holy Spirit, we will make it through today.