The following is an excerpt from Bishop Gerald Barnes’ address at the Combined Vicariate Meeting on February 11 at St. Francis Xavier Cabrini Parish, Yucaipa.
By Most Reverend Gerald Barnes
And so Pope Frances gives us the Year of Mercy, a year to reflect on that part of our identity. A year to look at how we ourselves, in the times of problems and chaos, have been touched by God’s Mercy. A year to show gratitude for all that God has given us, especially during the difficult times in our lives. We do that, personally, but we also do that as a parish, as a school, as a diocese. We are called to reflect on how we as a community have shown God’s Mercy to our sisters and our brothers. How do we do that in our service and in our ministry to others?
And we know that people come to our parishes when they are distraught, when they find themselves in chaotic situations, when they’re in need, when they’re uncertain, when they worry, when they’re afraid. They come to us, they flock to our churches after a tragedy either man-made or natural. They want to be there at Sunday Mass they want to gather to pray. They come seeking the Sacrament of Confession; some come because they want advice from us on how to form their children or how to cope with the marital situations in their lives. Some come to us in search of financial assistance for food from our pantries, money to help pay for rent, buy medicine, to pay their bills, to bury their dead. They call on us in our parishes when someone in the family is sick or dying. They come to us looking for a place to find hope, God’s Mercy.
Do they find it?
What kind of attitude greets them? Is it an attitude of welcome, an attitude that restores their dignity, that makes them feel that they are at home, that they can say what they want? Or do they find the attitude of negativity, that we complain because they come? Do they find people that have given up on them? That discourage them? That judge them? Because they are taking away our valuable time? Do they find someone who’s impatient, because they don’t want to be bothered? Who won’t listen to their unique story because they’ve heard it already? Are they greeted with rules that never bend and that are set in a way that belittles and demeans? Do they find that the fees that we have keep them away from being served or from receiving the sacraments. Do they find pessimists who forecast the worst?
This is not what the Pope envisions as a Church of Mercy. All of us can recall good teachers that we’ve had, good priests that have been part of our lives, good coaches in our sports, good nuns, deacons that have exemplified our faith. People have showed us the face of God and all of us can remember some in our families, people like that. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it is our calling, it is our mission, it is why we exist.
And maybe one way that we can reflect on how we live out mercy at our parishes and schools is by focusing on what we identified 16 years ago as core values for our Diocese.
Hospitality: How do we welcome others, how do we receive them in our offices, into our parish programs? Do we listen to them? Do we make time for them? Do we suspend judgment? Do we receive them as members of our family? Do we celebrate their presence among us? Do we see them as a blessing for our community? Are we sensitive to the many of cultures and behaviors that make up our parishes in our diocese? Do they find that embrace of the merciful Father in our parishes, in our schools, in our ministries? I know that not everybody is easy to work with.
Faith sharing: That we listen to the stories of other people. We don’t tell them their story we listen to their stories. We walk with them, with their hopes and dreams as well as their pains and sorrows. We see Christ in them; we validate their thoughts and experiences. We don’t dismiss people. They are sharing their faith with us and Mercy we are there.
I tell this story that was shared by renowned catechist Maria Aims. She told this story about this little boy that lives in Mexico and his father had come north looking for a job and they never heard from him again. The mother was sick she spent most of the day in bed. He had three sisters. And so the little boy, Juanito, went door to door to see if he could bring some food home. He goes to this first house which he had been to several times and the lady opens the door and she says, “Oh, it’s you again. You come here every other day looking for help; I’ve helped you, I can’t help you anymore. Go get somebody else to help you or help yourself.” She slams the door.
So he goes to the next house and this lady is there and she says, “Oh Juanito, I thought you might be coming today. Look, I have a little taco that I wrapped up here. I’m going to give that to you because I know that’s what you need, OK?”
So then he goes to the next house and the lady there says, “Oh, I was hoping you would come today because I need a favor. Would you go and buy me some bread and milk and then I’ll give you something?” So he goes and he comes back and she gives him a few oranges and apples and he says he’ll come back tomorrow in case she needs anything. So then he goes to the house at the very end of the street and he knocks at the door and another lady comes out and she looks down and she says, “Yes?” She says, “Well, what’s our name? Where do you live?” And then she invites him into her home, sits on the sofa, calls her husband. She continues, “Why aren’t you in school? Where is your mother? Where is your father?” She hears his story and then she helps him.
What kind of Bishop am I? What kind of priest, nun, deacon, pastoral coordinator, office worker, catechist, school personnel? Are we the ones that say, ‘I’ve done my part so I’ll just let somebody else do the rest?’ Or are we the ones that say, “I know what you need. I already have it all wrapped up in this pretty package?’ Or am I the one that says, ‘I’ll do something for you if you do something for me?’ Or are we the ones that listen to the story with an empathy and mercy and go from there.
The third value we have as a diocese is the value of Reconciliation. And so we need to ask, in our programs, do we need to extend that opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation that best serves the people that are there, not our schedule? How do we address the different issues that divide our people even in our [parish, school and ministry] staffs? How do we build bridges? How do we bring healing to the brokenness and chaos that is there? Do we watch how we say things? Do we watch our gestures and our tone of voice? What words do we use that express God’s compassion and God’s forgiveness? Monsignor [Tom] Wallace, always a good example for all of us, once told me, “Bishop, you can say no and still be nice.”
The fourth value is Collaboration. It’s hard to understand the concept even after all these years. We are still trying to unpack it. Some of us are in places of power or control or prestige…Some of us have failed to really appreciate the value of humility that is essential in ministry. So we need to ask, do we show attitudes of pride or superiority? Do we intimidate others as if they have nothing to offer? Or do we see the uniqueness that God has given each person that comes to us? And do we work at building those gifts into a team into partnership for the honor and glory of God?
In the secular world we would talk about customer service. I grew up in a little grocery store and we needed those people to continue coming to that store. My dad would say, “the customer is always right. Even when the customer is wrong, he’s always right.” Where are we in our customer service to our people? Is it an extension of Gods mercy? Because people come to us in times of trouble, they need us to be there when they feel lost and abandoned. We need our people to keep coming to us and we need to prepare them and ourselves to go out to others who are no longer coming. It’s what God counts blessings to be, it’s what being merciful like the Father is.
It can’t be we practice mercy this year and then we go back to what things were, after this Year of Mercy. It’s for our family to reclaim God’s mercy as his church today. You know sometimes when people talk about the Diocese… Some will say ‘they are really supportive of immigration.’ Some will say ‘they really invest a lot in the lay formation.’ Some will say ‘they have a tremendous international clergy that serves all the people.’ We are known for different things in many states and in the country. I pray that we will also be known as a diocese that shows God’s Mercy. You can see, experience, touch, and taste the mercy of God when you go to the Diocese of San Bernardino.