This week the
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops holds its Plenary Assembly in
Baltimore; during this morning’s opening session, USCCB President Cardinal
Timothy Dolan addressed his fellow bishops (Rocco Palmo has the full
that the bishopscollectively and individuallyhave “a lot on our plate,” Dolan
mentioned specifically, “the suffering in vast areas
not far from here caused by the Hurricane of two weeks ago, the imperative to the New
Evangelization, the invitation offered by the Year of Faith, and our continued
dialogue, engagement, and prophetic challenge to our culture over urgent issues
such as the protection of human life, the defense of marriage, the promotion of
human dignity in the lives of the poor, the immigrant, those in danger from war
and persecution throughout the world, and our continued efforts to defend our
first and most cherished freedom.”
challenges having been mentioned at the outset, Dolan exhorted his fellow
bishops: “First things first.” The rest of the cardinal’s address focused on
the need for the bishops to “fully embrace” the Sacrament of Penance.
an irony that despite the call of the Second Vatican Council for a renewal of
the Sacrament of Penance, what we got instead was its near disappearance.
became very good in the years following the Council in calling for the reform
of structures, systems, institutions, and people other than ourselves. That,
too, is important; it can transform our society and world. But did we fail
along the way to realize that in no way can the New Evangelization be
reduced to a program, a process, or a call to structural reform; that it is
first and foremost a deeply personal conversion within? “The Kingdom of God is
within,” as Jesus taught.
The premier answer
to the question “What’s wrong with the world?”, “What’s wrong with the church?”
is not politics, the economy, secularism, sectarianism, globalization or global
warming…none of these, as significant as they are. As Chesterton wrote, “The
answer to the question ‘What’s wrong with the world?’ is just two words: ‘I am.’”
am! Admitting that leads to conversion of heart and repentance, the marrow
of the Gospel-invitation. I remember the insightful words of a holy priest well
known to many of us from his long apostolate to priests and seminarians in
Rome, Monsignor Charles Elmer, wondering aloud from time to time if, following
the close of the Council, we had sadly become a Church that forgot how to
kneel. If we want the New Evangelization to work, it starts on
Cardinal Dolan also mentioned some particular initiatives the
USCCB will be undertaking in its efforts to revitalize penitential practices,
including the possible re-introduction of “meatless Fridays” throughout the
And we’ll have the
opportunity during this meeting to approve a simple pastoral invitation to all
our faithful to join us in renewing our appreciation for and use of the
Sacrament. We will “Keep the Light On” during
the upcoming Advent Season!
The work of our Conference
during the coming year includes reflections on re-embracing Friday as a
particular day of penance, including the possible re-institution of abstinence
on all Fridays of the year, not just during Lent. Our pastoral plan offers
numerous resources for catechesis on the Sacrament of Penance, and the manifold graces that come to
us from the frequent use of confession.
Dolan concluded his
address with a reminder that the bishops must provide their flocks with “good examples
of humble, repentant pastors, aware of our own personal and corporate sins”:
Remember the Curé of Ars?
When a concerned group of his worried supporters came to him with a stinging
protest letter from a number of parishioners, demanding the bishop to remove
John Vianney as their curé, claiming he was a sinner, ignorant, and awkward,
St. John Vianney took the letter, read it carefully ... and signed the petition! …
this as my presidential address, I know I risk the criticism. I can hear it
now: “With all the controversies and urgent matters for the Church, Dolan spoke
of conversion of heart through the Sacrament of Penance. Can you believe it?”
which I reply, “You better believe it!”
First things first!
Full text here.