There are a number of gatherings and events that mark the life of the Church in the United States and around the world in these days.
In the Church in the U.S., this week is known as “National Marriage Week.” This week brings to mind for me, first of all, my mother and father as I go through our family albums and as our family prepares our home of many years for sale this spring. I wish to salute my sister M.T. in that regard for all she has done. Seeing the pictures of my mother and father over the years, I think once more how they taught all of us, by their lives, modeling and sacrifices, what the Sacrament of Marriage given to us by Christ is. I think also of the witness of all involved in marriage preparation in our Diocese of Orange and beyond, and those who have enriched my life as a priest over the years, particularly those involved in Marriage Encounter both in Spanish and English. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a place on its website where couples can make a retreat on line this week, and I would highly recommend it.
We just finished Catholic Schools Week and celebrated a Mass and dinner in honor of our consecrated men and women here in the Diocese of Orange. Last night I spent an evening with the Norbertines at St. Michael’s Abbey. I reflected on the words of Pope Francis in his apostolic letter addressed “to all consecrated people on the occasion of consecrated life.” Using the three aims in this letter—to look to the past with gratitude, to live the present with passion and to embrace the future with hope—I shared my own vocation story with them and how the gift of consecrated life was integral to hearing the voice of Christ. This series began with a talk by Father Abbot Eugene Hayes, O.Praem, and I was featured on the second night. There will be a series of presentations in the evenings ahead by other men and women religious. I thank Abbot Hayes so much for his invitation for this reflection and a time of prayer and fraternity with the Norbertine community.
At the end of Catholic Schools Week we held an appreciation banquet for our teachers, faculty, staff and school board members for all of our elementary and high schools. During this banquet, as mentioned in last week’s Orange County Catholic, Sister Mary Vianney Ennis, RSM, was honored for her years of teaching and administration at St. John the Baptist School in Costa Mesa. The witness of her religious life as a Sister of Mercy has made a difference in the lives of so many children and families here over these past 50 years. As she prepares to return to her native Ireland, we thank Sister, pray for her, and reflect on the centrality and importance of the gift of consecrated life to the Church.
And in this year of consecrated life, I would publicly like to acknowledge another Sister of Mercy who has affected many in this country and around the world. Sister Mary Ann Walsh, RSM, has recently returned to the motherhouse of the Sisters of Mercy in Albany, N.Y. I first got to know Sister Mary Ann when I was a student priest in Rome and so many of us—priests, religious and lay men and women—would walk to the “Stational Church Masses” in Rome during the Lenten season. She was part of the big family of American seminarians, priests, religious and lay people who spent time in the Eternal City for ministry and study. Her ministry of communication was a part of the work of Catholic News Service at that time. In later years, after I became the Bishop of Fort Worth, I got to know her in the Office of Communications for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. She was a great help to me when she and Barry McLaughlin were in Fort Worth for communication workshops and helped us through some challenging times. Each time I was at the Bishops’ Conference headquarters I would enjoy visiting with her about the latest projects and challenges. Her humor, insight and comprehension of the local and Universal Church were a gift to us all. Her book about the life of Saint John Paul II is a wonderful resource. In these first months of the Year of Consecrated Life I would like to thank Sister Mary Ann publicly for her friendship and help to all of us to communicate and express ourselves more effectively as people of faith. We all extend our prayers to her and the Sisters of Mercy in these days.
Finally, it was noted recently that the cause for beatification for Chiara Lubich was opened in Castelgandolfo, Italy. I mention this because I would consider myself among the “Bishop Friends of Focolare” who will be meeting in Castelgandolfo next month in March. I will not be there, but I have a great admiration for Chiara, whose ecclesial movement of “Focolare” (an Italian word meaning “hearth”) was born out of the ashes of World War II in Trent, Italy. I salute all of the members of Focolare worldwide and their sense of ecclesial communion and for living the mission of unity. Their magazine, “Living City,” notes that “’Living City’ has its roots in the Focolare, a worldwide lay Catholic movement, founded in l943 in Trent, Italy, which today numbers more than 5 million people of all ages, religions and backgrounds (read more at focolare.org). Its spirituality of communion is based on Jesus’ prayer for unity, ‘That all may be one’ (John 17:21).”
May the Lord continue to bless all of you in these still new days of the New Year.