What I Have Seen and Heard
Published: September 18, 2008
Two different people approached me quite independently last week and made reference to this weekly column. Both were complimentary regarding my weekly contribution—neither said they always agreed with my observations, but both of them said that they always read the column. I was flattered! I began writing this weekly column almost 15 years ago, soon after beginning my service as the bishop of Belleville, Ill. I was very reluctant to start the tradition because I thought that it would become just another obligation that imposed itself on my calendar. I now look upon it as a great blessing and a vital expression of my responsibility as a bishop of the Church.
Bishops are obliged by our very office to offer three services to the Church—the three-fold munus (office) of docendi, regendi and sanctificandi—teaching, governing and sanctifying. There are many ways that each of these responsibilities is approached in accordance with the circumstances that the bishop encounters and his own particular background and temperament. Teaching the Faith has certainly become more challenging in an environment where people are constantly deluged with information. All of our lives are flooded with data, and most of us would have to admit that we are sometimes overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of information that crowds our world. Teaching the Faith in such an atmosphere requires a bishop to find ways to engage his flock so that they will read, understand and then reflect with him on the matters of Faith.
Bishops by nature are letter writers—and I have both written and participated in composing some of the important Episcopal letters that have been offered to the Church during the past generation. But formal letters are often long and demand extended time to read and grasp. There are some Church issues that demand such detail and require the careful crafting of materials so that the topics are adequately presented. Still there are many more occasions and opportunities when a briefer presentation can spark reflection and inspire people to bring their Faith with them during the car ride to work, while they are shopping for groceries, or even as they surf the Web. That’s what these columns are intended to do—to allow you to look at life through the light and prism of our Catholic Faith in our everyday world.
Some may be more successful than others in that regard. But over the years, I have been able to shed some light on the issues that we all face—the dignity of human life, the worship and devotional life of our Church, the social challenges that we face in the areas of justice, the proud history of our Faith, the pastoral dilemmas that confront every parish, and the demands of catechesis and passing on of the Faith. If a particular column has sparked your interest or even caused you to disagree with an observation, then you have spent a moment reflecting on our Faith that might have been a moment you would have spent thinking about something else far less significant.
I think that I have written about 750 columns over the years, and these would have amounted to about 2,200 pages—not all of them equally valuable but each one an attempt by this bishop to engage his people in the issues of Faith and life. These represent one expression of my modest attempt using this vehicle to exercise the munus docendi that comes with my title and guides my service as your bishop.