I began writing a regular column for The Messenger, the Catholic newspaper in the Diocese of Belleville in September of 1995 – nearly a quarter of a century ago! I then continued the practice in The Georgia Bulletin throughout my tenure in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Concerned about both the time it would require and, frankly, that I would run out of worthwhile things to say, I confess that I did not originally undertake this commitment as enthusiastically as I might have all those years ago. Today, though, with some 700 offerings under my belt, I have come to appreciate this biweekly exercise as an invaluable means of connecting with the people of God in my diocese. With that in mind, I am pleased to “pick up where I left off” with my new family of faith here in the Archdiocese of Washington.
What I Have Seen and Heard will now be a regular feature in the Catholic Standard, typically running about 600-700 words in length. It will be thematically driven by events, encounters, and activities that engage me with the folks of our Archdiocese, sometimes taking a step back to offer perspectives on issues affecting the larger Church and the world. The name comes from several references in the New Testament, including one from the First Letter of Saint John [1:3] and another from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles [22:15] describing the commission that Ananias gave to Saint Paul to become the Lord’s own evangelical missionary.
The topics are chosen to try to help deepen your faith and to inspire you to witness and reflect on how God is working through you – very often in ordinary ways and through regular encounters with one another. Over the years I have found that these columns often spark questions and comments from readers, which I am happy to receive. Sometimes people will agree wholeheartedly with what I’ve written; other times they take exception with a point or two.
I’m told these articles are among the most read sections of the diocesan paper, and I am convinced that must only be because they offer a glimpse into how deeply I rely on you for inspiration and direction in my own life and ministry, even when the context may not be a formal consultation but rather a simple, providential personal interaction. Some have told me they find these relatively short columns more accessible than longer pastoral letters which may treat single themes. Whatever brings you here, know that I am grateful for your presence and your attention, and especially for the opportunity the Holy Father has given me to serve you. As I wrote in my very first column almost 25 years ago, “So here goes!”
As you may imagine, I have received a great many messages of welcome since my appointment as your Archbishop. Overwhelmingly they have been kind, supportive and reassuring. Some have outlined detailed courses of action for my consideration. Others have recommended things that I ought to do – or ought not to do. Nearly all have offered heartfelt prayers for my success as your new Archbishop, and I sincerely appreciate and reciprocate every promise of prayer.
One such message in particular touched my heart deeply. It came from a youngster at Saint John the Evangelist Catholic School in Silver Spring, and simply said: “Make Jesus Proud!” With the profound simplicity and innocence of a child, that poster card-written note captured intentions that many lengthier and perhaps more sophisticated expressions have attempted to convey but simply could not match – in either their impact or their brevity!
The ministry of bishop (and indeed that of far too many individual bishops) has never been more intensely scrutinized nor often justifiably derided than it is today. There have been more than a few moments in history when bishops have been challenged or ridiculed, more often than not with sound reasons and specific validation. What is different today, however, is the widespread dissemination of opinions and critiques via social media, where every blog, tweet and post is treated equally and presumed to be factual. The frequently valid and the occasionally fabricated challenges that have come our way are instantly available for all to see and to judge through one’s own lens of bias, background, and ideology, and they exist online in perpetuity. The guidance and the reproaches we receive are also prominently displayed.
In light of that, “Make Jesus Proud!” is without a doubt the best advice that I could have received upon becoming the Archbishop of Washington, and no one could have expressed it more concisely or more perfectly than did that youngster. I shall not forget that admonition, nor its precious and innocent source, and I shall not waver from my promise – as your Archbishop, certainly, but mostly as your brother in faith – to uphold it always.
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Follow Archbishop Gregory on Twitter @WashArchbishop.
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