Having submitted his resignation to Pope Benedict XVI on his 75th birthday in July, as required by canon law, Bishop Matthew H. Clark now joins the rest of the Diocese of Rochester in waiting for his successor to be named.
Yet finding themselves in the midst of a major transition does not mean the people of the Rochester Diocese should wait passively, according to Bishop Clark. Rather, he believes this special period of anticipation should be a time of active engagement, prayer and reflection. That’s why he recently wrote "To Enter Into His Glory: A Pastoral Reflection on Change and Transition," a pastoral letter reflecting on transition and framing it in the context of the Gospel account of the two disciples who encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus. The document is published as a four-page pull-out section in the center of this edition of the Catholic Courier.
"My hope is that individuals might take this opportunity through the year to think about changes and transitions in their lives and approach them in a spirit of faith. The story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus is a beautiful example of how Christ inspired his disciples to take a fresh look at what they had been accustomed to, their habits and thoughts," Bishop Clark recently told the Catholic Courier.
Bishops typically write pastoral letters about topics of common interest to their entire flocks, and do so in a way that invites people to gather around the themes and let them speak to their own lives and how they live them, he added. A pastoral letter encourages the people of a diocese to reflect on and pray about the topic, and perhaps even "open their hearts to new ways of being, loving and living," he said.
"I think it invites them not just to personal prayer and reflection, but to conversation about that theme with other members of the community," Bishop Clark said.
The upcoming change in local leadership certainly offered a topic of common interest, he said. Over the past few years the Rochester Diocese’s Catholics have developed a natural curiosity about what will happen when Bishop Clark retires and a new bishop takes his place, and the bishop said he’s sought to encourage his flock to sincerely reflect on this transition. Penning the pastoral letter was another way of encouraging such reflection and prayer, he added.
"This is an invitation to pick up the Scriptures and to reflect on the reading about the two disciples on the road to Emmaus — to read that slowly, to rest on words or phrases that speak to them, to spend time in prayer about those words or phrases that do touch their hearts," Bishop Clark said. "We’re all going to respond in different ways. There’s not one specific way to respond."
By engaging in Scripture, Catholics invite the Holy Spirit to be active in them, he noted. In particular, the Gospel account of the risen Christ’s interaction with two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) encourages Catholics to develop a paschal spirituality based on the mystery of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Such a spirituality requires putting aside ones’ own expectations, preconceptions and prejudices. But by doing so people are able to keep open hearts and strong spirits during times of great change, Bishop Clark wrote in "To Enter Into His Glory."
A paschal spirituality leaves room for grief during times of painful transition, but also challenges the faithful to reframe or let go of their expectations and make room for God to work in their lives. Those who espouse such a spirituality die with Christ in a way, but are resurrected with him as well, the bishop wrote.
Bishop Clark said he’s experienced such death and resurrection many times in his life, but most memorably on the June evening in 1979 when he was installed as bishop before thousands at Rochester’s Community War Memorial.
"I was profoundly aware that I was going to have to let the Lord touch my experiences and habits of life and ways of thinking in such a way that I could be open-hearted to what this ministry meant," Bishop Clark said. "I would have to open my spirit to the Lord’s ways with me. I can’t think of another moment in my life that so profoundly made me aware of this."