"For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life. …" (John 6:40)
My dear sisters and brothers in Christ:
We have now begun the month of November when darkness comes earlier, sunrise later; the wind turns colder, and the trees have shed their leaves; night seems longer than day. In the midst of this seasonal transition of nature, Mother Church invites us in this month of All Souls to consider death and the preparation we make in this life to be worthy of eternal life. It begins with the acknowledgment and acceptance of the somber reality that we all one day will die, that this life is but an introduction to eternity.
Our present life is the moment to form our relationship with Jesus. To know, to love and to serve Christ in this life precedes all other concerns and priorities and should not be "put off" or delayed. Yet, we can procrastinate even though we know not the day, nor the hour when the Lord will call us home.
Edward Young, an English poet who lived from 1681 to 1765, once wrote: "Procrastination is the thief of all time. Year after year it steals, till all are fled. And to the mercies of a moment leaves the vast concerns of an eternal scene" (Poems of Sentiment I. Time, Procrastination, from "Night Thoughts, Night I"). Simply put, this life is not a dress rehearsal — we have one life, no second chances.
As human beings we can procrastinate; we can put off what is truly important in our lives. And yet, in history some of those individuals who accomplished the most did so in a very short period of time. Blaise Pascal, a scientific genius and mathematician as well as a profound philosopher, died at 39. St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, was dead at the age of 43. St. Teresa of Avila, a saint and doctor of the Church who founded the Discalced Carmelites, died at the age of 47. St. Thérèse of Lisieux, still another saint and doctor of the Church, died at the tender age of 24. But still younger was St. Dominic Savio, whose deep faith allowed him to die a grace-filled death, even at the age of 15, and the extraordinary act of St. Maria Goretti, who had the courage to die a martyr’s death when she was not yet 12 years old.
Yes, these people, our sisters and brothers in the faith, knew that this life is not a dress rehearsal, that we have only one life to live and we must live it to the full! We cannot put off until tomorrow what we can and should do today! How right St. Thomas More was when he said: "Let us not lose this time, therefore, suffer not this occasion to slip, which we can little tell whether ever we shall get it again or never" (A Treatise to Receive the Blessed Body of Our Lord, composed in 1534 in the Tower of London the year before his martyrdom).
The essence, the very heart and center for a strong relationship with the Lord in this life is our worthy reception of the Most Holy Eucharist in Holy Communion, communio: the union of our very person with the very person of Jesus Christ. In recent years we have as a Church quite tragically lost a sense of the importance of the eucharistic presence of Christ, which is confirmed by many studies indicating a very serious decline in weekly Mass attendance. Yet central to our Catholic faith is the belief that in the Most Holy Eucharist Jesus Christ is truly present, His very Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. The Jesus who walked the shores of Galilee, the Jesus who chose the Twelve, the Jesus who healed the sick, raised the dead, fed the multitude, comforted the lonely and forgotten and forgave sinners, the Jesus who died and rose from the dead — He is here with us in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.
It is true that Jesus can be present to us in many ways — in the beauty and majesty of nature’s wonders, in the love and warmth of family and friends, in our mutual concern for each other, extending care to the poor, the sick, the refugee, the outcast and the many forgotten brothers and sisters in God’s family. But these real expressions of Christian beauty and love find their heart in Christ, the Christ of the Eucharist, who sustains us and motivates us in fulfilling the mandate to love one another.
As in life there are levels of encounters with people and varying degrees of relationships with persons, so too with the Lord there are levels of encounters and the most profound encounter we can have with the Lord in this earthly life is the Eucharist.
If we really believe that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist, why would we ever absent ourselves from the weekly celebration of Holy Mass? Come to His house, invite your families and friends to come with you, and bring to Him your concerns, your needs, and the needs of your families. Come and pray for peace in a world so scarred by war and violence, even violence present in our own communities.
Don’t procrastinate! Don’t put off being with the Lord. The Jesus who entered our world, who took upon Himself our humanity in the marvel of the Incarnation still lives among us and continues to say to us: "Come follow me!" (Matthew 4:19). And in our discipleship, daily we prepare ourselves for eternity.
When this life’s journey is over and we stand before the Lord, how shall we be remembered? Please, God, we will be well known as people of faith, those who placed Jesus above all else and, thereby, saw in every person the face of Jesus; those whom He recognizes as the ones who knelt in prayer and sought His help; those so well known to the Father that when we return to Him we are not strangers in a foreign land: we know the Lord and He knows us; rightly will we call Him Father and He, in turn, will call us His daughter, His son, and we will hear those beautiful words: "Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34).
In meditating upon our earthy journey toward the heavenly Jerusalem, it is indeed opportune to call to mind that on Dec. 8, 2015, we will begin the Year of Mercy, which will conclude on the Solemnity of Christ the King on November 20, 2016. On the Third Sunday of Advent, Dec. 13, 2015, at 2 p.m., at Sacred Heart Cathedral, we will celebrate the Opening of the Door of Mercy in accordance with the Bull of Indiction, Misericordiae Vultus (The Face of the Father’s Mercy). The imagery conveyed by passage through the Holy Door is that those who enter the House of the Lord will experience His mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Confession, and be renewed in mind and heart as they unite with Jesus in Holy Communion. I have asked our parishes to cooperate with each other to provide extended times for confession, eucharistic adoration, while encouraging the practice of attending daily Mass whenever possible.
As we strengthen our relationship with the Lord, we then are inspired to imitate Our Savior and help our brothers and sisters in need: the poor, the forgotten, those incarcerated, the victims of abuse, those from other countries seeking to make a new home among us and the victims of violence fueled by prejudice. Then will the spiritual and corporal works of mercy come alive and naturally become integrated into the Year of Mercy. Like the saints who wasted no time in answering the call of Christ to follow Him, we, too, are called to do the same. We cannot procrastinate in our decision to be faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus.
The recent visit of Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, to the United States has been a wonderful introduction to the Year of Mercy, causing us to contemplate our life and to examine our daily activities which are to prepare us for our eternal destiny. At his general audience on Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014, during the month of All Souls, Pope Francis said: "When we turn toward this horizon, we realize that our imagination stops, barely able to perceive the splendor of the mystery that surpasses our senses. God is preparing a new dwelling place and a new earth where justice will abide, and whose blessedness will answer and surpass all the longings for peace which spring up in the human heart." We are on "a continuous journey," Pope Francis continued, "towards the final, wonderful goal that is the kingdom of heaven." The goal toward which the Church strives, the Holy Father added, is "the new Jerusalem." More than a place, His Holiness said, "It is a state of soul in which our deepest longings will be fulfilled abundantly" and our being will "come to full maturity." Pope Francis said that it is marvelous to see how there is "a continuity between the Church in Heaven and the Church that still journeys on earth … those who already live in the sight of God can indeed support us, intercede for us and pray for us."
During this month dedicated to praying for our deceased loved ones, may we, as a diocesan family in union with the whole Catholic Church throughout the world, raise our voices in prayer on their behalf, beseeching Our Father that their souls and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, may rest in peace. Amen.
Uniting with you in prayer for your beloved deceased, especially during this month of All Souls, I remain
Sincerely yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend
Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester