My dear brothers and
sisters in Christ:
The spring season for the celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation has concluded, and I would be remiss if I did not extend my gratitude for all who brought our candidates to such an important moment in their lives: the reception of God’s gift of the Holy Spirit and bestowing upon them the seven-fold gifts of His Holy Spirit, namely, “the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and piety, the spirit of the fear of the Lord (which is the spirit of wonder and awe in Lord’s presence)” (The Order of Confirmation). Our parish priests, deacons, pastoral administrators and directors and teachers of religious education have worked closely with the students and their parents in giving our young people a true understanding of their Catholic faith.
Some students wrote to me about their Confirmation instructions and programs prior to receiving the sacrament. In reading the letters, I noted how much they appreciated their classes and service projects, demonstrating their sincere desire to remain active in the church and in their charitable outreach to others. One wrote: “In my church I will try and get more active in Mass and in the service the church has.” Several mentioned their faithful attendance at Mass “for as long as I can remember.” Another candidate wrote: “… my favorite activity was going to Mass and worshipping God. The time at Mass is extremely valuable to me, and with no distractions the Church is the perfect place to practice your faith.” And still another wrote: “I want to become more involved in Mass and my Faith.” One of the greatest challenges we have is convincing our young people about the importance of weekly Mass attendance.
Several mentioned the stress that is a part of their lives due to “the pressures of social media,” “struggles with drugs and violence,” “gun violence and trust with the people around them.” They do understand the need for faith in addressing these very real problems; the importance of God in their lives is so beautifully reflected in the following comment: “At school I take all honors classes… Although school and many activities I am involved with often overwhelm me, I always turn to God for help, and have thrived by applying lessons of faith to my daily life.”
I also was impressed that the students appreciated the knowledge they gained from their classes, which were substantive in nature. One candidate wrote: “I have learned many new things about my faith during Confirmation class. It has brought me closer to God and showed me how to be a good member of the Catholic Church.” The students also recognized the challenge to be a faithful disciple of Jesus in a world that often does not echo the message of the Gospel. A candidate wrote: “Many non-Catholic practices are becoming implanted into cultures and becoming popular and it doesn’t make living the faith easier for us.” The current trends in many areas of society that are contrary to the teachings of Jesus and the Church make the work of catechists ever more demanding than in the past.
As they shared their backgrounds with me, I was impressed by their academic success and the advanced courses several of the candidates are taking. Certainly, this challenges us to assure that the quality of religious formation matches the substantial quality of the courses in which they are enrolled at school.
We can sometimes erroneously assume that young people are now detached from the church. The reality is that God never abandons us; the inner desire of humanity to commune with God is instinctual to our human nature, just waiting to be called forward. Maybe the example of a non-committal attitude toward God and religion by the adult community has contributed to young people being estranged from the church. It remains very true that the home, in the family, the “Domestic Church,” is where the faith must first be nurtured, and parents must take seriously their duty to support and encourage the religious instruction and practice of the faith of their children. In the Rite of Baptism, parents are asked: “You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training him (her) in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring him (her) up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?” The affirmative response of the parents, “We do,” begins a life long accompaniment of the child in the Christian life (Rite of Baptism).
Soon graduation ceremonies will begin, marking another milestone in the lives of our youths, whether they are transitioning from elementary school to middle school, from middle school to high school, from high school to college or embarking upon a particular vocation or career. This always brings to mind the importance of our Catholic schools, which contribute a holistic approach to education, uniting mind, heart and soul. I encourage our parents to consider seriously a Catholic-school education for their children. Of course, the corresponding duty on the part of our Catholic schools is that they remain closely united to our parishes, firm in their Catholic identity and share with the students the fullness of the faith, supported by the school’s unambiguous mission statement and the engagement of the faculty, administration and staff in fulfilling that mission. Here again, my visits to our schools have been very positive, and I have experienced the dedication of our teachers and staff in seeking the very best for our youths. This same zeal and enthusiasm for the Christian development of our young sisters and brothers also is mirrored in our religious-education programs, in which directors and teachers in our catechetical programs devote their time, talents and resources in sharing their faith and building up the faith of our youths. Through our Office for Evangelization and Catechesis, a collaborative spirit has developed with our Catholic schools and religious-education programs for the benefit of our young people.
The maturation of our young people in the church has everything to do with the Year of the Eucharist, which we have been celebrating in conjunction with the sesquicentennial anniversary of the founding of our diocese. The official Year of the Eucharist concluded on the Solemnity of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi, on Sunday, June 3, 2018. I observed the completion of the declared Diocesan Year of the Eucharist with a Solemn Mass celebrated at St. Stanislaus Church, Rochester, on June 3 at 10 a.m. This beautiful church is a testimony to the deep faith of its parishioners so deeply devoted to St. John Paul II, whose love for the Most Holy Eucharist was clearly manifested throughout his pontificate.
But let me be very clear, there is no conclusion to the Year of the Eucharist that is at the heart and center of all that we do. I am deeply encouraged by the parishes that during this Year of the Eucharist reintroduced or expanded their hours of Eucharistic adoration, initiated programs of instruction on the Eucharist, conducted special ceremonies to highlight the centrality of the Eucharist in our lives of faith, and gave special attention to the proper celebration of Holy Mass — the careful instruction given to those who serve at the altar, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, lectors and choirs in selecting music that both conveys the truths of our faith and is uplifting, solemn and worthy of this august Sacrament. These initiatives should continue and be ongoing, making every year the Year of the Eucharist!
On June 22, 2018, our patronal feast day honoring St. John Fisher, I will celebrate Holy Mass at St. John Fisher College. I again will ask his intercession before the Lord to bless our diocese and to grant to its diocesan bishop the strength, courage, fortitude, conviction and faith, which St. John Fisher so beautifully manifested, in order to proclaim the Catholic faith whether convenient or inconvenient, seeking not one’s own glory but the glory of God!
As the summer months are with us, I pray that you enjoy some days of rest, family opportunities to be together and continue to be with the Lord at Holy Mass each week.
Invoking God’s blessings upon you through the intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church, I remain
Devotedly yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend
Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester