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Bishops & Priests of the Province of New Orleans Convocation New Orleans, Louisiana Wilton D.

Gregory, Archbishop of Atlanta The Alpha & Omega of Our Lives My Dear Brothers, I am deeply flattered to have been invited to be with you if only for a brief part at the beginning of your time together as Priests and Bishops of the Province of New Orleans. I deemed it a great joy to have been asked to share these remarks with you regarding the importance of our

Churchs past in our mission as a community of faith and as a vitally significant component of our ministry as Ordained Ministers of the Gospel. I apologize that my time with you must be so brief but my own Presbyteral Council meets tomorrow morning and I dont want them to sell the ranch at least not without me!

In light of this current Year of Faith, which Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI introduced, to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the open-

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ing of the Second Vatican Council, I believe that 2013 has provided all of us with abundant possibilities to ponder some of the numerous significant world events that have occurred within that half-century time frame. I opted to use the word ponder since its the word that we most frequently hear used when describing Marys reflective stance during those events surrounding Jesus birth and the finding of the adolescent Christ in the Temple when He spoke to His parents about His mission. She thought carefully about what these events and predictions would mean both for Him and for Her. To ponPage | 3

der something implies that we believe that God may be at work in the events and moments of our past and for our future.

Many of our perspectives regarding the issues that we currently wrestle with today would then have been vastly different 50 years ago and directly impacted by the Second Vatican Council, which was still in its very early stages. At that moment in time whenever Catholic Bishops and Priests might have managed to meet together as we are today now more than 50 years later,

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there would probably have been a noticeable mood of euphoria, felt throughout the Church, of excitement, curiosity, and perhaps even jubilation. We would then undoubtedly have been much more formally attired than we may be today and probably we would not have mingled so easily or casually together. Moreover, this new informality is indeed a very welcome change as it now draws priests and bishops together in a treasured friendship and important relationship that enriches all of us.

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The world itself would have been massively different fifty years ago. The historic American Civil Rights Movement was also then in high gear at that time and the races were still routinely and in some places formally separated from each other. Most of us might not have been very attentive to the mobility needs of those people among us with disabilities; the long-lasting International Cold War was then heating up. For the most part there would not have been any feminist movement to speak of and few people would have been so concerned about public safety at that moment as we obviPage | 6

ously are today because of the seemingly endless occasions of vicious public violence that erupt and have claimed far too many innocent lives. World events would not have been as

omnipresent in all of our lives as they are today thanks to cyberspace and the Internet. Fifty years ago, unlike today, we would have received most of our information on the evening news or with the morning newspaper. The price of gas was very cheap especially by current standards, media entertainment was generally PG, and Catholic priests as indeed religious leaders in general were almost universally adPage | 7

mired and widely respected. We each probably have cherished memories of priests from our youth who now loom large as our idols if not the instruments of our own vocations. They remain as a treasured part of our hearts history and their good examples continue to give an idyllic character to that past that remains a spiritual and personal treasure from our youth. As Archie and Edith would eventually croon together those were the days! Within the past month, our nation has observed the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and the exquisite sermon that Dr. Martin
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Luther King, Jr. preached to the people of this nation on that epic occasion. In recalling that momentous event from a half-century ago, many commentators invited us to reflect on how life has changed for our nation and our world. Some observers have chosen to see the glass as half-empty while others have seen it as half-full. It all depends upon ones perspective on history. Much of that perspective depends upon where one might reside on the racial divide of our nation. Certainly, the oppressive structures that kept all of us Black and White People either enslaved in our privileged state
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or in our social condition have changed. Yet we also must confess that more must still be done since oppressive tyranny and unbridled privilege always make for a noxious twosome.

Very few of us however would honestly ever seriously choose to return to those bygone days in spite of the fact that we all do seem to like to reminisce about them and the retrospective carefree climate that we might imagine that they characterized. There is something quite charming and intriguing about recalling things

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from the past. We all have the very human tendency to embellish the good things from yesteryear and routinely to diminish the unpleasant things that were also present. We might all

tend to imagine some past era as something of a golden age whether one such a time ever actually existed or not. However, we are men who are essentially directed toward tomorrow even as we must honestly understand, embrace, and value the gifts of yesterday.

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One of my very favorite liturgical prayers is the one that we now offer in English during the blessing of the Easter candle at the Vigil Mass where we pray: Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega, to Him belong all times and the seasons. This blessing prayer references a title from the Book of Revelation the Church proclaims as we begin the great paschal ceremony that assures us of Christs dominion over all times times from the past, our own times with all of their many problems, and the times that are yet to come with their still unknown chalPage | 12

lenges.

There are no moments when Jesus

Christ is not in control of creation and over which He does not have ultimate authority.

Even in our darkest hours and there have been more than a few of them in recent years, the Lord Jesus never loses His control over His Church or abandons us. Great saints whose

witness and fidelity never languished have also accompanied every era of suffering that the Church has endured or conflicts in which she might have been engaged.

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The great and life-giving paschal mystery of the Lord has mastered every moment in our history and managed to overcome every adversity and every human blunder including those for which we are responsible in our own times. Furthermore, our futures are all secure in Him who is Lord of every moment and season.

This is constantly a very important prayer for our entire Church but perhaps especially for those of us as priests and bishops as in todays

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environment where we might easily be given over to believing that the best times for the Catholic Priesthood may have already occurred for us and for the ministry that we share. This is perhaps the unarticulated suggestion of those who believe that if we could just turn back the clock to another moment in time when life seemed to have been more secure and certain, more predictable and controllable that such an adjustment would solve all of our problems and concerns today. There is no turning back in search of a past sanctuary for those of us who believe in Christ Jesus there is only preparing to
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live today with courage and to look forward in hope to tomorrow even as we praise God for the past that in fact has prepared us for today and for tomorrow.

Several months ago I received a stinging retort to one of my bi-weekly columns in our Archdiocesan newspaper in which I had extolled the work of the Second Vatican Council. The writer took harsh exception to my very positive comments about the Council and suggested that the problems that we now face within the Church

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are directly related to the council and its ecclesial reforms. The author insinuated in the text that if the Second Vatican Council had not taken place and initiated so many sweeping and destructive changes in the Church that the difficulties that we currently face might well not have occurred. The letter suggested that the Second Vatican Council itself was the specific cause of our ecclesial unrest as though all the rest of the world would simply have stood still save for the Second Vatican Council. Viewing and judging the past in light of the present is always a very risky undertaking.
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Imagine with me for a moment what our ecclesial life might be like today had the Second Vatican Council and its sanctioned reforms not have taken place. The Churchs liturgical life would be as it was in the 1950s, our ecumenical and interfaith encounters and dialogues with people of other religious traditions would have to be reset, our penitential practices would be reestablished as they were a generation ago. What impact would that now have on our lives and the life of the world around us? Would it even be possible to revert to such customs and
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practices that once identified and classified us? Would it not be more similar to those often popularly staged reenactments of famous moments in history that do help to remind all of us of a past that is clearly important to remember but that does no longer quite fit the world in which we live today? Even those folks who enjoy recreating historic moments from the past must eventually take off the replica costumes, set aside the props, and return to the world of today.

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While I did not respond to the author of that critical letter presuming that what was sent to me was more of a cathartic exercise rather than a sincere desire for amenable dialogue we have all received many such communications before I am certain. Nevertheless, the letter did prompt me to think seriously and quite often since receiving it, about what our Church would be like today if the Second Vatican Council in fact had never occurred. Rather than

maintaining its once perceived secure and steadfast equilibrium, I believe that our Church would now be hopelessly anachronistic even
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more so than many people consider us to be already. The world simply would not have paused in its development simply because the Second Vatican Council would not have taken place. The societal, moral, political, and technological changes would not have been shelved if the Second Vatican Council were not to have occurred. The Second Vatican Council in fact was intended to help to prepare us to face and to respond to the challenges that were just around the corner and that have now come to ultimate fruition.

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The post-conciliar Church truthfully has faced lots of serious difficulties many of which still do need to be addressed. Our catechetical efforts have genuinely faltered to the point where we now find ourselves confronting a second if not approaching a third generation of Catholics who may know little or nothing about their own faith heritage. We must also do a better job at helping our people understand the connection that must exist between the doctrines of the Church to our social teaching. These indispensable and symbiotic dimensions of Church life are not ei-

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ther/or propositions for Catholics although they are sometimes described as such.

One of the first consequences of the Civil Rights Movement was the enthusiastic proliferation of serious studies of the history and the heritage of people of Color in this nation. Where did we come from? What are the gifts that we brought with us and now have to share with others? We African-Americans were all quite eager to discover the uniqueness of our backgrounds as this knowledge and history had been denied to us

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and to our ancestors as a result of the oppressive consequence of slavery and its aftermath.

There quickly developed many television programs like Black in America, and books like Before the Mayflower and Roots, and myriad college and university courses that delved into African history. African-Americans and others

were very excited to recapture our history as a first step toward restoring our dignity and furthering our place in this multi-cultured nation of ours. This interest in the past was an im-

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portant step toward securing a more hopeful and informed future.

Many Catholics today unfortunately simply know far too little about the legacy of our Church and the teachings of the faith that we now share. Although cyberspace continues to make universal experts of any one with a computer, we have not always found thorough and clear presentations on the Internet that detail our history with all of its obvious difficulties and its triumphs. Recently some efforts at pre-

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senting that history and heritage of Catholicism have been made available and seemingly attracted a great deal of positive feedback Father Robert Barrons Catholicism and Tom Petersons Catholics Come Home are but two examples. Both of these apologetic sources present a balanced and positive perspective on the faith and the heritage of the Catholic Church. They are professionally done, attractively made, and intended to introduce or re-introduce people to the Catholic Church. What adds to their success is that they encounter people using a medium that is appealing and effectively used
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in other venues televised productions readily available in cyberspace. We have become a society that receives most of its information electronically and with visual display and not through books. Whether you like that development or not, the Church must make much more effective use of these vehicles of social communication. Society in general has developed a keen interest in genealogy. We can find all types of resources on the Internet that claim to be able to trace our personal origins. Ethnic groups have long celebrated their heritage with festivals and celebraPage | 27

tions that trumpet where a particular people originated and how these cultures and traditions have enriched our world. People want to log onto sites that will help them discover where great-great-grandfather came from, how our family name is related to other names, what personal legacy we can bring forth that will link us to others from our cultural or ethnic community. These searches are intended to discover our pasts so that we can situate ourselves more accurately in the present moment. Occasionally these searches are intended to help us better understand our physical and medical
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make-up with the practical implications such knowledge brings.

We priests and bishops must also become much more engaging in the presentation of the faith of the Church. One of my close priest friends started a study group in his parish a couple of years ago that has now developed into two different groups that reads and reflects on The Catechism of the Catholic Church not the abridged version that was published by the USCCB but the full text of the catechism. He

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told me that many of the people in his parish are fascinated to read and to reflect with him on the articulated faith issues that are contained in the catechism. Folks do want to know about our faith heritage not in a sugarcoated or fabricated fashion, but with the real honest truth not just the highly publicized historic or contemporary scandals, but also with the glory and the splendor of our Church that belongs to yesterday. But why is the past important for us? The past is essential for us because it will help us to live faithfully today and to prepare for tomorrow.
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It might seem surprising to some people, but there is an authentic interest on the part of lots of our folks to understand and appreciate our Catholic faith more perfectly. We just need to develop better delivery systems to quench that desire. My dear brothers, the 12-minute Sunday homily is usually not the moment for such necessary catechesis. The homily is our weekly opportunity for spiritual inspiration certainly not devoid of information but a resource for our people for living out the faith that the Liturgy makes sacramental. The liturgical homily is
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the occasion when we must bring together in a harmonious unity the Word of God, the ordinary lives of our people, and their hopes for living out their faith in the week that lies ahead.

Our Catholic people, no less than all of us, come together each Sunday to plan their lives for the next week. They understand that the future even the relatively immediate future of the next seven days needs preparation so as not to catch them or any of us unprepared. The Sunday assembly is filled with folks who intend to

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do better next week than they may have done last week. It is an assembly of believers who really wants to take their faith seriously into the week that lies just ahead. We homilists are

commissioned to become their spiritual coaches to whom they regularly turn to with reasonable expectations and high hopes that we can indeed prepare them to perform better in the game of life. Sunday worship is filled with folks who believe in tomorrow and they ask us to help them to get there. One sure way that we can help, them prepare for tomorrow is to help them gain a healthy and a balanced understanding of the
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yesterdays of the Church. Like good coaches, we help them remember where they came from even as we challenge them to see the road that lies ahead for them and for us. If we are to become successful faith coaches, we need to find a chalkboard that will allow us to examine the plays and the strategies that will bring success to our players.

We Catholics believe that Gods Revelation arrives for us through a dual but always unified source of Scripture and Apostolic Tradition.

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Dei Verbum the Dogmatic Constitution of the Second Vatican Council on Divine Revelation is the shortest of all of the four dogmatic constitutions from the Second Vatican Council and yet one of the most significant of the council documents as it explains how the faith is dependent upon our sacred heritage and the very Word of God. This council document enshrines our Apostolic Tradition always combined with Sacred Scripture as the vehicle through which God reveals Himself to us. Gods Voice echoes throughout our Tradition. Our history and heritage are not insignificant nor can any of us afPage | 35

ford to neglect this sacred legacy. We find God Himself in our traditions and in our yesterdays. However, the Church Universal places in a unique position of faith the Apostolic Tradition the gift of heritage that belongs to the ages. The tradition that the Church enshrines is far more than the mere customs and practices of a culture or people as important and cherished as they may be. When the Church holds up Tradition as a source of Gods Revelation of Self, she refers to that Tradition which links us to the Apostolic age and continues throughout each

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generation and era. It is that meaning of Tradition that is most sacred and timeless.

Nevertheless, we are not limited to our yesterdays and in our heart of hearts, we must always anticipate that the best is yet to come certainly, this will be found in the fullness of Gods Kingdom, but even in the immediate tomorrows that lie ahead for all of us. It is that hope that has been so manifest in the election of Pope Francis whose simplicity and humility have already won the hearts of people throughout the

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world. Even our cynics of which there is no shortage seem to take heart in the witness of this gentle and approachable man. Francis

dares to challenge those of us who are priests and bishops to raise our eyes and see the promise of tomorrow. He also demands that we lift up the poor and the neglected in our midst above all because they are our sisters and brothers made so in Christ.

The Holy Father has invited all of us to risk hoping in a tomorrow that is grounded in the

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realities of today and yesterday but always open to Gods grace-filled tomorrow. His emphasis on the poor is also a reminder that they are never to be treated as collateral damage in the wake of economic progress. His unassuming character is a very important reminder to all of us as pastors that we can be most effective when we station ourselves in the very midst of our people. We priests must be willing to be spiritual anchors for the communities that we serve constantly helping our people to be rooted adequately in our Catholic faith heritage, but alPage | 39

ways open to tomorrow with its many graces and the obvious challenges that will inevitably confront us. We do this not by merely focusing on things from yesterday and pretending that former times were perfect; neither can we simply neglect or deny our heritage and faith legacy and disengage ourselves from the treasures and triumphs of our inheritance. We must each become the consummate realists in the world of today who always remind our folks of our hope for tomorrow and assure them that the future is already secure in Christ. Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, the alpha
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and the omega, to Him belong all times and the seasons. Amen.

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