In the past month it has become clear that our expected offertory income has not been hitting the mark so far in this fiscal year. This, honestly, causes me much stress. However, with the advice of the Administrative Council, we will make a plan to deal with this issue. Being a pastor can be a daunting thing, but after reading Archbishop Vlazny's current column in the Catholic Sentinel, I was able to see much bigger picture and I encourage you all to read it too. No matter what struggles we have as a community, God will give us the grace to fulfill his will. With the eyes of faith, these days can be seen as the "best of times."
Each week, the Catholic Sentinel publishes the Archbishop's Column in their publication and e-mail's it out to those who wish to subscribe to their e-list. In this week's column, Archbishop Vlazny reflects on his eight years of being our chief shepherd. I was so encouraged by his words that I have decided not to write my own reflection, but rather let him do the talking... writing.
Each week's e-column can be found on the Catholic Sentinel's own web site.
You can also subscribe to his column via e-mail by clicking this link: http://www.sentinel.org/ecolumn/
Fr. William Holtzinger
"THE WORLD STILL NEEDS OUR GREAT GIFT: CHRIST'S CALL TO CONVERSION"
How quickly Advent hurries by. For me it went by even more quickly eight years ago. It was then, back on Dec. 19, 1997, that I was installed as Portland's 10th archbishop. Roses were still blooming in the cathedral courtyard. How could I help but like my new home!
As I look back upon these eight years of service, I see that God had a plan, and I am grateful that he did not reveal it to me at the time. The first two years were a honeymoon. Clergy, religious and laity were welcoming and supportive. Problems were few. I had died and gone to heaven, or so I thought. But in late 1999, on the eve of the third millennium of Christianity, I was abruptly brought down to earth. Earth certainly isn't like heaven, but it's not bad.
This good earth of western Oregon has been the scene of many struggles over the past six years, ever since the first of many allegations of child sexual abuse by our priests was brought to my attention. We have struggled together, trying to do our best in a seemingly impossible situation. Right from the start I was intent upon being fair and compassionate with victims while at the same time making every effort to safeguard the mission and the good name of our church.
The mission continues, not without some trepidation, but, sad to say, our good name has been besmirched time and again. Some would say deservedly so. As the father of this family, I am deeply saddened by this development. You good people have every right to your reputation and the respect of our neighbors. I have not succeeded in protecting your honor and I am sorry.
The personal attacks directed at me and those who have assisted me in archdiocesan leadership have been hurtful, but not totally unexpected. Others had warned me but, in my naiveté, I thought that our track record and good intentions would be transparent enough to overcome whatever hard feelings could accompany such a scandal, not of our own making. I thought there might be more sympathy for those of us dealing with the misdeeds of a former generation, so overwhelming in their number and gravity. Wrong again.
Bankruptcy is often described in the media as a choice we made. There was no choice. We were out of funds. Critics point to restricted funds and parish funds as assets that should have been available on demand. Can you imagine the President of these United States trying to govern this land according to the laws of Brazil or France or China? Yet that was what was expected of me, or so it would seem. The lack of respect for church law in our secular culture is incredible. But it is happening and is a powerful tool in the hands of secularists and anti-Catholics who would delight in derailing our evangelizing mission.
In spite of it all, I assure you that my coworkers and I are resolved to continue every effort that is humanly possible to deal with all the victims of these terrible past crimes justly and compassionately while at the same time doing our best to safeguard the rights of our church and our people.
Most of the victims are looking only for what is fair, and I applaud them for that. Some of them have been further victimized by those who would exploit them to advance their own agendas or promote their own well-being. It's useful in these moments to remember that we still live in a world that is far from perfect and greatly in need of the proclamation of the kingdom and the call to conversion which Jesus Christ brought to us nearly two thousand years ago.
But these last six years have not been exclusively the "worst of times" for the ministry of your archbishop and the mission of our church.
Even though many folks, including estate planners and attorneys, discourage contributions to the Catholic community of western Oregon at this time, you good people contributed more money to this year's Annual Archbishop's Appeal than you did last year. I am humbled and gratified by that meaningful gesture.
We have more seminarians studying for the priesthood now than we've had in recent times. Their number has nearly tripled since my arrival. Our young people are still attracted by the person and message of Jesus Christ and remain eager to give their lives for a higher purpose.
When I made my rounds in our parishes, I find you still joyful and prayerful at Sunday worship and eager to welcome newcomers to the faith, witnessed by the huge numbers who are received into the church each and every Easter.
The work of the church has become more collaborative and more focused as pastors work with pastoral councils and finance councils to establish plans and priorities and the archdiocese as a whole is more committed than ever to promoting faith formation at all levels, youth and young adult ministry and multicultural evangelization.
For all these reasons and many more, it can be said, in spite of the darkness, these are the "best of times."
The final week of Advent is before us. A new year is just around the corner. I didn't know the future eight years ago, and we don't know the future this December. But we do know that God will continue to walk with us and provide for our needs. A leaner church is not necessarily a weaker church. Now more than ever is the time to lean on Jesus, whose birth in Bethlehem nearly 2,000 years ago we shall soon once again celebrate.
We are not Catholics merely because of what we believe but because of whom we believe. It is Jesus who is the reason for the season, the reason for our faith, the reason for our church. We can live as people of faith without many things but not without Jesus. I know he has not abandoned us, and I entrust this local church once again to his providential care as we journey together to Bethlehem once again this year. God bless us all with greater unity in our struggles and renewed commitment to our evangelizing mission. Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel, please come!
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