Jan. 1, 2014
By Father William Muench
A New Year begins with memories of the past; this past year, my close friend, Father Oscar died.
I have known Father Oscar since seminary days. He was ordained for the Diocese of Harrisburg the same year that I was ordained for the Diocese of Ogdensburg.
Over the years, we have kept up our friendship with frequent visits and those visits were always great fun. My friend always brought a bit of excitement. As a rule, it was usually about golf. My friend had a passion for golf. Even during his later years, when he had too many health problems, he still wanted to play with us – or just drive the golf cart and watch. This was a very special friend.
This past year brought transition within my own family – three high school graduations. Two great nephews and a great niece began their next adventure in life. It is a special moment – especially for us older folks – to see these young people move along to new opportunities.
Our Catholic Church has also gone through a grand transition this year. A Pope has retired. It was rather shocking, since it doesn’t ever happen. Pope Benedict XVI stepped aside and Pope Francis was elected. I can honestly say that the whole world has gotten to know Pope Francis already. This year he has touched many – Catholics, former Catholics – those of other Churches and faiths. All have found something attractive about him. Pope Francis has brought a new spirit to the Catholic Church – it is so good to be a Catholic this year.
This past week, I have noticed that the media has celebrated the past year with various programs – and Pope Francis has been right at the top of the list – as an outstanding person of 2013. I still remember that day he was elected. I know that I was surprised when he chose the name of Francis – pointing us to St. Francis of Assisi, who has always been a favorite of mine. I couldn’t believe that he before he gave his initial blessing as Pope he asked all in St. Peter’s Square to pray over him. Do you remember how silent the people in the square became? I do. It certainly said to me something special is about to happen for us.
Then we experienced his simple ways – his informality – his wisdom – made clear in his homilies and writings – he even gave an extensive interview. He has chosen to be a real pastor as Pope – as priest and Bishop, he was always a real pastor. This is so clear in all that he does: the way he meets the crowds at St. Peter’s during his audiences, his visits to other places, rather few so far but always filled with a compassionate love and compassionate care.
At the same time, he challenges us all – the Bishops, us, priests, and all people – all Catholics – to be a united and alive Church – reaching out to the world, doing all we can to help those in need,to be signs of God’s love to the world.
We continue to discover his deep faith – and his constant challenges to us to live with a faith like his. Recently, he challenged us priests to be better pastors, better leaders, better preachers. In addition, he challenged all Catholics to make our Church alive in the Lord – and in this way to make our world a better place.
I want to close this with a quote from Pope Francis from his visit to the World Youth day in Brazil, as he looks over our Catholic Church to reach out to others, especially those Catholics who are unhappy – “Faced with these situations, what are we to do? We need a Church unafraid of going forth into the night – we need a Church able to dialogue with those disciples who, having left Jerusalem behind, are wandering aimlessly, alone, with their own disappointment, disillusioned by a Christianity now considered barren, fruitless soil, incapable of meaning.” Pope Francis will show us and lead us to bring new life to our Church. May we have the wisdom and faith to follow him.
So another year – a time of transition – and now a new year ahead for new adventures – Lord make us an alive and spirit filled Church.