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‘Today we honor witnesses of faith’

November 28, 2012

By Bishop Terry LaValley              

Bishop LaValley’s remarks at the Nov. 18 celebration opening  the Year of Faith


In his book, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, Philip Yancey provides us with a good image for today’s celebration based on his personal experience: “A certain bridge in South America consists of interlocking vines supporting a precariously swinging platform hundreds of feet above a river.  I know the bridge has supported hundreds of people over many years, and as I stand at the edge of the chasm I can see people confidently crossing the bridge.” 

Yancey continues: “The engineer in me wants to weigh all the factors: measure the stress tolerances of the vines, test the wood for termites, survey all the bridges in the area for one that might be stronger.  I could spend a lifetime determining whether the bridge is fully trustworthy before I dare to walk on it.  But, eventually, if I really want to cross, I must take a step.  When I put my weight on that bridge and walk across, even though my heart is pounding and my knees are knocking, I am making a statement—declaring a decision.”

More and more, ours is a culture that moves solely within the horizon of believing only in what we can see and touch with our own hands.  But, the world of calculation and the scientific method is not enough.  You see, if I wait for all the evidence to be in, for everything to be completely analyzed and settled, the mystery of faith solved, I’ll never move.  Often, I have had to act on the basis of the bones of the Catholic faith, before those bones were fully formed in me and before I understood the reason for their existence.  Bone is hard, but it is alive.  If the bones of faith do not continue to grow, they will soon become dead skeletons.  The Year of Faith invites you and me to do some spiritual exercises to strengthen our bones of faith. 

I’m reminded of a hit song that came out years ago by Lee Ann Womack.  In her song, she challenges us not to “sit it out” when it comes to life.  She sings: “I hope you’ll dance.”  My sisters and brothers, with the Lord of the Dance, enter the rhythm of a faith life that grows, that has a pulse, that’s vibrant, that’s alive.  Yes, “Give faith a fighting chance.” We just heard St. Paul tell the Romans:  “How beautiful are the feet of those who announce good news!”  I was intrigued when I heard some of our native American friends at the Tekakwitha Conference in Albany this summer explain that as they dance their feet are caressing Mother Earth. What a beautiful image. Faith is not and can never be a spectator sport.  The dance is a passionate prayer.

We, the faithful of the Diocese of Ogdensburg are determined to Taste Again for the First Time the treasures of our faith and determined, through the grace of God, to live lives reflecting what we believe.  We cannot sit it out.  We all earnestly desire to follow Jesus. The Church of the North Country will walk, or dance, with you as we all seek to know God more deeply, to enter an even deeper relationship with Jesus Christ, our Lord and God.          
Today we have honored witnesses of faith whose heroic lives show us how to enter the dance.  For St. Marianne Cope, faith was enough when she decided to journey to Hawaii, having no hint of the suffering endured by the mutilated, odorous leper to whom she would minister.  She was wholly absorbed with a desire to serve in a foreign country half a world away.  She had no idea of the trials of body and soul in store for her and her sisters.  For her, faith was enough.  She stepped on the gangplank with her eyes focused on Christ, her Savior. Throughout her life, she sought to safeguard the dignity of the human person and paid attention to the outcast.  Unfailing optimism in God’s love and mercy sustained her.  St. Marianne Cope pray for us who lack the courage to live our faith to the fullness, giving ourselves totally to Jesus.

St. Brother Andre Bessette, God’s Gatekeeper, always received people in distress without reservation.  Those of us who have visited St. Joseph’s Oratory have seen the crutches hung giving evidence of wholeness restored.  Perhaps we have been among the pilgrims kneeling, seeking the healing for which so many have journeyed and sought the intercession of good St. Joseph.  Now, we turn to the Miracle Man of Montreal, the humble porter of the poor, that through his intercession we might open widely the door to faith for ourselves and all.  St. Brother Andre pray for us who so often shut the door and turn away from those who are hurting, the needy, the vulnerable among us.

St. Kateri Tekakwitha shows us that with the blending of culture and faith, the seeds of God’s word can take root and flower.  The Lily of the Mohawks, as Blessed John Paul II reminded us in Toronto at World Youth Day in 2002, is “an example of fidelity, a model of purity and love.” Native Americans have known terrible suffering through the generations.  In St. Kateri, a woman of tremendous courage and profound faith, we have a heroine who shows us how an intense love of Christ can impel us to serve the hurting in our midst, even in an environment that rejects our faith. 

This Patroness of ecology and the environment teaches us how to love and respect the created world.  St. Kateri, pray for us who are blind to the injustices that surround us.

My friends, these three saints, these witnesses of faith, are front and center for us this afternoon.  But, you well know that there are faces of faith all around us with deeply moving and inspiring stories of faith well-lived.  As we have now entered this Year of Faith, I invite you to tell your story of faith.  Share with those around you how God has touched you and your family.  Inspire us with your story.

Through the diligent work of Fr. Garry Giroux and his committee, our Diocese is offering you, your family and your parish a broad range of opportunities to increase your knowledge of faith, so critical today, especially through the study of the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  You might consider a Holy Year Pilgrimage that finds you not necessarily needing to travel outside of the North Country.  Increased celebrations of the Sacraments of Reconciliation, and the Eucharist as well as parish mission participation are important avenues for you to Taste Again for the First Time what a tremendous treasure we have inherited by virtue of our baptism.  I truly hope that, as a family, you enter this year with a renewed determination to strengthen your relationship with Jesus Christ and His Mystical Body, the Church.  Spend some time with the words of the Creed we pray each Sunday.  Pray it with renewed meaning and conviction.  Again, pray it together as a family.

Please make a point of joining me in thanking those individuals and groups who have been instrumental in making this celebration of faith so beautiful and inspiring:  I wish, again to thank Sr. Kateri for trekking here to Ogdensburg and for her inspiring reflection.  I wish also to note the St. Regis Mohawk family that has joined and led us in beautiful song and praise.  Thank you, Sr. Kathleen and the Sisters of St. Francis for joining our celebration of faith.  We are grateful to our friends north of the border who have joined us in tribute to St. Brother Andre.  We are grateful to Ernie Hadley, Fr. Scott Seymour and our musicians, to Fr. Lucia and our Department of Worship, Sr. Eamon and Marika Donders for their leadership from the Department of Evangelization, our diocesan staff for their support, and to Fr. Morgan and his cathedral staff who always do such a wonderful job in putting out the welcome mat and supporting our diocesan celebrations here at St. Mary’s Cathedral.

My sisters and brothers, Catholicism does not offer escape from problems, it offers a life in which challenges are met.  Catholicism does not instill a desire to abandon the world.  No, it instills a desire and courage to win the world for Christ.  There is no room for naysayers.  We are can-doer’s!  We will not sit it out.  Let Jesus take the lead and we will follow.  Let’s dance!

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