Q: How do you balance reaching out to others who have no faith and making holy, faith-filled friends?
A: There is an old saying that “No man is an island.” I am blessed with many friends, some who are not Catholic and others who are not even Christians. Most of my friends are Catholic, and no one questions my firmness in the faith we profess at Mass. Still, we live a faith which is meant to be personal and communal. All of us have been made in God’s image and likeness, so each person should be treated with the dignity of a child of God. We do not disown or compromise our faith in order to be liked by others, but we cannot afford to insulate ourselves from a world in dire need to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Easter hope of our eternal salvation.
That is where the new evangelization comes into our lives. When Jesus told Peter and the disciples to “put out into the deep,” he was not telling them to stay in their comfort zone and bother no one, nor make new friends. If, as my motto (Faith Comes From Hearing) from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans is to resonate through our words and actions, then we need to make new friends and acquaintances who deserve to hear the truth of the God who loves them so dearly.
Q: How does one figure out God’s plan for his or her life?
A: This is a particularly important question for our recent graduates. How many of us following graduation, whether high school or even college, sense a great uncertainty in our lives? This is a reminder that you and I are not sovereign or, in other words, we do not have complete control over our lives; we must, in the end, depend on God.
One thing we should always remember is to “keep the communication lines open” with God. This occurs in numerous ways: by attending Mass at least every Sunday (or Saturday evening), or even daily, taking time out for daily prayer, having a good heart-to-heart with our parents (Yes, parents are outstanding resources for our future!) and, of course, knowing our own abilities.
While we all want to envision our future, we must realize that discernment and uncertainty are part of the process. It has been said that discernment is the choosing between two goods. Many of you who graduated from high school realize that there are many options in your life which, of course, do not make it any easier for you to plan your future. Just remember that God has a plan for you and wishes for you to listen to him in order to see where he wishes you to go.
When I graduated from high school, I was uncertain whether or not the Lord was asking me to become a husband and dad or a priest. Did Our Lord Jesus surprise me in making me a bishop three decades later! This was most certainly not on my personal “radar screen,” but I am so grateful to God to be your bishop in the Diocese of Steubenville.
For all of you graduates or you discerning where the Lord is taking you at this time, or those of you trying to determine where your life is taking you, trust that I will say a special prayer for you and ask that you keep me in yours, as I try to be the best shepherd possible for you.
Q: What do I have to do to be a good Catholic?
A: It seems to me this is a question common among Catholics, as we explore our very identity as Catholic Christians. I say this because being Catholic does set us apart from other Christians, namely the celebration of the Seven Sacraments for one. Still, the approach we take here is not one of elitism, but of our relationship with Jesus Christ himself. We celebrate his Birth in a few short days, not because we want presents, but that Jesus is the greatest gift God has ever given us. Jesus wants to be part of our lives.
The easy answer to your question may seem to be to follow the Ten Commandments and be nice to people. It’s a good start, but our faith goes much deeper than following rules, it’s about our very relationship with God. That is why we attend Mass every weekend, for we receive Holy Communion, Jesus’ Body and Blood, and we hear God’s very words in the readings. Your “going to church” is your way of saying: “Jesus, thank you for loving me. I love you, too.” Also, by following our Church’s teachings, we inform Jesus that we trust him and are grateful for founding our Church, as we journey with Jesus into this third millennium of Christianity. The teachings of Pope Francis are the same as St. Peter teaching us himself.
We, also, should pray every day and, of course, imitate Jesus by being kind to people, especially members of our family. While the Ten Commandments were given to Moses by God, we, also, have the Beatitudes, which came from Jesus himself. These instruct us what we should do to be more like Jesus, as we set an example for others. As Jesus says, we should first love God and neighbor as ourselves.
Q: Do you think that God created us for a special reason or were we just what came to mind?
A: We read in the Book of Genesis that we were made in God’s image and likeness. In other words you and I were not created because God had some leisure time and thought this would be a good idea. This is not to say, of course, that creating us was not a good idea, but for you to remember that God has intended you and me.
That takes me to a relative point and that is that none of us is a mistake, nor is anybody unintended by God. Unfortunately, you and I live in a society where people have been encouraged to believe that their children are unintended and a mistake. Thank goodness God does not think this way. Do not ever let anybody ever tell you that you are unintended or a mistake, for such a statement is contrary to God’s love and mercy.
God created us so that you and I may be loved by him. God did not need us, but at the same time, intended us. Think about how fortunate we are at this time to recognize God has created you and me and has intended us to be here to share his presence and love with so many of our fellow friends and neighbors, especially those who at this time believe that their lives are hopeless. By recognizing the truth that God intended us, you and I realize that no life is hopeless.
I had mentioned in an earlier “Ask the Bishop” article that not all members of our Church are living among us at this time for those who have died have kept their citizenship in heaven. As a result, isn’t it great to know that someday, at a time when God determines, that we as a human family can be together with God celebrating the truth that God intended to create you and me and we are together as a family. The birth of Jesus at Christmas is a ringing reminder that God, from the beginning, intended to save all the human beings he created. One does not go to such extremes as sending his only son among us to suffer and die for us so that we may go to heaven, if we happen to simply be a “good idea at the time.” We are better than that, for God created us in his image and likeness.
Q: Is it hard to try to listen to God’s will and understand how to carry it out to other people?
A: There are times it is very easy to listen to God’s will and to share it with others. Other times it can be quite difficult.
We know from the Book of Genesis that God created this world to be good. And, yet, we have a way of going against God from time to time.
God has given us free will. While he does not force us to follow him, through the gift of Jesus Christ, we are shown the way.
Many cultures may accommodate or oppose the sharing of the Good News of Jesus Christ (the New Evangelization). We recognize even in our own society Catholics who find it difficult to publicly live or promote their faith. Pray for them. While we cannot read their hearts, we can assist them spiritually to get beyond the impediments in their lives which prevent proclaiming the truth of Jesus Christ.
Carrying out our faith is a lifelong endeavor. You and I should be grateful that Jesus has entrusted us with the truth that he is the only Way, the only Truth and the only Life.