Monday, November 13, 2006

Heard Along the Escalator

Greetings to one and all from Bishops' Central. I almost feel like I'm in Xanadu. Almost.

All this really is something, and I'm trying to process it for a fuller bit later on. It's somewhat easier when you're watching on TV, you see one frame, and thus are able to concentrate on the singular line of sight and sound.

They may be keeping the feed on in the Media Room, but there's enough else taking place in the thrill-a-minute kind of background happenings that distraction comes easily: voices you can hear at 80ft, the building stack of documents -- today's alone have tripled the weight of my laptop case, machine included (no complaints, though) -- and the faces you see bounding about.

Just so you know, the wide-eyed, dropped-jaw moment of the day came when the archbishop of New York popped his head into the Press Room in the middle of the session. If there was working wi-fi there, I would've dropped a note... whilst hiding under one of the tables. But there've been other fun vignettes amidst the glitches and chatter of this first day: doubling up on the lunch meetings, talking with a Yankee fan who's never seen The House That Ruth Built, and one bishop who yelled at another from a story below on the escalator: "I read about you every day on Whispers!"

Having been in earshot, it just doesn't get any weirder than that. Whatever the case, I'm humbled and overwhelmed -- not to mention a bit scandalized -- by the plug, so whoever said it, thank you... and, as for the rest, please try not to shoot the messenger.

In the meantime, I will leave you with some snippets of the opening remarks given this morning from Bishop William Skylstad, the USCCB president, and the apostolic nuncio Archbishop Pietro Sambi (peace be upon him).

"Sadly," Skylstad observed in his presidential address, "the harshness and divisiveness of contemporary society also influences members of the Church. I am sometimes pained to find even in Catholic media judgemental and uncharitable commentary which seems to come equally from all parts of the spectrum of the Catholic community. The point seems to be not to seek the truth or to build up the Body of Christ, but to strive for a sort of victory by overcoming others, preferably by crushing those who disagree. I find such attitudes to be rooted in certain presuppositions that are not compatible with our calling as followers of Christ. In particular, I often find that such discourse seems to presume the worst of intentions or motivations of others.

"It's a good time," the bishop of Spokane continued, to be reminded of the powerful witness of our late, beloved Pope John Paul II. The story is told of a meeting, in which he received significant personal criticism. His response? A simple embrace. No words needed to be expressed. That symbolic action is something that should radiate from the core of our being.

"We see every person as made in the image and likeness of God, and so we must look for good in them and in their intentions, even when they are mistaken, acting wrongly or in disagreement with us," Skylstad said. "We cannot overlook one of the most fundamental aspects of the task of the Church's mission of evangelizing. That is, that Christ, through us, seeks the conversion of hearts. Pope John Paul II reminded the Church and the world on numerous occasions of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, 'The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power'(Dignitatis humanae, 1)."

In his first November address to the bishops, Sambi took a different tack, including the significant step of acknowledging "the loss of credibility in the Church, which comes from a lack of orthopraxy and orthodoxy in a small, but very damaging number of its ministers and its faithful."

Drawing a link between the current American episcopate, its predecessors in history and the "grace of the place" which bring the two together this week, the nuncio said that, like those prelates who came before "we must have the great humility to put Jesus Christ at the center of our prayer, at the center of our lives and the center of our pastoral actions."

Known to be extremely keen about the role of media in Catholic life, the papal representative noted that the Catholic press was born here in Baltimore, "where the necessity for them was truly seen."

"Media can cause damage," he continued, "but can be used also for great good." He also asked "don't the bishops believe that it would be invaluable for all the dioceses to have a wave of the proclamation of the Word of God, of evangelization with faith and courage?" "

Good question; "It is the word of God," he answered, "proclaimed and witnessed in fidelity that will restore the trust in the Church of God."

Curiously, Sambi quoted Pope Benedict's recent ad limina address to the bishops of Ireland, saying that "superficial presentation of Catholic teaching must be avoided, because only the fullness of the faith can communicate the liberating power of the Gospel."

However, returning to his own voice he said that "I am not suggesting that the Bishops should be 'watch-dogs' of the faith; I am speaking of something much more difficult: the 'munus docendi' [teaching ministry] of the Bishop must lead the Faithful to live in gratitude to Almighty God for the gift of life, the gift of faith, the gift of the Church, the gift of service, the gift of joy and the gift of fidelity."

And that's your quote of the day.

AP/Chris Gardner