Bishop’s Letter: Compassion

And you taught your people, by these deeds,
that those who are just must be kind;
and you gave your children good ground for hope
that you would permit repentance for their sins.

Wisdom 12:19

My Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

Name one person whom you love.  Name two people.  Name five people whom you love.  Think now of all the worries you have, all the confusion, all the discomfort in living in this world today.

The most important part of your daily living is the people whom you love.  From where does this source of love come?  It comes from God.  You are of God.  The people whom you love are of God.

Today, we live in a world which is changing.  We may feel helpless by the changes we see before us or on the horizon.  We long for what things were like before.  If we live in the past, think of what we will miss now.  We can long for something which may never return in its fullest.  It won’t return because we are a different people than we were just 4 months ago.  If we are living through, with and in God, we will be different again and again and again.  As we grow in our faith, we change and become steadfast in our love of God and love of each other.  We understand the meaning of Sacrament.  Sacred is no longer a word, but it is within our being.

Yes, things are different today than they were yesterday, or 4 months ago, or even 1 year ago.  And, the changes may not have been anticipated, nor desired, nor wanted.  I return to my initial questions; who are the people you love?  They are the ones for whom you should be embracing and love them in this changing world.  That is the constant which is given to us by God; His love for us which transcends all the ages.  This is what God asks us to give one another, no matter the time or the differences which occur.

Recently, at Queen of Peace Catholic Church, Ocala, 24-year old Steven Anthony Shields, drove his van into the glass doors of the church and shattered them.  Then, he threw an accelerant into the Narthex of the church and lit the accelerant which caused a fire.  Fortunately, while there were people in the church preparing for the celebration of Mass, no one was injured.  That day, that Saturday, because of that incident, was a different experience than most had planned.  Fr. Patrick O’Doherty, pastor, spent his day speaking with law enforcement as the church grounds immediately became a crime scene.  His staff mobilized with diocesan representatives to assess the damage and anticipate the clean-up after the first responders had completed their investigation.  Because of the nature of the violence, the FBI was called in.  Jennifer Drow, Secretary for Communications Secretariat of the Diocese of Orlando, was preparing for her child’s birthday party with her family, when she was called to communicate to various audiences about what had happened and what was occurring.  I was having breakfast when Father O’Doherty called and immediately got into my car, changing my plans for the day, and drove to Ocala to be supportive of Father O’Doherty and the parishioners.  Father Ed Waters, Dean of the Northern Deanery, and his director of parish life, Mr. William Burns, conferred and drove to the scene of the crime.

In all of this, Father O’Doherty was hopeful that the investigation would be completed before the celebration of the Vigil Mass so parishioners could come to pray, albeit in the parish hall.  What was most important?  These were the things about which we thought:  the safety of the people; the ability to pray; the ability to praise God and ask for his forgiveness.

God’s clemency and lenience are ever present.  He is compassionate.  Mr. Shields seems to be an angry, troubled man.  Our response to him is not anger; our response to him is what God offers to us who are also troubled and angry in different ways.  God offers us compassion and forgiveness.  We will hold him accountable for his actions as the civil law provides.  God will hold him accountable for his actions in His time.

God’s Word is the calm of the storm, the constant in inconstancy, the stronghold of our faith, the source of hope.  Do not be afraid.  May God be our certainty now and always.