Today I share with you the Advent Pastoral Letter to the clergy and people of the Diocese of Quincy written Bishop Alberto Morales OSB:
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,
“Come thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.” (Hymnal 1982, 66)
Advent, unlike any other season of the Church year, presents us with the already, but not yet nature of Christ’s Church. During this season, we take the time to look back on past victories, especially as we prepare to celebrate the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, as he came to live as one of us to offer himself as a sacrifice for the debt that we could not repay. But, also, especially at Advent, we look ahead to the final victory that will be won when Christ returns as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords to claim that which belongs to Him.
As a diocese, it is good for us to take some time to look at where we have been over the past year, as we prepare for the year to come.
This has been a year of many victories, most notably the new ministry opportunities that have presented themselves to us. We received four new congregations at our Synod in October, which brings the number of congregations that are members of our Synod to 27. This is important as we look back, as there were 23 congregations in the diocese in 2008. We also have many congregations looking to go through the process to enter our synod in the next year. We now have congregations that stretch from southern Florida to northern Wisconsin, and from Nashville, Tennessee to Montrose, Colorado. This is no longer “little Quincy”. I am encouraged by the Spiritual growth that has come along with, or perhaps led to, the physical growth of the diocese.
Looking forward, I see further expansion of the Diocese of Quincy as we become even more diligent in our efforts to build the kingdom of God, by “preparing the way of the Lord”.
When we gathered in October I set the theme of the Synod as “building up the kingdom”. I said in my address that I would like this theme to resound throughout the Diocese. That in order to build up the kingdom the focus of our preaching, teaching and training must be the message of the kingdom of God as it was proclaimed by Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15)
While we will return to this imperative over and over again, at no time during the church year does it ring more true than during Advent. What does Christ mean by the coming of the Kingdom? He means that finally the cries of the marginalized and despised by the world will be answered; finally, God’s justice for all the disinherited of the earth, the poor, the oppressed, the weak, the defenseless will be realized. But the kingdom of God was not just a message of hope for the poor and marginalized by learning that they were loved by God. Christ came to liberate them from their misery.
Jesus exercises a liberating activity with his miracles and exorcisms. They are none other than “a sign that the kingdom of God has come” (Mt 12, 28). They are manifestations of the divinity of Christ. From the name of the season, they are Epiphanies.
Jesus promotes solidarity among men. He fights separation in society and as a counterpart, reaches out to those who have been marginalized by society: he speaks to them, eats with them, defends them and praises them. He implements a new collective conscience of solidarity.
Jesus denounces every action, attitude or structure that maintains men divided. He condemns the rich who only seek their own comfort. He calls the rich farmer “foolish” for selfishly rejoicing in the abundance of his crops.(Lk 12, 16-21) He condemns the rich man who could not share with the needy (Lk 16, 19-31). And in the name of the Father he calls “cursed” those who do not take care of the vital necessities of his neighbor (Mt 25, 41-45) ““How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! (Luke 18, 24) for “no one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.” (Mt 6, 24). According to Jesus, the only way to make just the unjust riches is by giving it to the poor (Mt 19, 21: Mk 10, 21; Lk 18,22).
How can we as a Church, as a Diocese make present the Kingdom of God in the society in which we live? We must announce the Kingdom of God among men. Like the Seventy, the people of God are heralds of the kingdom sent forth as lambs among wolves to proclaim the Good News. The Church constitutes on earth the seed and beginning of the kingdom. It must become a reality wherever God is reigning by means of His grace and His love.
How can we be an obstacle to the work of building up the kingdom? By being static, not forward thinking and considering what church we are leaving for those who follow. By being content with not doing anything. By pretending that we have nothing else to do. In thinking that others will do what is our own responsibility to do. By breaking bonds of communication with each other. By not resolving old animosities. By blaming everything on someone else and not accepting our own sins and faults. When we forget about the importance of the petition we make practically every day: “may your kingdom come”, kingdom of peace, justice, of life and truth, kingdom that will only be achieved by the hardworking.
We must be about the work that Christ has laid before us as we pray the prayer of the ancient Church, “Come, Lord Jesus, come!” As a diocese, we need to learn a lesson from those who design automobiles. As we drive we notice that cars have big windshields, but small rearview mirrors. We need to consider where we have been, that is important. But, our primary focus needs to be on where we are going. We must focus on moving forward with the work that Christ has placed before us, or we will surely crash, like a driver who spends too much time fixed on his rearview mirror.
My prayer this Advent is that this diocese will sing the hymn mentioned above with preparation and anxious expectation. That we will be constantly preparing for the kingdom of God to come, while being the incarnation of that kingdom in our world.
In Christ and Benedict,
+Bp. J. Alberto Morales, IX Bishop of Quincy