Date: Sunday, September 12, 2021
9-11 is a point of reference. Many of us at Mass vividly recall the day when the news broke of the terrorist attacks upon our Nation, what we saw and heard, our feelings of shock, disbelief, and outrage. It is Impossible to forget. In the Gospel according to St. Mark, there is an event that is upsetting and long remembered. Jesus and his disciples are north of the Sea of Galilee in a gentile region called Caesarea Philippi – named after a Roman Emperor with temples dedicated to pagan gods. Jesus asks: “Who do people say that I am?” They reply: “John the Baptist, others Elijah or one of the prophets.” Jesus makes it personal: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter speaks up: “You are the Christ!” Jesus explains that the Son of Man must suffer greatly, be rejected, and be killed and raised. Peter takes Jesus aside to protest and reject what he is saying. Jesus turns to his disciples and rebukes Peter publicly: “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Peter cannot accept that Jesus understands being the Messiah entails suffering, sacrificial love and dying on the cross. Peter expects Jesus to be God’s anointed one like King David who will lead the Jews against their Roman oppressors. The invitation of Jesus spoken long ago to Peter and the disciples is addressed to us: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
Bishop Mike Fisher, our shepherd, is asking us to follow him on the Road to Renewal. Like Peter we are likely to object: “Why now during a pandemic, when the diocese is in Chapter 11, and reeling from the abuse crisis?” Bishop Mike explains that there is urgency for spiritual and pastoral renewal now as we honestly face reality, accept the many challenges and are open to new possibilities to enliven our Catholic faith and serve the Lord. The number of diocesan and religious priests available to provide parish leadership and Sacraments continues to decline. There are 144 active diocesan priests and 161 parishes! Before I was appointed pastor of Annunciation, I was serving as Pastor of SS. Brendan and Jude (a rural parish in Almond combined with campus ministry, a Newman Center, in Alfred). When I left it was slated to be joined with Blessed Sacrament in Andover.
On Sunday August 29, Bishop Mike Fisher was joined by lay representatives from parishes around the diocese for Mass at the National Fatima Shrine, Lewiston, NY. Attendees beseeched Mary, under her title: Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, to wrap her protective mantle of love around us, to bring our intention to her Son Jesus Christ and to send the Holy Spirit to guide our renewal. Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, is a German Marian devotion. References to Mary, Undoer of Knots, are found in the writings of the early Fathers of the Church. They compare Mary with Eve in the Book of Genesis. Mary loosens the knot of Eve’s disobedience with her obedience to be the mother of Jesus. Participants at the Renewal Mass brought lengths of rope, once tied, symbolizing the “knots” that bind us: Knot of Abuse. Knot of Indifference. Knot of Mistrust. Knot of Isolation. Knot of Individualism. Our Parish Reps on the Road to Renewal are Tom and Kris Di Scipio. Our rope with five knots is displayed in the sanctuary.
There are five essential dimensions of our renewal: listening intentionally and offering healing and wholeness for those who have been abused or wounded in the Church; revitalizing our personal and communal spirituality, deepening our appreciation of the Real Presence in the Eucharist and our celebration of the Sacraments; reengaging our parishioners in worship/life of the Church, in ministry and service; reaching out to/evangelizing those who have left the Church and engaging our youth and young adults; developing sustainable models of parish cooperation, collaboration and stewardship with continuing support to Catholic Education (Religious Education and Catholic Schools).
Older members of the community will remember the black and white television show “Wagon Train.” Still in reruns. Each episode was a story about a person or family going west in a caravan of Conestoga Wagons. They were stories highlighting both American rugged individualism and solidarity in the face of danger and for the common good. On 9-11 we saw ordinary Americans doing extraordinary things to save others. I have questions, concerns, and fears about our venturing forth on the Road to Renewal and creating Families of Parishes. So much is undefined. But doing nothing is not an option. With Simon Peter we will come to know Jesus as our Lord and Savior and follow him wherever the path may lead. Whether we are remembering 9-11 or travelling on the Road to Renewal, our Responsorial Psalm (Ps 116) resonates within: “I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.”