Saturday, March 17, 2018
"We experience here great contrasts in the life of our society, in economic, political, and cultural marginalization. In a word, injustice. The church cannot remain silent in the face of such misery, for to do so would be to betray the gospel, it would be to become complicit with those who here trample human rights." - Oscar Romero
My brothers and sisters in Christ,
As a bishop in this Church, I am called to a sacred responsibility. It is the heritage of prophets, apostles, martyrs and all who have looked to God in hope. I said holy vows to proclaim and interpret the Gospel of Christ boldly. To enlighten the minds and stir up the conscience of the people of God. I will be merciful to all, show compassion to the poor and strangers, and defend those who have no helper.
Thus, I must write this letter to encourage our Church to embrace the cruciform life and to enter into the suffering of those who suffer. As followers of Christ, we are called to be bold, courageous and willing to confront the multitude of sins and pain tearing at our sisters and brothers.
For it is only at the foot of the cross that we find the promise of Easter.
Next week, people from around our country will walk for peace. Their witness honors the vision of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was murdered 38 years ago on March 24, and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was murdered on April 4, 50 years ago. Both of those sainted martyrs inspire my profound belief in the reconciling and transformative love of Jesus Christ. Nothing in our world can change without Him. I have faith in the goodness of humanity made real through the cross of our Lord.
Because of our faith, the world needs Jesus Christ, and the world needs us.
We are journeying through a time of unease and uncertainty. Fear, hate conflict, violence, marginalization, and blame are increasing and becoming acceptable. Families and communities are being divided, and walls are being erected among God's people. Origen of Alexandria wrote, "Where there is division, there is sin." Jesus Christ gathers while sin attempts to scatter and divide.
The Kingdom of God is at hand. If we do not name the sin and meet the pain, then we own it and we become complicit in this sinfulness. Some may be uncomfortable and believe politics must be separate from the pulpit. The question we must ask is, "Are we faithful to the Gospel?" This call to action and raising our voices will hurt. But we cannot live with a spirit of fear. Christianity has never been a comfortable and easy journey.
From the time of the disciples through history, Christians have died for the Gospel. Complacent and idle Christianity is not our faith. When St. Mark wrote, "This is the Good News ..." he was writing from the valley of death. Through the center of power, Caesar and his Kingdom had murdered Jesus, Peter, Paul and all those that God has raised up. Yet the message resonated in the hearts of those seeking God.
We are called to the same faith, voice and courage. There are sins tearing at the Body of Christ. We must be bold; we must live outside the boundaries of our comfort and complacency. Those who endure hate, violence, and marginalization will probably never hear this message from the pulpits. They are suffering, hurt or excluded. Our lives and actions may be the only message of Jesus Christ that they experience. How can they trust us if we will not walk with them? We follow the one who entered into our sin and suffering of the world.
I believe in the people who journey with the suffering. Christian prophecy requires an integrated and integrating vision, a structuring principle, a way of life rooted in Christ. Only Jesus Christ can change the world. His death upon the cross, redemption and resurrection are the light that shines in the darkness.
We must show a different way. Every person is held in the palm of God's hands and created in God's divine image. Every person has dignity. We will be sacredly present and sacramentally listen to those who oppose us. We must speak the truth, forgive, love, forgive and love again.
In the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, we say, "To know Jesus and make Him known to the world through prayer proclamation and peace. Come and See." Thus, when we pray "thy kingdom come" we need to mean it.
While hands are raised in prayer, our voices must proclaim a living gospel. When people are marginalized, our legs must run toward their pain. If tears of lamentation are shed, our arms must fully embrace everyone within our reach. When individuals and institutions are proclaiming division, we must gather and strengthen the Body of Christ. Each hour that one person suffers is the hour of trial for the church.
How can we answer the call? Numerous sins are burdening our community. Gun violence, poverty, institutional and individual racism, childhood hunger, substance abuse and the opioid crisis, sexual harassment/assault against women and men, the marginalization and hatred toward immigrants, hate and hate crimes against those because of who they love, how they look or who they are.
My brothers and sisters, we are facing these issues in Philadelphia, Montgomery, Bucks, Delaware, and Chester Counties. We live with this suffering daily.
When we encounter these sins, I ask the people of this Diocese to counter all cases as individuals, churches and as a Diocese. Pray, speak out, march, name the sin, give all of your life to demonstrate the love and peace of Jesus Christ. I will use my voice and life as Bishop and invite you to join me.
Let us dispense of living nationalistically, ideologically, politically. We must painfully find our way back to the foot of the cross. We must lovingly find our true identity in Jesus Christ. It is there, where the cross meets the earth that the love of Christ will radiate outward toward the world. Let us recover what is beautiful - Jesus Christ. Let us go forth in peace and in His name.
Look, lift up your eyes and see, the Kingdom of God is at hand. Together, let us take the hand of Jesus of Nazareth and grasp the holy.
+ Rt. Rev. Daniel Gutiérrez, Bishop of PA
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