April 14, 2013
Dear Bishop Waltersheid, my brother priests, deacons, dear religious, and brothers and sisters in Christ all:
It is truly good to be back with you this evening. I deeply value my association with you as your episcopal liaison from the fall of 2000 until the fall of 2007. I treasure your friendship and have always been edified by the seriousness and generosity with which you respond to your vocation to bring Jesus’ compassionate and healing love to those who are in critically vulnerable periods in their lives. You minister in the name of the church. Thank you for your deep love for Jesus, for his church, and certainly for those to whom and with whom you extend Jesus’ mercy and healing love.
Permit me to extend my personal congratulations to Karen Pugliese upon whom you bestow the Distinguished Service Award tonight. We served together on your Board of Directors. Karen embodies so well the qualities which we all strive to bring to our ministry of care. She has a passion for this ministry and she brings to it both a tender heart and professionalism. She instinctively appreciates the value of collaboration to assure the very best care for those we are privileged to serve. Congratulations, Karen!
When I think of an NACC member, I think, first of all, of one who is deeply rooted in prayer and thus readily recognizes the face of Jesus in those who are sick or dying; the face of Jesus in those suffering in mind, heart, body, or soul; the face of Jesus in their families and in other collaborators, such as doctors, nurses, and administrators in health care ministry. When I think of an NACC member, I think of one who brings the presence and prayers of the church with a tender heart, much understanding, and competence to those in so much need of hope and healing. When I think of an NACC member, I think of a highly committed person who has undergone the rigors of certification. When I think of an NACC member, I think of one who values the importance of ongoing formation, education, and mutual support.
Because I have such high regard for each one of you and what the National Association of Catholic Chaplains stands for, I treasure and am humbled by the distinction you bestow upon me tonight with the Outstanding Colleague Award. Thank you so very, very much.
You may recall the history of the National Association of Catholic Chaplains. It was founded by the bishops of the United States in 1965, just at the end of the Second Vatican Council. Your 50th anniversary is just around the corner. The bishops founded the NACC to assure professional training, standards, and certification for those who extend the healing ministry of Jesus in the name of the church. The NACC has offered an enormous advantage and service to the bishops who have the responsibility for oversight of this vital ministry of the church. I reminded the bishops of this at least annually during the seven years I served as episcopal liaison.
In 1965, the membership of the NACC began just with priests. However, under divine inspiration, that changed very quickly. With joy, we can celebrate that our gathering tonight represents every dimension of our church: bishops, priests, deacons, religious, and lay faithful. You have all submitted to the discernment, authorization, and supervision of the bishops who are charged with the unity of the church and the fidelity and authenticity of its ministries. You all serve within the community of the church and you serve its communion and its mission. In our 2005 document, “Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord,” we say that lay ecclesial ministry has emerged and taken shape through the working of the Holy Spirit.
We reflect here tonight on the church as a mystery of Trinitarian communion and mission. Through Baptism, we all share in the life and love of our Triune God and through that sharing, we are all in communion with each other in and through Christ. Vatican II reminds us that we are all called most fundamentally to holiness as our primary vocation. Holiness is nothing other than the gift of loving union with God and the sharing of this love in relationship with others. In his Apostolic Letter, “Porta Fidei,” introducing the Year of Faith, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reminded us: “Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy. It makes us fruitful, because it expands our hearts in hope and enables us to bear life-giving witness.” Is that not the experience of your own life and ministry?
Communion and mission are profoundly connected with each other. The Lord Jesus, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, draws us into communion with the Father. Our experience of the life and love of God impels us to share that life and love of God with others. As St. Paul says in 2 Cor 5:1-4: “Caritas Christi urget nos.”
The NACC beautifully reflects the rich diversity of the church. Some have been called to religious life. Some have been called to ordained ministry. Some have been called to marriage. Some have been called to the single life. However, each of you has recognized the call of God to one of the most significant ministries which the Catholic Church offers to the faithful in the name of Jesus Christ. Whether by a profound religious experience or not, you sensed the God of love and compassion calling you to bring hope, healing, and meaning to people who are fragile, broken, and sick, perhaps as they are on the most important segment of their journey of life. Further, many of you are given more and more opportunities to help shape your institutional healthcare initiatives by Gospel values such as respect for the sanctity of each individual, preferential option for the poor, the recognition of human rights and responsibilities, and respect for moral absolutes and our ethical and religious directives.
You help your institutions embody the sentiments expressed in the introduction to the Ethical and Religious Directives: “The mystery of Christ casts light on every facet of Catholic healthcare: to see Christian love as the animating principle of healthcare; to see healing and compassion as a continuation of Christ’s mission; to see suffering as a participation in the redemptive power of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection, as an opportunity for a final act of communion with Christ.”
Dear NACC members, during these days together, may you be strengthened not only with the body and blood of Jesus in the daily Eucharist and challenged by your presenters, but may you also find wonderful support in your fellow spiritual care ministers who experience the same struggles as you do, who, like you, have been called to be a minister of Christ’s light, of God’s liberating love and mercy. Thank you for responding to God’s call to be Christ for others. May you return to your ministry radiating with the joy of our Risen Lord who is, indeed, kind and merciful! Thank you for bringing his love and healing to others in the name of the church.