The overriding theme of tonight’s Gala can be summarized in two words: “thank you,” and they are addressed to each of you gathered here this evening. While your generous support of Catholic Charities and its mission to provide direct assistance to those in most need does not carry your expectation of being recognized and thanked, it is my hope and prayer that you allow our sincere and heartfelt expression of gratitude to be conveyed.
It reminds me of a story when I was a young seminarian. I had been entrusted with oversight of a significant ceremony. The next day as I was walking down the hall, the vice-rector said to me, "Thank you for your work." While not meaning to be disrespectful, I just responded casually and said: “I was just doing my job.” He then stopped and engaged me on a different level. He said: “When someone says 'thank you,' the appropriate response is 'you are most welcome.' He continued to say, 'In the future, remember that while you do not do your duty to be thanked, it is important that you allow those who benefit from your service to say those words--it is their need, not yours.'”
So on behalf of the many people throughout this diocese, especially the poor, the hungry, the homeless, and most vulnerable, please allow us to say thank you! In hearing those words, be assured that the Lord is also expressing his favor upon you, reminding you that whatever you do for the least of your brothers and sisters you do for him.
As you are well aware, there were many areas of our diocese greatly impacted by Hurricane Matthew and still a significant number of people in great need. Shortly after the storm, along with members of our Catholic Charities team, I visited some of those areas.
There were three things we noticed: people wanted to be together; people wanted to help; and people wanted to pray.
People wanted to be together. Isn’t that what always occurs when tragedy hits a family? We need to be together. When one of us is hurting, we are all hurting. During our visit to the areas severely impacted by the storm, it was so inspiring to see brothers and sisters of all ages, race, creed and background embracing each other.
At one point, sensing the incredible sadness that the Catholic Charities team and I were experiencing upon seeing first hand the devastating situation that left us speechless, one elderly woman said: “No need to worry about what to say. Your presence says it all.”
Sometimes when we feel helpless it may be enough to know that words can never replace the visible and physical expression of simply being there for others. It is also a reflection of God’s promise that we are never alone, for when we gather in his name, the Lord is in our midst. Tonight, may we renew our commitment to be aware of and attentive to anyone in our family or community who may feel isolated, lonely or forgotten and find a way to be with them, helping them to remember they are never alone, for we are always God’s family.
People wanted to help. In visiting the areas impacted by the storm, it was overwhelming to see the outpouring of generosity as water, food, clothes, diapers and basic necessities were coming forth from every corner of the diocese and being distributed to those who had lost everything. How inspiring it was to see Catholic Charities working with other partners in responding to the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of those who were suffering.
Being with those in need is essential, but it must be accompanied by a doing. One other way we can do something to assist others is to be their voice. I was so proud of Catholic Charities just recently when we visited the region impacted by the storm. One particular area, for some sad reason, had not received any help from the local officials. One person said, "The only time we saw people from the county office was when they came down to put up a sign: 'Road closed.' Then, they drove away even though there was great need for pumps to alleviate some of the water."
The next day, our Catholic Charities staff contacted the local authorities and said this was unacceptable and some immediate help was needed.
Amazingly, within hours, the truck, pumps and crew arrived, and the situation improved. We are called to be a voice for others, especially those who feel they do not have one. May we be renewed in that commitment to this as we strive daily to bring our concern for others, our faith, and our voice to the public arena.
People wanted to pray together. As we visited the areas impacted by the storm, we experienced the fact that, at every stop, people wanted to hold hands and to pray. The deep faith and joyful hope of the individuals in the midst of some unsettling times was something I will never forget. I am sure it was rooted in the firm belief in God’s healing and miraculous powers.
I think of the scene in the Gospel when the disciples were on the sea, and a strong storm surfaced, and the disciples were terrified. Then Jesus turns to the sea and wind and says, "Quiet, peace, be still," and they obeyed. I always thought that Jesus was saying those words to the disciples and repeats them to each one of us in the midst of the storms and challenges we face: Peace, be still; trust in my power to turn chaos to order, darkness to light, sadness to joy, and suffering to glory.
Thus, in prayer rooted in faith, we must entrust those in need to the Lord, who alone can make all things new and use our smallest gifts and efforts in incredible and miraculous ways.
Remember one of the things that Jesus asked us to pray for: to ask the Master to send out laborers for his harvest. In the midst of the many pastoral and spiritual needs of His people, including those here in our diocese, the Lord continues to provide such laborers. We are those laborers: the ordained, the consecrated, the baptized!
How can we be effective and true laborers? I think of the words of Saint John Vianney as he tells us our basic and glorious duty: to pray and to love.
Whatever we hope to do for the Lord and his people can only be done with the amazing grace, strength and guidance the Lord provides. We must pray daily for those gifts.
Our love is in imitation of Jesus: a love that does not count the cost; a love without end; a love that seeks no earthly reward but to know we are doing the will of the One who sends us; the One who calls us to love one another as He has loved us.
Let me share a story of such love: I am sure many of you watched the World Series and may have realized who I was rooting for because I have mentioned on every occasion possible that my cousin’s son, Matt Szcur, plays for the Cubs. He now has a World Series ring. However, you may have also heard the story of the real reason we are so proud of him.
It goes back to his senior year of college when he was informed that his bone marrow was a match for a little girl who traveled to the US for treatment and who would die without it. The doctors told Matt the procedure would keep him from playing baseball most of his senior year when he would be scouted. He was encouraged to take time and think about his decision. He did. It took a second. He said: “Of course I will go through the procedure." Then he explained: "Something tells me that, when I face the Lord, he is not going to ask me about my batting average but rather will say: 'To what extent did you show your love for me by helping others?'”
With God’s grace, the little girl is alive and well, and there is nothing more moving than to see her and her parents via Skype from their home country speaking to Matt and saying: “Thank you!”
As you have experienced and as I am now, there are moments in life when God leads you to a path you did not desire, anticipate, nor expect. Yet, we know that trust in God’s plan always works. No matter what path it is we travel, we share the same final destination—to get to heaven. Thus, we strive every day to be prepared to answer the questions: Did you love me? Did you help one another?
On a personal note, tonight provides me with an opportunity to thank you for all your goodness to me throughout these past ten years. But most especially, it offers me the opportunity on behalf of all those in Catholic Charities and the countless number of people who are helped and supported through its outreach and ministries to say words I really want you to hear: thank you--thank you for your generosity, support and service on behalf of our brothers and sisters in most need. Thank you for being laborers who never forget our glorious duty: to pray and to love. May God bless you and watch over you always.