As many of you know, we have five priests within the Diocese being transferred and beginning new assignments after the New Year. While Advent is the start of the new year within the Church’s liturgical calendar, we recognize that it is also a time for us to start anew in our relationship with Jesus Christ – waiting for His coming and preparing for Him to come into our hearts and our lives. On a personal note, I ask that you please pray for the priests who will be beginning their new priestly assignments. The information of their assignments can be found within the pages of this issue of the Southeast Alaska Catholic.
It is important to add that the Diocese of Juneau is not the only diocese of Alaska with new beginnings. Just this past week we had the ordination and installation of the new Bishop of the Diocese of Fairbanks, Bishop Chad W. Zielinski, who had been serving as an Air Force chaplain in the Fairbanks area.
In a conversation with the new Bishop of Fairbanks, he spoke to me of how Pope Francis’ words rang true when the Holy Father referred to the Church as a field hospital. The Holy Father, Pope Francis, said this in an interview with America Magazine:
“The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds. … And you have to start from the ground up.”
Bishop-elect Zielinski shared with me that he has lived that illustration, for in his military service, his tent, the chaplain’s tent, was situated next to the field hospital. He would hear the helicopter carrying the wounded home, and his tent would shake; he would then be pressed into priestly service for those in need of healing.
When Pope Francis likened the Church to a field hospital after a battle, he captured something essential about the Church. The Church isn’t for those who are saved but for those who are in need of salvation.
In the second chapter of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is seen healing the paralytic – restoring him to health and Jesus himself then reclines at table with the tax collector, with his disciples, and, as the Scriptures says, with sinners. The Pharisees questioned him about his company and he responded by saying:
“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
In every part of the world and in every diocese, there are those who are wounded and who seek the healing touch of our Lord. The wounds are different in different parts of the world, and the wounds of various dioceses are different, too.
We know that Advent is a time of waiting and preparation. But this season of Advent has been particularly poignant and rich in many ways. Ever since the appointment of Bishop Kettler to Saint Cloud, Minnesota, the members of the Diocese of Fairbanks have been awaiting a bishop. For Bishop Zielinski, this Advent has been a time of particular preparation for how the Lord calls and, in turn, Bishop Zielinski has asked that God’s grace be made manifest in a new way to assist him in the work that lies ahead.
The readings that we have during Advent are rich and speak to our hearts.
In Psalm 147 we read:
“Praise the Lord for he is good
sing to our God for he is loving
for the Lord heals the brokenhearted,
he binds up their wounds.
The Lord delights in those who revere him,
in those who wait for his love.”
We are grateful that Bishop Zielinski and the priests of our Diocese have said yes to the priesthood. We thank them for shepherding the people of God in the areas of the Diocese and State. As they are called to lead, teach and sanctify, they need to know that we will be with them, to work with them and support them in the efforts of the Church to heal the brokenhearted. Together as the Body of Christ we will work to bring the light of Jesus Christ into the darkness of our world, that His radiance will shine through our charitable acts and that we will bind up the wounds of those who suffer. By the grace of God we will do this. And we will ask Emmanuel, God with us, to bless our endeavors. Lord we pray, give success to the work of our hands. Amen.