Saturday, March 20th, 2021
I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Proximity. Over a year ago, our understanding of control and normalcy was radically altered. Overnight, in our lives and the life of the church, our proximity to regularity seemingly vanished. Every part of our human family has suffered loss, grief, and endured the toll taken on our physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Our deepest societal pains were revealed once again while our weaknesses bare. Despite the challenges, we found enormous strength in community, discovered an inner resiliency, and were willing to step forward in faith. As St. Paul wrote, we found we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
Many have compared this past year to a perpetual Lent, but Lent does not come unexpectedly. Lent is a season of reflection, prayer, penitence, and preparation. At the end of 40 days of rain, a dove brought back an olive leaf. At the end of 40 days of fasting, Moses received the 10 Commandments. After forty days of wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites reached the Promised Land. At the end of 40 days, Jesus ended his fasting and emerged from the wilderness in closer proximity with all of God's creation. Now new life draws close to us, found in our church and the transformative power of Christ.
Over the past year, it is evident that people have gone deeper and started to ask questions about life, death, suffering, and meaning. Our siblings in this world are yearning for a clear vision and a transcendent way to feed their lives and provide ease and fellow sojourners in their struggles.
As a diocese, we have tried to prepare to meet this need, but now is the time to reflect. What awaits our siblings in the world who are seeking meaning? Who is asking these questions? Who desperately needs community? And what will they find when they turn to us? Will they encounter a place of belonging and openness? Will they find a community that will accept them just as they are? Will it be a community who does not view them based on race, gender, economic status or nationality? Lent reminds us that there are no differences when we stand at the foot of the cross.
Let us be a people who will not try and immediately provide the answers and will lovingly walk with them toward and point them to the one who is the answer to every question and every need - Jesus Christ. Faith is not about explaining things. It is about living, breathing and walking in that light that is upon us. Will our proximity to love, hope, life, laughter, and pain be such that people will find a place to encounter God, experience God, and then express God in their lives? We must show them a loving God, joy, and the peace that passes all understanding both in our lives and churches.
Yes, thousands of God's beloved will walk through our doors for the first time or the first time in a long time, and they will be searching for something they did not find in the world. We know it to be the living God, the Risen Christ. During this Lent, let us prepare for a new day, a new life, and a transformed Body of Christ called the Church.
This is our calling. We must be those people. We can be that community, and we will be that place of love and grace. Proximity. Let us not forget that Jesus did not ascend and leave us. He taught us; he entrusted us to do his work. Jesus called us friends and promised he will always be with us. Be not afraid. We cannot think or wait; we must be his hands, his heart, his Body.
We must also answer the call of our faith to actively counter acts of hate against people of different backgrounds and ethnicities. This pain is not limited to one group but inflicts harm on all humanity. It has now been felt once again in Atlanta. I have joined with groups from across the country, including Bishops United Against Gun Violence and the Religious Leaders Council of Philadelphia, in condemning such acts of hatred. We must work to counter it at every opportunity and show the world that there is a better way, the way of Jesus Christ.
We live in a dream-starved world. We have witnessed an absence of grace, empathy, acceptance, listening, hope, presence, and love in our country, our communities, our politics and social discourse. We cannot have an absence of grace, empathy, acceptance, listening, hope, presence, and love in our church. Let us use these last few weeks of Lent to dream the impossible dreams and then prepare to make them real.
The diocese has created some bold initiatives to counter poverty and spread the Gospel. I continue to ask for your help in achieving these. Each month, I want to highlight where we have hit a goal we set. For the past year, our clergy have put themselves at risk tending to the sick and burying the dying. After months of working with state and county officials, we were able to get our clergy designated as essential and set up a vaccine clinic for them this past weekend. We hope to add another clinic for parishioners in the next two weeks. We have also released guidelines for Holy Week and Easter and will provide resources for our churches as they evaluate their air handling systems to ensure health and safety.
Now we must build on this work. Let us envision a future worth fighting for and articulate a purpose worth living for. Let us awaken the qualities of reverence, awe, and humility in our own lives and those around us. To speak of hope in all instances with the understanding that we do not simply hope, but we take an active part in making hope real. We must manifest our Christian morals in our own lives and then share them with love and grace. With eyes that choose to see the unseen. A people who give promise to the future and meaning to the present.
Our proximity to Christ must be closer than at any time in our lives. This is a time of revolution and renewal. A revolution of the heart and renewal of our faith and church. Let us hope upon hope, for we are the last, best hope in the world right now. Recently I read an article and there was a statement about challenges. This is how I will approach the challenges that face this diocese in the coming months and years and the faith we hold in our Lord. I look across the field, it seems daunting and I look upon Goliath and say - I think I can take you.
With God's help, we shall endure, persevere and prevail. Let us pray unceasingly, dare greatly, strive valiantly, love completely and spend ourselves in the service of Christ and one another. Let us be that light in the world. Let us leave this church in which Christ has entrusted us - let us leave this world - better than we found it.
God is working, and our lived message is Jesus Christ.
The Rt. Rev. Daniel G. P. Gutiérrez
XVI Bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania