He dwells among us: Better than expected

Faith reminds us that Christ is truly present and hope ever builds our trust in him as disciples

It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it didn’t quite turn out the way I expected.” I was but a young boy at the time when my elderly neighbor, Dr. Ralph, responded to my curiosity with these words that were to be the beginning of an unlikely lesson on the precious gifts of faith and hope.

Of the many people living in the neighborhood where I grew up in St. Louis, Dr. Ralph was certainly the most colorful character. He had served as a Cavalry officer during World War I and had been a boxer as well, and my friends and I always were entertained by his many stories. But it was his two very prominent and weathered tattoos of faded green ink on his forearms that I pointed to one day, asking, “Why’d you do that?” that prompted his response.

One of the tattoos was easy enough to recognize. It was the Rosary with its loop of five decades covering the length of his forearm. But the other image was not nearly as discernible. Due to poor artistry and many decades of sun and age, what was supposed to represent his beloved Cavalry horse he now jokingly called what it resembled most—a “Chihuahua.”

Supposedly, though, his two tattoos were meant to represent faith and hope, and I remember him telling me he got them because, “This way, I’ll never lose them.” But I was never quite sure from his war stories whether it was his horse that he put his faith in or his hope. Unlike Dr. Ralph’s tattoos, though, our faith and hope should not fade and become less recognizable over time (cf. Matthew 5:13-16).

Two short expressions—one drawn from Scripture and the other from a saint—have long helped to remind me of what faith and hope are about. The first is a shortened form of John 1:14, which is the title of my monthly column—“He Dwells Among Us.” The other is St. Faustina’s simple prayer of hope, which also is my episcopal motto, Iesu Confido In Te— “Jesus, I trust in you.” For faith is more than just believing, it is an encounter with the Risen Lord. And hope is what helps to direct our steps toward what is true and “does not disappoint” (Romans 5:5). As St. Paul reminds us, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Matthew 6:33).

So I encourage you, particularly in this Year of Faith declared by Pope Benedict XVI that ends Nov. 24, 2013, to pray every day the Nicene Creed of the Mass, and if able, to attend daily Mass and to make Holy Hours before the Blessed Sacrament. Frequent the sacrament of reconciliation where you will encounter the Divine Physician who offers true health care of soul and body. Take up the traditional practice of fasting and abstinence, which helps to purify our hope, and abstain from meat on Fridays and offer it for a greater harvest of vocations to the priesthood. Read and reflect upon sacred Scripture, and explore the rich treasury of the faith in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and in the documents of the Second Vatican Council.

In looking back upon 2012, I can’t help but marvel at the diocese’s many blessings. With our 24th anniversary as a diocese, we began our year of preparation that will take us to our Jubilee Anniversary and the beginning of our Year of Celebration and the region’s first Eucharistic Congress on Sept. 14, 2013, at the Sevierville Convention Center. We are blessed with 19 seminarians studying for the priesthood and with at least another five we hope will be added next fall. The presence of the Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich., and the Evangelizing Sisters of Mary continue to grow as well. Two new missions within the diocese also were started this past year—the Divine Mercy Catholic Mission in Knoxville and St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Mission in Erwin. The diocese also was able to start a new Office of Health Services with the arrival and talents of Sister Mariana Koonce, RSM, MD, and the doors to Christ Prince of Peace Retreat Center in Benton were officially opened. I also am most proud that Knoxville Catholic High School and Notre Dame High School were named by the Cardinal Newman Society among the “Top 50 Catholic High Schools for excellence in Catholic identity, academics and civics education.”

Indeed, we have so much to be thankful for, but most of all, I am especially grateful to Our Lord for the gift of your faith and hope, which is yielding so many wonderful fruits. Indeed, things are turning out better than expected.

On behalf of Cardinal Rigali, the members of the Chancery staff, and all our priests, deacons and religious, I want to wish all of you a most blessed New Year of 2013.

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