My Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
I don’t like the month of August. Lately, it is the bearer of bad news or serious concerns suddenly arise. During this month of August, we witnessed the death and injury of so many during fires in China, Bangladesh, and the Amazon Rainforest, flooding in India, and mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas. In the beginning of August, I was notified of a small fire in an apartment of a subsidized housing complex, Monsignor Bishop Manor Apartments of Catholic Charities of Central Florida, which displaced some families. During the month, five deacons died. At the end of August, we began preparing for Hurricane Dorian and are feeling her effects in numerous ways.
You are probably laughing and saying, “Oh, bishop. It is not the month’s fault.” You are absolutely correct. I am quite a bit like the Israelites in the desert who built a false god, frustrated with their life occurrences. And, God, is rightly disappointed in them. It takes the prophet, Moses, to remind God of the covenant he made with the people of Israel; the land of Christ, his son, to live among them that they and we might have eternal life.
What, then, is the blessing in difficult situations? In the most difficult situations, God meets us and walks beside us. His gift of his son, Jesus, transcends our difficulties and we return, like the prodigal son, to a great feast of life everlasting. What more can anyone want?
We are called to be a source of blessing. To bless means to celebrate, favor, glorify, magnify, and praise. In my thinking about the month of August, these are the blessings we receive and offer, even in the most difficult of situations. As shepherd of the Diocese of Orlando, the care of each one of you is important. We are blessed to have had devoted staff and volunteers who pioneered our safe environment policies in 1995 and created a robust fingerprinting program which has expanded to all clergy, religious sisters, employees and volunteers since 1997. Currently, approximately 10,000 individuals are safe environment certified annually. The Diocesan Review Board meets as necessary, but at least two times a year, to review policies, procedures, and advise me on important matters of safe environment. This year, with their oversight, the policies are restated within a scriptural foundation so that we are reminded of the reason for our attention to the most vulnerable among us. We pray that our work through these many years will yield a safer environment for all.
A Safety Committee was formed last year to evaluate all the parishes and schools in the Diocese of Orlando for vulnerability from outside threats. This committee’s work has brought forth training in hospitality for parish ushers, better traffic control for drop-off and pick-up of all students, shooter response training, workshops on mental health awareness and assistance, and participation in community initiatives addressing homelessness and the opioid crisis. Their work continues to expand to all areas of the nine counties of the Diocese of Orlando.
The mercy of God was offered to those displaced by the fires with assistance from the staff of Catholic Charities and St. Vincent de Paul. Praise God for the blessing of our first responders who secured the area quickly and no one was injured. Restoration of the apartments is a top priority while temporary housing was identified.
We are blessed to have known the holy men who chose to be ordained to the permanent diaconate and serve God with all humility. We pray for the repose of their souls. Our attention toward the sacred burial of all God’s people within the Diocese of Orlando was officially underway in August with the groundbreaking of the first diocesan Catholic cemetery, Queen of Angels, adjacent to San Pedro Spiritual Development Center.
Hurricane Dorian refocused our sites on prayer for each other. This prayer has produced riches beyond measure as Catholic Charities of Central Florida staff spoke each day with parish outreach volunteers to identify the storm’s path and where drop-offs of food and water should be established as well as conversations about response to those who are most urgently in need after the storm.
Filled with God’s life through the Eucharist, we go out to love and serve the Lord and one another. The smallest measure of kindness, even generously allowing another to pump gas ahead of you when the lines are long as Dorian took her course, is your blessing of the stranger you meet.
Do not despair in August (which also means hallowed). Look for God’s blessings to us within each difficulty. May we bless God with our response that He grant us our perpetual heritage.