Church invites all to encounter Jesus Christ Print
Bishop's Column
Thursday, Nov. 02, 2017 -- 12:00 AM
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

By now you’ve seen or heard a great deal about me and what I’m supposed to have done most recently. It’s been in the papers, online, and on TV and radio news. You’ve been told by your friends, and talked about it over coffee. To some of you, what you’ve heard simply confirms the judgements you’ve already made long ago. For others, what you’ve heard left you sad and scratching your heads.

In truth, I find myself in that latter group.

The observations and reactions that have been made simply do not account for the total context. And what has grown from there is a flurry of opportunity for people to jump to every sort of negative conclusion and to air those negative judgements freely and widely. All of this has occurred very much absent the reality of the situation.

I’ve reflected upon all of this, learned what I could, and prayed about what I’d like to get across to you. It seems clear to me that there are some misconceptions at the most basic level and that many have forgotten (or never heard) some of what I am going to write below. Here I will attempt to provide some basics and fundamentals by which I attempt to live and which serve as a foundation by which I undertake every other action in my ministry:

First, the Church loves and invites each and every man, woman, and child to encounter the person of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead and to follow Him. By “everyone” we mean everyone. And that’s at each and every moment; so long as we live and breathe we are being called by the Risen Lord to know Him, to follow Him, and to be changed by Him.

Second, I have said numerous times, in so many contexts that I believe that those individuals who are attempting to follow the Lord Jesus while experiencing same-sex desire are laboring under a tremendously heavy cross. It is our duty, as Christians, to approach such individuals and to act as Simon of Cyrene to them, helping to carry their cross, and never kicking them while they struggle under its weight. So much of what has been misinterpreted in this whole affair is a sense that we desire to have nothing to do with those who face this road of discipleship.

And if you are reading this and you consider yourself a disciple, I ask you to consider, “Who is struggling along the road next to me who may need my particular help and encouragement under the weight of their cross in these days?” (I do not simply refer to those who experience same-sex desire, either.) Ask yourself, “Who near me needs a particular invitation to meet Jesus, to encounter Him truly?” I guarantee you won’t have to look far on either count; our world is filled with people who need Jesus.

And, if you are reading this and if you desire, even in the slightest way, to follow Jesus, to be known by Him, and to know Him, do not stop. Seek to know Him, using every means that the Church offers and to which you are disposed. Speak to your local priest and talk to him about how you can better follow Him. If you can’t yet bring yourself to approach the priest or the Church, ask God to help you.

By all means, as the saying goes, “come as you are.” But, be aware that Jesus Christ loves each of us far too much to leave us as we are. He wants far more for you and for me. Be aware that he says to us all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me (Lk 9:23).” Following Jesus involves a decision to take up a cross and to follow in His footsteps toward Calvary. But we do not do so alone. Jesus, by His grace and through His living body, the Church, will make that burden light — insofar as we (every individual disciple) allow.

In terms of the rites and Sacraments of the Church, they have been given by Jesus to be dispensed liberally by the Church upon all those who seek to live that life of discipleship. Ideally, the expression of a desire to follow Jesus does not occur at the last moment of life, but is lived joyfully each day. But even for those who make the slightest turn to follow Him with their very last breath, Jesus Christ and His Church welcome them with tremendous rejoicing. “I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance,” Jesus said (Lk 15:7).

If you or someone you know has received, in all that has been written or said, the impression that the Church is somehow closed to you, I urge you to speak to a priest and to learn the truth.

“. . . and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”