JANESVILLE -- Though a half hour late, Bishop Robert C. Morlino made it through the snowstorm on December 16 to pray with the people of Janesville and the surrounding community for faith, support, and hope during the current economic and employment turmoil.
"It was good to come together to pray, to come together to reach out," said Fr. Randy Timmerman, pastor of St. John Vianney Parish in Janesville, who with Fr. John Auby of St. William Parish, Janesville, had organized the event held at St. William Church.
"Certainly, he [Bishop Morlino] is the symbol of unity within the diocese," Father Timmerman said. "The gesture, especially on a wintry night like that, made visible in a way the concern of the whole Church."
The "Mass in Time of Need," held especially for those affected by the closing of the Janesville General Motors plant, which was expected to stop production on December 23, drew about 100 people to St. William Church despite the weather.
Priests from the Janesville/Milton Cluster, as well as visiting Canon John Pintabone, concelebrated with the bishop, and members of the area churches provided music. The Janesville/Milton Cluster includes the parishes of: Nativity of Mary, St. John Vianney, St. Patrick, and St. William, all in Janesville, and St. Mary, Milton.
In his homily, Bishop Morlino spoke of human dignity, faith, prayer, and hope.
"Work is part of being human -- it's something of which every human has a right," Bishop Morlino said. "But human beings don't get their dignity from their work; they don't get their dignity from what they do.
"They get their dignity from who they are as mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters and, so on, and, above all, followers of Christ in faith."
"Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is the highest dignity that any human being can have, with or without his or her employment situation. And being a son or daughter of Jesus Christ is the source of our dignity -- not anything else."
Having and keeping faith
In order to give thanks when times are tough, the bishop said, we have to have the strongest faith that God will not only draw good out of evil, but that he will draw the best for us out of evil.
To have that faith, we must pray daily: "Trust is a relationship -- it's like a field goal kicker on the sidelines during a football game," Bishop Morlino said. "He just keeps kicking the ball into the net. He doesn't know how many times he's going to be called upon to actually kick a field goal that counts.
"But that field goal kicker knows that if he just keeps that up, when he gets in the game he's going to get his three points. And that's how prayer has to be for us -- every day," he said.
When times get tough, that trust built by prayer is there and it overcomes fear, no matter how hard it gets, the bishop said.
As well, he said, in a time like this we have to help each other. "Not only our brothers and sisters who are disciples of Jesus Christ in Janesville, but the whole diocesan family has to look for ways to help those who need help, because we love our own and we want to take care of our own," he said. "We love even those who are not our own, and we want to take care of them, too. And we are looking for ways to do that in the days ahead."
Call to rejoice, hope
But even in this time, there is call to rejoice and have hope.
"The Lord is near -- that's what the Advent/Christmas season is," he said. "And however tough times may be otherwise, if the fullness of the Lord is near, then you and I are called to have joy and you and I are called to have hope. And it's a hope that no one can take away.
"We can celebrate totally -- with heartache, to be sure, but completely this year -- because the truth of suffering proves the truth of love, and the fullness of Love appeared at Christmas," he said.
There might be a temptation to say this will be our worst Christmas ever, the bishop said, but it might be the best Christmas ever from the point of view of faith and Christ.
Perhaps not one that depends on overeating or spending too much, he said, "but a Christmas that depends on loving Christ and being close to him, even in his suffering. To be close to Christ at Christmas really in a personal way is what it means to have a Christmas full of hope and a Christmas full of joy."
He closed by saying with the congregants a "Hail Mary" in prayer that Our Blessed Mother would ask her Son to give us what we need for a hopeful, joyful Christmas.
Helping each other
Effective January 2, more than 1,200 hourly workers will be laid off as the 90-year-old Janesville GM plant ceases SUV production there. Other area businesses, including Woodbridge Group of Brodhead and Allied Automotive Group of Janesville, have also announced significant layoffs. The resulting situation will most likely have a trickle-down effect on other businesses, such as daycare providers and merchants.
"In terms of the city of Janesville, everyone is going to be affected," Father Timmerman said. "You can't have a major industry cease production and not have a rippling effect in the community."
So what can people do?
"What do you do in a snowstorm?" he said. "You help each other out."
The collection taken during the offertory at the "Mass in Time of Need" went to ECHO (Everyone Cooperating to Help Others), a local interdenominational charity.