One making headlines is that of Daniel Herzog, the former Episcopal Bishop of Albany, New York. The Rt. Rev. Herzog retired as Bishop of the Episcopal diocese of Albany on January 31. On March 19 he announced to his former diocese that he was joining the Roman Catholic Church.
In his letter to Bishop Love, Bishop Herzog stated that his decision was based on more than three years of focused prayer and study.
“My sense of duty to the diocese, its clergy and people required that I not walk away from my office and leave vulnerable this diocese which I love,” he wrote. “I believed that it was my responsibility to provide for a transition to the future. Your subsequent election and consecration discharged that duty and has given me the liberty to follow my conscience, and now resign my orders and membership in the House of Bishops.
The priest at Mass this morning mentioned this high profile conversion. He likened Bishop Herzog to the prophet Jeremiah in today’s first reading. Jeremiah saw his own people, the Israelites, walking a path away from God. He called on them to repent and return to God. He knew this message would not be well received, but he persevered, trusting in God’s Providence.
These dramatic conversion stories are inspiring. As a cradle Catholic I am somewhat in awe of those who definitively choose to be Catholic. Yet, the truth of the matter, is even us cradle Catholics must choose to be faithful, active Catholics. We must choose to live our lives in full communion with the Catholic Church and all of her teachings. This conversion process is often gradual and subtle.
Falling away from the Church can also be an almost imperceptible process. Day by day challenges and choices define our faith. If we do not allow our Catholicism to direct these decisions, we find ourselves standing outside the Church, perhaps wondering how we got there. It then becomes very easy to dismiss the Church as irrelevant. Yet by the Grace of God, a remnant of faith often remains.
We will see this remnant this Sunday, Palm Sunday, and even more so next week on Easter Sunday. Numerous Catholics who only see the Church when it is decorated with poinsettias or lilies will be in the pews with us. I implore you to welcome them with charity and not the least hint of condemnation or condescension. Open your arms to the return of the prodigal sons and daughters. Your gracious hospitality may be exactly what is needed to soften a heart and make it receptive to grace.
Here are some practical suggestions:
- It is going to be crowded. Arrive early.
- Slide to the middle of the pew. Nothing is gained by giving latecomers a self-righteous scowl and making them climb over you to get a seat.
- Share your hymnal or missal with a smile!
- Since cars will have overflowed the regular parking spaces and will have improvised a space in every nook and cranny, exercise the virtue of patience. Leaving Easter Mass and encountering a cacophony of snarls and honking horns will not entice a C&E Catholic to return next week. Consider your good humor in this situation a form of evangelization.
- For those of you who plan to give your young children Easter baskets filled with chocolate candy: Do not present these treats until after Mass. Because Santa arrives overnight and children wake up to Christmas presents, some have extrapolated this to the Easter Bunny. However, you will not elicit a joyful “Alleluia” when your child leaves chocolate fingerprints on your pew mate’s white linen suit. My solution is to have the baskets ready to go but hidden in my room. Dad loads kids in the car. I place the baskets in a prominent place in the living room then join him out in the car. When we return from Mass, the kids are wide-eyed and amazed because Easter baskets have miraculously appeared. This also puts the initial focus of Easter on Mass. Treats are an afterthought.
So let us prepare to welcome our brothers and sisters who are entering the Church. We also will welcome our brothers and sisters who have been away. By welcoming these we will truly be ready to joyfully welcome our Risen Lord.