Knowing that I was coming to our USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) headquarters for some committee meetings this week, I took the advantage of stopping first in my home town of Tell City, Indiana for a visit with my family. I do not normally share much detail regarding my family, but this seems an appropriate time for allowing a little bit of a glimpse into our life.
As some of this readership knows, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer Disease about eight years ago. Our dad’s love and care for mom in those years was nothing short of heroic. However, it became clear this fall that the day-to-day demands of caring for her now required professional care. We placed mom in nursing home care in the Evansville in late October. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that most of my siblings now live in the Evansville area.
In a few weeks, Dad will move to Evansville to be closer to Mom and the rest of their children. The Etienne and Voges families have deep roots in Perry County, extending unbroken back to the time that our ancestors settled there after arriving from Europe. That one decision means that after nearly 60 years of marriage, 37 years in the present home, the Etienne family presence (at least our branch of the family tree) in Perry County Indiana is coming to a conclusion. After days of packing and pitching, the family gathered for a final meal in the house on Sunday evening. It was a joyful occasion! My own leave-taking on Tuesday morning held no small amount of emotion, even though my heart is filled with much gratitude. I have been blessed by my family and by this small rural community along the banks of the Ohio River. My brother Bernie and I still own a bit of property in Perry County, and it is now more precious to me than before.
Tuesday evening, I arrived in Washington, DC for a couple days of committee work. This past summer I was asked to become a member of the Budget and Finance Committee, and we met most of the day on Wednesday. I also serve as the Chair of the Catholic Home Missions Sub-Committee, and Thursday I spent the afternoon working with our USCCB staff. The day was capped by a visit with the Nuncio to help him better understand the scope of our work as well as the number of Mission Dioceses we serve around the Country.
Thursday I was asked to be the main celebrant for the USCCB Noon Mass which is attended primarily by the staff who work for us at our headquarters. This too held considerable significance for me. As many of you know, I worked for the USCCB as a layman in 1986 – 1987 as the Assistant Coordinator for the 1987 Pastoral Visit to the US of now St. Pope John Paul II. It was a joy to return to our USCCB headquarters now 30 years later as a fairly new archbishop.
The Church in the United States is blessed by the many lay men and women, priests and religious that staff our offices and carry out the day-to-day work of the Church on behalf of the Bishops. They are extremely dedicated, faith-filled, and hard-working.
In yesterday’s Gospel, Jesus reminded us that we belong to him. I have reflected upon that a great deal in these past 24 hours. We belong to Christ. This simple statement tells us all we need to know about life. Nothing in the end matters other than Christ. Everything in this journey of life is enriched when lived in association with Christ. Belonging to Christ associates us also with the cross, and the cross is never separated from the resurrection. Christ is the key to understanding the mystery of our trials. When we come to understand that, when we have the grace to live that truth, then we will live with hope and joy through the midst of perseverance and discipleship, finally to experience Christ as our ultimate reward!