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Bishop Hebda's Christmas Message


Hebda_Photo_FINAL2_cropped_1.jpgOne of the great blessings of my 13 years in Rome was the opportunity to celebrate Mass several times each week with the Missionaries of Charity, the international congregation of Religious women founded by Mother Teresa and sharing her charism of wholehearted service to the poorest of the poor. Their chapels often stood in sharp contrast with the monuments of Baroque Rome—instead of marble and gilding, the walls were adorned only with a crucifix, simple Stations of the Cross, and a well-used blackboard for announcing prayer intentions. As would have been the practice in impoverished Calcutta, where the community was founded, the Sisters sat on the floor. There was nothing remarkable about those chapels—but what wonderful places to pray.

Each year as Christmas approached, the Sisters would construct a nativity scene out of whatever discarded items they could find and this always included an empty box placed where we would normally put the manger. All during Advent, when no one else was looking, the individual Sisters would put a single piece of straw in the box, representing some act of charity that they had accomplished that day. By the time that the community gathered for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, the box would inevitably be overflowing with straw signifying the anonymous works of charity that the Sisters had embraced to prepare for the coming of the Christ child.

I’ve often tried to emulate the Sisters’ Advent practice, but more often than not have found my manger lacking in straw. When I mentioned this to the Sisters, they suggested that I broaden the project, inserting a straw not only for each act of charity, but also for each instance of gratitude. This year, as the Diocese of Gaylord’s 40th jubilee draws to a close, I’m finding the causes of that gratitude to be exceedingly easy to identify. Just consider, for example:

-- What a thrill it was to join the past bishops of Gaylord, Cardinal Szoka, Bishop Rose, and Bishop Cooney, along with 1000 members of this local Church, for the Anniversary Mass held on July 20, 2011. Even record-breaking temperatures couldn’t put a damper on the festivities of that day.

-- I have been amazed by the many fruits flowing from the First Friday devotions and Forty Hours celebrations held throughout the jubilee year. The increased love for the Eucharist and for the Sacrament of Reconciliation is bound to carry on beyond our 40th.

--What a joy it is to have been able to ordain one new priest (Fr. Joseph Ortega) and two new deacons in the course of the jubilee year (Joseph Ortega and Peter Wigton). The year also brought two new seminarians and a whole new class of aspirants to the permanent diaconate!

-- I couldn’t have been prouder when I joined the pilgrims from our diocese for World Youth Day in Madrid. Similarly, the opportunity to be with 90 of our high school youth at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis just last month was nothing short of invigorating.

--Our 17 Catholic schools continue to thrive. At a time when our public school colleagues are experiencing a decrease in the number of students, our Catholic schools have been able to hold their own or grow and are receiving recognition from beyond our boundaries for their great ministry.

-- Many extraordinary conferences took place during the Jubilee year, some for the very first time. Numerous workshops helped deepen our understanding of the Mass as we prepared to implement the Third Edition of the Revised Roman Missal. How wonderful it has been to grow in faith and learn new ways to minister to those in need.

--The Diocese was honored to host Baraga Days 2011, with visitors from Slovenia, Canada, and many parts of the US, to honor the missionary Servant of God, Frederic Baraga, who served in this area. The following week, as Providence would have it, we hosted an excellent conference concerning ministry to Native Americans, a segment of our population that was so beloved by Bishop Baraga.

-- A new group for young women exploring their Christian vocation is taking root. There has been great “buzz” after their recent Saturday at the Carmel in Traverse City where they chose their name, “Mystical Rose.” Speaking of the Carmelites, who could not be grateful for the witness of Mother Teresa Margaret on her 100th birthday.

-- We have been inspired by the more than 500 couples who participated in our three diocesan celebrations for those married more than the Diocese’s 40 years.

-- It was a once in a lifetime experience for the 53 pilgrims from our Diocese who travelled on the Jubilee Pilgrimage to Rome to be able to join Pope Benedict for an audience, to have a private tour of the Sistine Chapel where he had been elected, to investigate the scavi where his predecessor, St. Peter, was buried and to celebrate Mass at the altar of the tomb of St. Peter.

With so much going on in the diocese this year (and the above is just a sampling…!), we have much for which to be appreciative and there’s certainly going to be enough “straw” in the manger. With grateful hearts, join me in welcoming into our homes the Prince of Peace: may He be the source of your strength and joy in the new year.

+Bernard A. Hebda
  Bishop of Gaylord

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