These words were among the opening remarks delivered yesterday by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
Addressing the assembly, Cardinal Dolan acknowledged the pastoral concerns which recent events have brought forward, among them: "the suffering in vast areas not far from here caused by the Hurricane of two weeks ago, the imperative to the New Evangelization, the invitation offered by the Year of Faith, and our continued dialogue, engagement, and prophetic challenge to our culture over urgent issues such as the protection of human life, the defense of marriage, the promotion of human dignity in the lives of the poor, the immigrant, those in danger from war and persecution throughout the world, and our continued efforts to defend our first and most cherished freedom."
However, first and foremost, he said, the assembly is a gathering of men committed to following Christ. "We gather as disciples of, as friends of, as believers in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, 'the Way, the Truth and the Life," who exhorted us to "seek first the Kingdom of God.'"
"We cannot engage culture unless we let Him first engage us," Cardinal Dolan said. "We cannot dialogue with others unless we first dialogue with Him; we cannot challenge unless we first let Him challenge us."
Cardinal Dolan recalled that at the conclusion of the recent Synod for the New Evangelization, bishops acknowledged that the new evangelization must begin with their own conversion.
"The New Evangelization reminds us that the very agents of evangelization – you and me -- will never achieve that abundant harvest Blessed John XXIII described unless we are willing and eager to first be evangelized themselves. Only those themselves first evangelized can then evangelize."
The lives and ministry of Catholic bishops, he continued, "must first be filled with the spirit of interior conversion born of our own renewal. That's the way we become channels of a truly effective transformation of the world, through our own witness of a penitential heart, and our own full embrace of the Sacrament of Penance."
Cardinal Dolan challenged bishops to revisit their commitment to the Sacrament of Penance. "The Sacrament of Reconciliation evangelizes the evangelizers, as it brings us sacramentally into contact with Jesus, who calls us to conversion of heart, and allows us to answer his invitation to repentance -- a repentance from within that can then transform the world without."
"What an irony that despite the call of the Second Vatican Council for a renewal of the Sacrament of Penance, what we got instead was its near disappearance."
It rests on bishops, he continued, to "make the Year of Faith a time to renew the Sacrament of Penance, in our own lives and in the lives of our beloved people whom we serve."
"As we 'come and go' in response to the invitation of Jesus," Cardinal Dolan concluded, "we begin with the Sacrament of Penance. This is the sacrament of the New Evangelization."
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