We Remember, We Dream

Memorial Day: we reverently and gratefully recall those brave patriots who gave their lives in defense of our nation. We remember…

Ascension Day: we celebrate the return of Jesus to His Father in heaven, 40 days after His resurrection, mandating His disciples to “Go out to the whole world!” And His Church began…We dream…


Scholars tell us that any institution—family, neighborhood, Church, country, organization, or club—needs both to survive and flourish…memories…dreams…

We Catholics of this historic Archdiocese of New York, 2.6 million strong, have memories galore, 203 years of faith, grace, mercy, serving, sanctifying and teaching.

Daily do I praise God for those memories, so grateful for the archdiocese I “inherited” as a pastor, so in debt to Cardinal Edward Egan, his predecessors, and the multitude of priests, deacons, religious women and men, families, benefactors and committed faithful who are such a cherished part of the lush legacy of these acres of the Lord’s vast vineyard.

I could remember for a long time, and bask in all that the Church has done and accomplished. That’s proper…that’s good. We need our memories…

But, we also have to dream, or the Church becomes a museum. After our Lord ascended to heaven, the apostles were tempted to go into a “memory trance,” until the angel shook them out of it by yelling, “What are you standing around for looking up to heaven? You heard Him! Get to work!” (I admit… that’s a loose translation!)

So, we got work to do. We keep dreaming, grounded in our remembering.

This dreaming has been recently prompted by the hard work going on to prepare what’s called our Quinquennial Report. See, by canon law, a bishop must submit such an accounting to the Holy Father every five years, and then go to Rome to allow the Pope’s closest advisers (and, eventually, even “Himself”) to ask about it.

So, we’ve been working hard on compiling this five-year report in preparation for my fall visit to Rome, and, once again, I am in awe at the vitality of this archdiocese, as I remember the years since the last one, and report on them.

Yet, this endeavor inspires some dreams about what still needs to be done, what we need to do better. Can I mention some?

• The final command of Jesus was “Go teach!” His Church has been doing that brilliantly and effectively for two millennia. This archdiocese has been at it for 203 years.

Thank God, with our current strategic plan, Pathways to Excellence, we are on the way to strengthening our splendid Catholic schools, with emphasis on Catholic identity, academic rigor, first-class leadership, financial security and better-oiled marketing, all to make our schools available, affordable, accessible.

But we must dream about improving and expanding our religious education initiatives for our children, including as well youth ministry, campus outreach and adult religious education.

• As He ascended into heaven, Jesus sent His followers to all the world. The Church is catholic—all are welcome! It is intended for all peoples.

This archdiocese has memories of embracing refugees and immigrants for centuries. But this pastoral challenge is for now, not just for then.

I dream of a Church where Hispanics, Asians, Africans and Caribbeans feel as at home as did the Irish, Poles, Italians and Germans of our memories; I dream of every man I ordain knowing Spanish, with many Hispanic vocations coming not only from Latin America but from our beloved Latino community here already.

• As I remember the extraordinary generosity of God’s People in this archdiocese—evident as recently as the highly successful Bicentennial Campaign of 2008, and this year’s Annual Stewardship Appeal, already near our highest goal ever—I dream of an enhanced sense of stewardship, a way of life consonant with that biblical virtue, which would provide us the resources needed to respond to the needs of God’s People continually brought to our attention…including increased demands upon our renowned Catholic Charities, and long-needed attention to the very soul of our archdiocese, both a revered memory and exciting dream, the restoration of our beloved St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

• Immediately after the Ascension, even before they started to work, the apostles and Our Lady prayed, for nine days!

So I dream of a renewed sense of fidelity to Sunday Mass as the source and summit of our lives with Christ! That only one-third of our people regularly attend Sunday Mass is a statistic that frightens me. He’s the vine, we are but the branches. If we do not have at least that weekly contact with Him, the vine, on that day He calls His own, on that day He rose from the dead, our dreams will die.

And finally, I dream of a Church high on hope, where, instead of asking what to close we dream of what to open; where, instead of figuring out what vacant buildings to sell or board up, we ask why they’re empty to begin with; where, instead of whining about sins and scandals, we seek Divine Mercy and recover integrity; where, rather than recalling “how it used to be” in whatever days one might consider “glorious” —the 50s, 60s or 70s—we move from the maintenance of what has been to the sense of mission of what can and should be.

One of my favorite songs is “The Way We Were” by Barbra Streisand. The first line, recall? “Memories …”

But I also consider a favorite Perry Como’s “Dream along with me …”

The Church has both…

A blessed Memorial Day week! We remember…

A blessed Feast of the Ascension! We dream…