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Bishop Rueger urges audience to keep the faith

Posted By March 15, 2012 | 1:07 pm | Lead Story #2

By Tanya Connor

CHARLTON – In a culture “not in our favor,” Christians will need to struggle to maintain their faith, retired Bishop Rueger said Monday. A warning sign of things to come was evident several weeks ago with the federal Department of Health and Human Services mandate, he said.
A totalitarian government can exist without faith, but a democracy cannot, he said.
He was preaching at the last of three Masses the bishops took turns celebrating at St. Joseph Parish for a Lenten mission. The mission, held three consecutive Mondays, focused on the theological virtues: retired Bishop Reilly preached about love, Bishop McManus about hope. Bishop Rueger talked about different aspects of faith.
Speaking of maintaining the faith in an opposing culture, Bishop Rueger used as an example the recent HHS mandate that religious organizations provide employees with health plans that cover free sterilization and contraception, including abortion-causing drugs, all of which the Catholic Church opposes. He noted that the Church is not against health care.
Raising his voice, as he often does at points in his homilies, he proclaimed that “our country was built under God.”
“Faith gives birth to freedom,” he said. “There is no freedom without faith. … There cannot be a free country unless there is faith.” He spoke of freedom to follow God, be Christians and hope in eternal life.
“Religion creates freedom and religion supports and strengthens that freedom,” he said.
Bishop Rueger spoke of Christians’ faith as founded on the reality of God’s existence.
“I think it’s going to be difficult in the years ahead,” he said, explaining that pastors tell him of the decline in the number of weddings – because people don’t bother to marry anymore.
“You and I may have to speak up and remain strong in our faith,” he said.
“If there’s any place I feel strong about, it’s you,” he told parishioners, saying he has watched St. Joseph’s grow.
“You are an extraordinary parish, and I have said those words on a number of occasions,” he said. “No priest could help but admire and respect you. … You are an extraordinary support system. You are there for one another. You sacrificed to build this beautiful building.”
Bishop Rueger drew knowing laughter when he spoke of “simple times,” when Charlton had many zip codes, but not much else.
Earlier he had described faith as something simple: “God has spoken and we have listened.” He tied that description of faith to the first reading about Naaman who was urged to obey the simple command given to him to receive healing, since he would surely have obeyed an extraordinary command. (2 Kgs 5:1-15)
“Sometimes, my friends, you and I must see God in the small things in life,” Bishop Rueger said.
He spoke of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI at World Youth Days describing a simple wafer, the Host, as having “atomic power” and “nuclear energy.”
Imagine, Christ, with all that power, is present in “his house,” he said. “God is with his people in a wafer.”
Speaking of the day’s Gospel (Lk 4:24-30), Bishop Rueger talked about the attitude of the people of Nazareth toward Jesus: “You mean there’s one of our own who’s supposed to be the Messiah?” They could not accept the reality that God was in their town.
The bishop said people today sometimes say of others: “They don’t have any position. What do they amount to?”
“We’re never allowed to put anyone down,” he said. “Everyone, in the eyes of God, is precious and valuable. That is what our faith says. We learn how to love God by loving one another.”
He praised parishioners for their activity and life.
“I bless you for all you have done,” he said. “Pass that torch on to others.”
The congregation applauded.