“Embrace the Good News of Christmas”

Bishop Joseph C. Bambera’s 2022 Christmas Message

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Mary and the Christ Child with angels are depicted in a painting titled “Holy Night” by Carlo Maratti. The feast of the Nativity of Christ, a holy day of obligation, is celebrated Dec. 25. (CNS/Bridgeman Images)

“In the darkness, a light shines. An angel appears, the glory of the Lord shines around the shepherds and finally the message awaited for centuries is heard: ‘To you is born this day a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord’ (Lk 2:11). The angel goes on to say something surprising. He tells the shepherds how to find the God who has come down to earth: ‘This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger’ (Lk 12). That is the sign: a child, a baby lying in the dire poverty of a manger. No more bright lights or choirs of angels. Only a child. Nothing else … That is where God is, in littleness. Littleness is the path that he chose to draw near to us, to touch our hearts, to save us and to bring us back to what really matters.”

These words of Pope Francis challenge all of us as we journey through these final days of Advent to Christmas to reflect upon God’s way of doing things. From the moment of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem two thousand years ago to our encounters with the Holy today, God has continually entered our lives in littleness and in the most unlikely of ways. It could be in the birth of a helpless, vulnerable child, in the face of a fragile, elderly parent, in the poor wandering our streets, in immigrants seeking a better life for themselves and their families, and in simple gifts of bread and wine transformed into the living presence of God.

Sadly, however, we too often look in the wrong places for meaning and purpose in our lives. We pursue worldly success, material possessions, comfort, convenience or power and we miss the heart of where God’s promise of salvation and peace is found. Left to our own devices, we self-righteously express contempt for those who are different from ourselves. We sow seeds of division in an effort to advance our own agendas. And then we wonder why our world is so unsettled – why our hearts are uneasy – our families are broken – our communities are unsafe – and far too many of our brothers and sisters suffering because of war and greed in Ukraine, areas of the Middle-East, Africa, and other parts of the globe.

Yet, in a world that has been turned upside down, we are once again given the opportunity to embrace the Good News of Christmas, that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).

Through the Incarnation, God has immersed himself in our human condition – not because of our righteousness – but because of his grace and mercy. This fundamental belief in the limitless love of God, given human shape and form in Jesus’ birth, confronts the brokenness of our lives with hope. It beckons us to move beyond the division and fear that have engulfed our world, our Church and our lives to recognize an essential reality: we are all far more similar than we are different. As such, we are all brothers and sisters who, on our own, are powerless to save ourselves. We are all in need of the heart of Christmas and the power and presence of Jesus – born to save us, to give us life and to enfold us in his peace.

Brothers and sisters, having been assured of his presence in the littleness of human existence, we know where to encounter the living God and so experience his gifts of acceptance, forgiveness and mercy. Recall Jesus’ words, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).

During these days that so often challenge our peace, may we pray for the wisdom and humility to open our lives to this great mystery of faith that we celebrate through the Incarnation of Christ. May we welcome and serve him generously and so discover the true and lasting reason for our hope!

With gratitude for the privilege of serving as your Bishop and with prayers for a holy and blessed Christmas for you, your family and all you hold dear, I am,

Faithfully yours in Christ,

Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton

 

Good morning.  It is a pleasure for me to affirm the good work that you and so many others have done is support of human life.

Not long ago, as he has so often done, Pope Francis affirmed that every human person has a reason to hope, because every person “has a place in God’s heart from all eternity.”  Focusing upon the weakest and most vulnerable – the sick, the elderly, the poor and especially the unborn – the Holy Father asserted that every person “has an inviolable right to life” and “is a masterpiece of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.”

Powerful words, aren’t they?  Words that need to be seared into the hearts of every one of us – and many others as well.

Most of us appreciate the Holy Father’s words – because every one of us has been blessed with the faith and wisdom to see the value of God’s gift of life – to recognize that this gift, in whatever shape and form it takes – is not the result of an accident of creation but are the result of God creative and loving presence among us.

Sadly, however, it is quite apparent that this fundamental teaching of our faith hardly resonates with many of our brothers and sisters.  As a Church, we are grateful for the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year to overturn its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion throughout our land.  Yet, the division that has emerged in our country these past few months is a stark reminder of the fact that so many fail to appreciate the dignity and value of all human life, especially the life of the unborn.

In response to this division, it is incumbent upon us, as a people of faith, to not merely point fingers of derision at those who fail to embrace the teaching of the gospel regarding the value of human life.  To the contrary, as disciples of Jesus, we are called to be light in the midst of darkness – a leaven to transform our misguided world.  As such, it is our responsibility to witness to our beliefs by caring for life – not merely for life in the womb but for all of life and particularly for women and the children they have carried past the time of birth.

Simply put, brothers and sisters, if we desire to live our lives as God-fearing individuals with authenticity, we have no choice.  We cannot merely speak of our respect for human life or self-righteously criticize those whose beliefs may be different from our own.  We must enliven our words with action.  We must both choose and serve life in whatever way we can.

The challenge to defend human life cannot be side stepped in an effort to create a false peace or sense of harmony.  We must be fearless in our defense of the unborn – but also mothers in need, the elderly, the sick, the poor, the disabled, the immigrant and every life that is in jeopardy.

Nor must we ever shrink from confronting life issues in our prayer, in what and how we teach as a Church and in the pastoral care that we offer.  But we must also never shrink from confronting life issues when we vote, in the initiatives and public policies that we are able to influence, in our volunteer efforts and in the daily activities and choices of our lives that can even unwittingly exploit the most defenseless among us.

So continue to embrace the noble cause of this blessed organization.  Don’t let down those treasures of life that God has woven into our lives.

Defend life, even if – and particularly when the world proclaims a different message.  ….

Our task is hardly simple and the road ahead, for all of the strides that have been made in recent years, continues to be challenging and filled with unexpected obstacles.  May we persevere in prayer and through the support of one another.

May we be encouraged by the words of the great Saint John Paul II:

Love and honor the life of every man and woman.  Work with perseverance and courage, so that our time, marked by too many signs of death, may at last witness the establishment of a culture of life, the fruit of the culture of truth and love.

 

 

SCRANTON (Feb. 24, 2022) – Today, Bishop Joseph C. Bambera released the following statement regarding the invasion of Ukraine:

“Like many of you, I am saddened and heartbroken by the humanitarian crisis that continues to unfold in Ukraine. Our world should be long past the need for anyone to wake up at 5 a.m. to the sound of explosions, rocket attacks and air raid sirens.

“I ask you to join me in praying for peace, an immediate end to the Russian invasion and a respect for international law. I also ask you to join me in praying for the more than 40 million innocent women, men and children currently living in Ukraine, and most especially the victims of this conflict and their families.

“On behalf of the clergy, deacons, consecrated religious and lay faithful of the Diocese of Scranton, I express our firm solidarity with Ukrainian Catholics and Ukrainians here in northeastern and north central Pennsylvania and in Ukraine itself.

“Now more than ever, our world is in need of healing and hope. I also urge everyone to participate in the call of Pope Francis to make March 2, Ash Wednesday, a Day of Fasting for Peace. As Our Holy Father has said, ‘May the Queen of Peace preserve the world from the madness of war.’

“The following prayer is very dear to the Ukrainian people. I suggest that it be offered on their behalf.”

We fly to Your patronage, O Virgin Mother of God.
Despise not our prayers in our needs,
but deliver us from all dangers, since you alone are pure and blessed.
O most glorious ever-Virgin Mary,
the Mother of Christ our God, accept our prayers
and present them to Your Son and our God,
that for the sake of you, He enlighten and save our souls.

###

Editors Note: Various Catholic agencies, including the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia and the international Caritas confederation, have already started to collect donations to aid with the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, as people flee to escape Russian bombing and shelling. For a list of agencies, please visit: https://www.dioceseofscranton.org/where-to-give-to-help-ukraine/

 

The birth of Christ is depicted in stained glass at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto. The Dec. 25 Christmas feast commemorates the birth of Christ. The Christmas season begins with the Dec. 24 evening vigil and ends on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Jan. 13 in 2008. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec) (Nov. 27, 2007)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

“For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.”

In his Christmas homily a year ago, Pope Francis reflected upon this familiar passage from the prophet Isaiah: “To us a son is given.”

Pope Francis began, “We often hear it said that the greatest joy in life is the birth of a child. It is something extraordinary and it changes everything … That is what Christmas is: the birth of Jesus is the ‘newness’ that enables us to be reborn each year and to find, in him, the strength needed to face every trial. Why? Because his birth is for us – for me, for you, for all of us, for everyone … Yet what do those words – for us – really mean? They mean that God came into the world as a child to make us children of God. What a magnificent gift! This day, God amazes us and says to each of us: Are you tempted to feel you were a mistake? God tells you, ‘No, you are my child!’ Do you have a feeling of failure or inadequacy, the fear that you will never emerge from the dark tunnel of trial? God says to you, ‘Have courage, I am with you.’ This is the starting point for any rebirth. This is the undying heart of our hope, the incandescent core that gives warmth and meaning to our life.”

The Holy Father continued: “Jesus, you are the Child who makes me a child. You love me as I am, not as I imagine myself to be; this I know! In embracing you, the Child of the manger, I once more embrace my life. In welcoming you, the Bread of life, I too desire to give my life. You, my Savior, teach me to serve. You, who did not leave me alone, help me to comfort your brothers and sisters, for you know that, from this night forward, all are my brothers and sisters.”

Pope Francis’ words capture so beautifully both the sublime gift that we have been given in the birth of Jesus and the responsibility that is ours to give the same gift of his life to others.

Through the Incarnation, God has immersed himself in our human condition – not because of our righteousness – but because of his grace and mercy. This fundamental belief in the limitless love of God, given human shape and form in Jesus’ birth, confronts the brokenness of our lives with hope. It beckons us to move beyond the division and fear that have engulfed our world, our Church and our lives to recognize an essential reality of humankind: we are all far more similar than we are different. As such, we are all brothers and sisters who, on our own, are powerless to save ourselves. And we are all in need of the heart of Christmas and the power and presence of Jesus – born to save us, to give us life and to enfold us in his peace.

The surest way for us to encounter the saving power and presence of Jesus – particularly in the midst of these unsettling times – is to seek him out in those places where he has told us he will be found. Recognize and embrace Jesus as we feed the hungry, care for the sick, embrace the outcast, forgive generously, love unconditionally and welcome into our hearts his living presence in the Holy Eucharist, the source and summit of our lives.

Brothers and sisters, we have been told where to look to find acceptance, forgiveness and mercy and we have learned what is necessary in order for us to give life to Jesus in a world that so desperately needs to experience his saving grace. During these days that continue to challenge our peace, may we pray for the wisdom and humility to open our lives to this great mystery of faith that we celebrate through the Incarnation of Christ. Therein alone, we will find the true and lasting reason for our hope!

With gratitude for the privilege of serving as your Bishop and with prayers for a holy and blessed Christmas for you, your family and all you hold dear, I am,

Faithfully yours in Christ,

Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton

 

 

 

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Just a few days ago on October 3, we celebrated the feast day of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Affectionately known to many as the “Little Flower,” St. Thérèse is the patroness of the Missions. Perhaps the great paradox of her patronage is that Thérèse never left her cloister. Her entire religious life was lived out in her humble convent in Lisieux, France. Though she desired so deeply to be a missionary, she was compelled to live a life of relative obscurity, to become a missionary through her prayer, her sacrifice and the “little way” that defined her life and has inspired the lives of many.

Thérèse’s simple life reminds me of a quotation from another saintly missionary, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “do small things with great love.” Each of us has been compelled to encounter how to carry out the Christian way of life in our own “cloisters” as pandemic restrictions had us holed up in our homes in the early months of COVID-19. Somehow, our lives as people of faith and as disciples of Jesus Christ had to carry on. Admittedly, to do so we had to find creative ways to be faithful to our worship and acts of prayer as our public worship was curtailed. We found ways to reach out to family and neighbors even as we were limited in our physical contact with them and discovered opportunities to support the poor and vulnerable as so many religious and social service agencies found it challenging to meet their needs.

This is the crux of missionary discipleship. Certainly, many have and will continue to travel to places throughout the world to serve as missionaries. Indeed, in our own country, missionaries will continue to serve the needs of the poor and marginalized as they seek to alleviate their burdens. And, yes, many will continue to serve with a missionary zeal in a spirit of servant leadership from their homes. Not everyone—whether it’s because of illness, age, or other circumstances—can leave their homes to engage the mission entrusted to them. Much can be learned from the example of St. Thérèse who, despite never leaving her cloister, is among the most notable missionaries in our Church.

In his message for World Mission Sunday, Pope Francis spoke of “a temptation to disguise and justify indifference and apathy in the name of healthy social distancing…” However, he went on to highlight that there is an “urgent need for the mission of compassion, which can make that necessary distancing an opportunity for encounter, care and promotion.” Surely, even from a distance we can serve and can encounter. Let us endeavor to do so spurred on by the life of St. Thérèse and the Gospel mandate to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19).

Faithfully yours in Christ,

The Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton

 

Dear Friends,

This year, as we traditionally set aside the month of October to reflect upon the sublime treasure that is ours in the gift of human life, we are invited to focus upon Saint Joseph and his place within the Holy Family. As the great defender of the life of our Savior, Jesus, and of Mary, his mother, we implore his intercession as we seek to live as disciples of Jesus who treasure God’s gift of life.

In the gospel of Saint Matthew, Saint Joseph is described as a man of deep faith, who, despite his uncertainty about the events surrounding the birth of Jesus, is willing to set aside his own judgments and instead place his trust unwaveringly in the power of God. For Saint Joseph, God was in control and that was all that mattered.

During the course of the past year and a half, our world has battled the coronavirus that has taken the lives of over 4.5 million people throughout the world, including over 650-thousand Americans. For all of the different perspectives that have been brought to bear upon this pandemic, one thing is clear. Despite our creativity, our ingenuity and our resolve to care for our world and to determine our future according to our own plan, we are not in control!

That power, as Saint Joseph reminds us, belongs to God.

Sadly, however, we haven’t yet learned this valuable lesson as we continually fail to fully appreciate the treasure that we have been given in the gift of life. It is rather paradoxical that in reflecting upon all of the efforts being engaged to confront a virus that has the potential to destroy life, we’re often conflicted in our perspective upon this unique and singular gift of God. In the midst of the current health crisis, we continually set aside convenience and personal comfort and go to great lengths to protect our children, our families and our neighbors. And so we should! Yet, at the same time, many of us fail to acknowledge or care that the very foundational building blocks of a just world for all forms of human life are being undermined at an alarming rate.

Threats to human life increasingly abound in our world today, most notably the taking of innocent life through the scourge of abortion.

Yet, we’re also confronted with proposals and policies that favor assisted suicide, euthanasia, infanticide and human cloning. These too are dire threats to our belief in the dignity and value of the human person – as are the death penalty, human trafficking, unjust immigration laws and the dire consequences of war.

Sadly, while many of us as Catholics and people of good will are deeply committed to the protection of life in its earliest moments at conception, we can often be somewhat arbitrary in our assessment of other lives and their value and worth.

Unfortunately, brothers and sisters, such an approach towards the sanctity of human life has consequences. We’ve experienced the slippery slope that ensued following the legalization of abortion almost 50 years ago. When we rationalize why the taking of one life should be allowed, every life is in jeopardy.

Several months ago, in reflecting upon the growing lack of respect for our global environment, Pope Francis linked his concerns for our common home to an ever-diminishing sense of respect for the gift of human life.

Pope Francis stated, “Everything is connected. It is the same indifference, the same selfishness, the same greed, the same pride, the same claim to be the master and despot of the world that lead human beings, on the one hand, to destroy species and plunder natural resources, and on the other, to exploit misery, to abuse the work of women and children, to overturn the laws of the family cell, to no longer respect the right to human life from conception to natural end.”

Brothers and sisters, as Pope Francis has noted so well, we are all “connected” and we are all a part of one – and the same – human family. As such, may we be humble enough to set aside the divisions that separate us and to embrace the lessons that we have learned during the course of the global pandemic that continues to ravage our world.

Though well beyond our ability to determine or control, life, from the moment of conception to natural end, is a gift to treasure and respect. We do so, however, not solely through the words we speak or by our self-righteous criticisms of those whose beliefs may appear to be different from our own. We treasure and respect life best when we set aside our differences and, within the lived experiences that we’ve been given, begin to treat one another with reverence and dignity as children of one and the same God.

Saint Joseph, defender of life, pray for us!

Faithfully yours in Christ,

Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton

 

 

“As we mark the twentieth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, we remember and pray for all those who lost their lives, as well as their family and friends, and those individuals who continue to carry the physical and emotional burdens of that terrible day.

“Over the last two decades, the people of our great nation have shared so many feelings – ranging from anger and shock – to loss and pain – to a determination to never forget. On this somber anniversary, we must continue to honor the selflessness of our first responders – including our brave firefighters, police, emergency workers and port authority personnel — as well as the heroism of ordinary citizens who were willing to sacrifice their own lives for others.

“In the immediate aftermath of that terrible day, our faith lifted us up and sustained us. Our nation turned to God in prayer and in faith with a new intensity. Let us continue to turn to God as our source of strength, comfort and peace in challenging times.

“In the words that Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI both used while visiting Ground Zero,

‘O Lord, comfort and console us, strengthen us in hope, and give us the wisdom and courage to work tirelessly for a world where true peace and love reign among nations and in the hearts of all.’”

 

On Friday, July 16, 2021, Pope Francis issued the Apostolic Letter, Traditionis Custodes, concerning the use of the Roman Liturgy prior to the reform of 1970. On the same day, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, encouraged the Bishops of our country to “work with care, patience, justice and charity” as the new norms are implemented.

Presently in the Diocese of Scranton, the Traditional Latin Mass is celebrated at Saint Michael the Archangel Church in Scranton under the stewardship of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter. That arrangement will continue until further study and guidance can inform the appropriate implementation of the motu proprio in accord with the directives of the Holy Father.  Diocesan priests who, in the past, have celebrated Mass according to the Missale Romanum of 1962 are to explicitly request from the diocesan Bishop authorization to continue to do so.

I ask all of you to join me in continuing to foster the unity among all Catholics throughout the world that Pope Francis desires in his latest teaching.

Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton

 

July 15, 2021

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

For more than a year, the COVID-19 pandemic has posed unique challenges in our lives. It has brought hardship and struggle to some – separation, anxiety and isolation to others. We pray for those who have been directly affected by the virus, those that are still impacted by its effects and those who have lost loved ones.

Since March 2020, there has been a dispensation in the Diocese of Scranton from the obligation to participate at Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. In light of the continued decline in cases and hospitalizations locally, that dispensation will end on Sunday, August 15, 2021, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This change will occur in each diocese in Pennsylvania on the same date.

The Sunday celebration of Mass is the center of the Church’s life. The importance – and necessity – to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days is rooted in our Baptism as Christians. Baptism compels us, as Christians, to unite ourselves with Christ at the altar in his saving Sacrifice of the Cross. Put simply, attending Mass is an encounter with Our Risen Lord.

This is a moment to thank God anew for the great gift of the Mass and the Real Presence of Jesus to us in His Holy Body and Blood as well as the joy of gathering together as people of faith.

As Pope Francis reminded us in his 2013 Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.” Long before we knew a pandemic was on the horizon, the Holy Father reminded us the Sunday encounter gives us the strength to experience the present with confidence and courage and to go forth with hope.

I invite and encourage all of the faithful in our community – including those who may have left the Church long before the pandemic – to return to the Table of the Lord – and be nourished by the Bread of Life! Our participation at Mass in-person is a gift for our own spiritual well-being, happiness and eternal salvation.  It is also our responsibility to our brothers and sisters with whom we journey in faith.

It is important to note that people who are seriously ill or have a serious health risk, as well as those who have significant fear or anxiety of being part of a large group will continue to be legitimately excused from participating in Mass on Sundays and Holy Days. Those individuals are still encouraged to spend time in prayer, meditating on the Death and Resurrection of the Lord, reading Sacred Scripture and uniting themselves to Christ in his worship of the Father of us all.

Please continue to pray for all of our clergy and religious – who work tirelessly to make sure our parish communities remain safe and vibrant!

Faithfully yours in Christ,

†Joseph C. Bambera
Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton