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Take a Moment to Consider What Has Been Passed on to You

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Father David Bonnar“Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as … as … a fiddler on the roof!” — Tevye, “Fiddler on the Roof”

Where would we be in life without our traditions? These symbolic rituals, passed on throughout time, give meaning and order to our lives. The holy season of Advent is marked with many traditions that touch our families and communities. These annual moments become integral to our Advent observance.

For as long as I can remember, our diocese has had a tradition of holding an annual Advent Clergy Vesper Service. Before the actual service, the clergy have an opportunity to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Following the service, it is the custom to remain at the seminary for a social and dinner.

Due to the pandemic, this year our clergy were unable to gather together in a customary way. Nevertheless, the tradition continued, albeit virtually. And this year, because I will be leaving our diocese to become the sixth bishop of Youngstown, our bishop asked me to deliver the homily for the evening prayer. I was both humbled and grateful to be given this opportunity because it allowed me to greet my brothers in the clergy one last time before I become an Ohioan. The experience also provided me with an occasion to mark what is happening in my life and to seek the prayers of my brothers.

In my reflection, I noted that Advent is typically a time to restart the spiritual life. The new liturgical year and the changing of the breviary offer a great moment to begin anew.

Nevertheless, the message that evening from God’s Word did not center on “start” as much as it did “stop.” In the reading from 1 Corinthians 4:5, we heard these words, “Therefore, do not make any judgment before the appointed time, until the Lord comes.”

As brothers, we can, in our humanness, pass on all kinds of judgment about one another. It is bad enough that we have the judgment in our minds, but then to actually pass it on to others is dangerous. Why do we do this? Perhaps because it is easier to see the faults of others more than our own. We all need, from time to time, to hear the words of Jesus who said, “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?” (Mt 7:3).

The call we face as priests is not to pass judgment about our brothers but to pass on gifts and graces. I find it interesting how, as diocesan priests, we are sent by the bishop to live with men we ourselves would never envision choosing to live with. And yet, as I reflect on my 32 years of ministry in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, I am grateful for the many lessons passed on to me by the brothers with whom I have lived and served.

The evening of our vesper service, I took a moment in the homily to share with the brothers some of those lessons, too many to mention in this space. My point in doing so was to let them know that we all have positive things to pass on to one another. As different as we are, we can become not only brothers but friends. More importantly, we can become one as a presbyterate.

This Advent, take a moment to consider what has been passed on to you by your brothers. Also, trust that by God’s grace you have passed on some great lessons as well.

Thank God for traditions!

BISHOP-ELECT DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest and a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, was appointed bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown on Nov. 17, 2020.

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