When God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, Moses feared “looking upon God.” It is not an unreasonable reaction to an encounter with the infinite. Like all human beings, Moses was a mere mortal creature, flawed and sinful. How could he dare to look upon the all powerful, all knowing, eternal God? Happily, Moses survived to tell the tale to the people of God. He survived because the Lord drew near to Moses, calling him by name. The Lord announced: “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”
The Lord then announced divine compassion for his people, and his intention to liberate them from slavery. When Moses realized that he was being sent to accomplish this task, he was afraid once again. The Lord reassured Moses that “I am with you” and offered the Lord’s own name, translated into English as “I Am Who Am.” The name here, a verb in Hebrew, may also be translated in the sense of “I am with you.”
At the heart of this passage in Exodus 3 is the shocking truth that the one who is all powerful, all knowing and eternal — the creator and Lord of all that is compassionate and loving — desires to be with his people, to walk with them, to accompany them. The scriptures teach that God’s ways are not like our ways. This is good news, for when people gain power, it is too often self-interest that comes to the fore. Domination, exploitation and injustice march across human history. How fortunate we are that the only truly powerful one is love itself. While human interactions are usually transactional, the Lord is relational.
From the beginning of his Pontificate, Pope Francis has been drawing our attention to this deeply biblical truth of accompaniment. It is a truth revealed in the passage from Exodus, and in many others. Above all, it is a truth revealed in the person of Jesus Christ who is the ultimate expression of God’s accompaniment of his people. The Holy Father draws us to reflect upon this mystery, to rejoice in it and to live its expression in our own lives. We are not, and never will be, alone. The one who is all powerful does not “lord it over us,” but loves us with the very gift of his own life. Pope Francis summons us to magnify this divine generosity in our own compassionate and loving accompaniment of one another.
With the gift of accompaniment in mind, I have a favor to ask of you. In a little over a month, I will join the priests of Providence for the biannual convocation. The convocation offers priests three days for prayer, fellowship and discussion. These good men accompany me as the diocesan bishop, and I rely upon them. I need this opportunity to consult with them, to hear them, to learn from them and to encourage them. I will be asking that they all participate.
To do this, we will not be able to provide daily Mass on those two days in every parish of the diocese. Of course, funerals will still be celebrated, but I will be asking pastors to work together to provide Masses in select parishes across the diocese. I am grateful for our daily Mass folks — you spiritually accompany all of us, priests and people. I hope that you will be understanding if on those two days you might have to visit a neighboring parish for Mass. And I ask you to pray for us as we meet — that we will be holy and compassionate priests of Jesus Christ who rejoice to accompany his people.