Last week the mayor of our town committed suicide. Implicated in tax evasion and apparently unable to account for thousands of dollars from an estate he administered years ago, he was found at his home after failing to appear for a court hearing.
This post is not about any of that.
Following the news our new ordinary, Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, issued a press release expressing his condolences and offering prayers for the mayor and his family. Three days later he issued a press release explaining why, even though the mayor had committed suicide, he was still to be given a Christian burial.
At first I was bothered by these press releases. Why was the bishop inserting himself into the story, especially when the releases did not seem to come from any media inquiry? Lots of politicians who had worked with the mayor were releasing statements, but our bishop was just installed this summer and had no real working relationship with him. Was this just a case of a nosy prelate wanting to get his name in the papers?
While I don’t yet know my new boss real well, that doesn’t seem to be his modus operandi, so I thought a little harder about it. Finally, it dawned on me: he’s acting exactly as bishops and religious leaders have acted through the ages, explaining the faith and offering words of prayer and counsel in difficult times. In that light, the releases shouldn’t be that troubling — they are just a more modern way of “spreading the word.”
In fact, I would go so far as to say that the bishop’s press releases are a form of the New Evangelization, reminding a culture that has turned its back on the faith that the Church has a place in the public square and a message that can’t be found in any secular venue. Seeing the bishop’s words of condolence in a newspaper article is another reminder that the faith continues to have a place in the lives of citizens and a prophetic role in play in the culture.
Press releases as culture renewal. Who woulda guessed?