Outgoing USCCB general secretary: 'Suffering takes the inner shape of endurance'

Brian Bransfield at USCCB 2020 Msgr. Brian Bransfield speaks during the USCCB's Fall General Assembly, Nov. 17, 2020. | USCCB.

Outgoing USCCB general secretary Monsignor Brian Bransfield on Tuesday praised the U.S. bishops whom he has served for the past 13 years, and offered a reflection on suffering and endurance in the spiritual life.

"You have taught me endurance, joy and hope," Msgr. Bransfield said Nov. 17, praising the leadership of the bishops' conference, both clerical and lay.

"I will be rooting for you, praying for you, and I will continue to be grateful to you for your sacred ministry," he said.

Msgr. Bransfield has served as conference's general secretary since 2016. The general secretary, who must be a priest, is responsible for overseeing staff, committees, and projects of the USCCB, and for facilitating dialogue between the U.S. bishops and offices of the Roman curia.

From 2009-2011, Msgr. Bransfield served as assistant general secretary for the implementation of the USCCB strategic plan, and as executive director of the USCCB Secretariat for Evangelization and Catechesis. He then served at the USCCB as an associate general secretary beginning in 2011.

Throughout his tenure as general secretary, despite many of his interactions with the bishops centering around administrative tasks, Msgr. Bransfield said he has been moved by the bishops' compassion and faith, especially in the face of the sexual abuse crisis.

"I have seen you leaning only on Christ. And that leaning on Christ, that deeper endurance...transforms trials into hope. And hope is the hallmark of the Christian...the only way to transform pain into hope is by shouldering it."

Msgr. Bransfield testified that he has seen firsthand a determination among the bishops to protect minors and the vulnerable from abuse.

Reflecting on suffering, Msgr. Bransfield recalled a phone call from several years ago from his childhood parish priest, in which he learned that the priest, Father Stephen Dougherty, was dying of cancer.

For years previously, Dougherty had used a cane, because of injuries he had sustained in a train accident years before during seminary. His condition was painful, even decades later and despite many medications.

Msgr. Bransfield said to look at the priest, you would never know he was in that much pain. But at night, Dougherty was known to hold a large crucifix- approximately four by three feet in size- for comfort. He died in early 2013.

"The cross is no ordinary medicine," Msgr. Bransfield commented.

Msgr. Bransfield said Father Dougherty taught him that "suffering takes the inner shape of endurance," and that "to endure is not passive or grim, but a mysterious movement of grace, indescribable in its deepest design...suffering can never cancel hope, suffering can never revoke joy."

As general secretary, beyond mere "process and coordination," Msgr. Bransfield said he has also had the opportunity to encourage the bishops, and to accompany them.

"I see men who have the hearts of a parish priest, who every day lift burdens that others could never imagine. I see men who answer calls they never expected to get. I see men who respond to the direction of Our Lady at Canaa in John's Gospel: 'Do whatever He tells you,'" Msgr. Bransfield said.

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, the USCCB president, thanked Msgr. Bransfield for his service and "wise counsel and steady guidance" in the "thankless" but "essential" task of Church administration. Gomez said it is clear that Msgr. Bransfield's priesthood is the "great joy of his life," and thus he is delighted that Msgr. Bransfield will now return to Philadelphia to continue his priestly ministry as a pastor and writer.

Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, STL, who had served as Associate General Secretary for the USCCB since 2016, was selected for a five year term as the conference's General Secretary Nov. 16.

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