US Ambassador bids farewell
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US Ambassador bids farewell

Disappointed? Yes. Devastated? No. Defeated? Never

By now, many know that these are my final weeks in Malta. An unfortunate rebuke for refusing to either suppress the relevance of faith in my life and writing or to disregard the President’s assignment to promote inter-faith dialogue has prompted me to offer my resignation to the President, which he may or may not have accepted. It’s unclear.

Many have rushed to my side expressing anger and disbelief that the US, founded on the self-evident truth that men and women are created equal with inalienable rights, would tolerate such injustice.

I have been deeply moved by your empathy and concern and the love it represents. You need not be concerned over the direction of our President or our nation. The soulless, secular censorship of a few is not representative of the many.

Our founders knew “men are not angels” and our democratic system is sometimes flawed, but the stars and stripes fly proudly and all the misdirected inspectors general cannot erase what our Supreme Court long ago proclaimed: “we are a religious people, and our institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.”

I may have been rebuked by a group holding their hymnals upside down, but at the very same time in the White House, President Barack Obama held a prayer breakfast in which he commented that our lives are busy, “But then comes Holy Week... And we’re reminded that in that moment, He took on the sins of the world – past, present and future – and He extended to us that unfathomable gift of grace and salvation through His death and resurrection.”

The President’s open affirmation of the significance of Divine grace in our hectic, information-overloaded existence is reminiscent of the message of hope and social justice that brought me to his side in 2008 to help him win the Catholic vote.

Unlike other candidates who used religion to divide, candidate Obama searched for common ground.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that many thoughtful friends in Malta and America were deeply offended when I seemingly was “rebuked”for following the President’sdirection as practical wisdom and the Holy Spirit would guide me.

A groundswell effort to reachthe President to ask him to decline my offered resignation wentunanswered.

Disappointed? Yes. Devastated? No. Defeated? Never. Is there an explanation or is it like the way grace works in our lives, unfathomable? It troubles me deeply not to know.

It is now added to the list of life’s mysteries. What happened is as unfathomable as what caused me to experience a sudden, loss of consciousness last summer. Seated in a classroom replaying one of my interviews with Joe Borg, who would notice? Alas, behind the wheel of a car on a steep canyon pass, the result was hauntingly tragic.

Losing my father and my two best friends in a span of weeks, and requiring multiple surgeries myself, the cross seems heavy, until, of course, we remember the one Jesus carried.

Moreover, even as my mindis etched with sadness of ouranticipated separation, I cannot help but recall that it was President Obama who brought me here, to Malta, where faith abounds. Scheduled to leave now on the Feast of the Visitation (May 31), my time grows short and my heart already mourns a premature farewell.

Yet, let us rejoice together on Easter that it is not to sadness and fear that men and women are called, but to eternal happiness.

Both the wonderful and the worrisome have significance in God’s overall plan for the universe. We cannot always know what it is, and believe me we don’t, but as Job in the Old Testament asked more quizzically than not, “shall we accept the good from God, but not trouble?”

The tragedies and truculent bureaucrats of my recent ambassadorial life are more than balanced by, as I have said many times, the “uncommon kindness” of the Maltese people and the beauty of the grand cathedrals, they fill. And this mustard seed faith of ours is sprouting all about this extraordinary island.

The “good news” is spread by the liveliness of St Mary’s in Attard, the smiling welcomes of Balzan, the hardworking sisters of Good Shepherd, the unassuming warmth of the Abelas and sound morning instruction of Fr Mangion at San Anton.

I confess I didn’t make it to all 365 churches, as I promised Barack. But truth be told I suspect there are actually far more sanctuaries tucked away than a full year’s worth of chapels and churches. My Mass visits allowed me to feel the real presence among so many.

My Maltese, as hard as I try to “lilek ukoll” (same to you) with the best of you, I fear sounds disturbingly like a mobile phone with (very) bad reception. Moreover, my weekly language lesson with Ambassador (George) Doublesin must have earned this truly gentle man thousands of days of indulgence for patience alone.

Blessings everywhere as far as the tired but loving eyes of the Ambaxxatur Amerikan can see. You have made it so.

Yes, in a reflectively sombre moment, what happened last week gnaws at who we are as a people because we know by nature and revelation what is right and what is wrong.

“Even a dog knows the difference between being tripped over and being kicked.” I do too.

True, the President did not intervene. One close White House adviser said: “you cannot realistically expect the leader of the free world to stop everything to rescue you from bad guys.”

Maybe not. The cavalry should not be confused with Calvary: the first shows up in the final reel of fictional movies; the second is the authentic account of not just the leader, but the creator, of all the world, who knows us each by name and specialises in shielding us from “bad guys,” and best of all, He is always with us. He is risen! Alleluia.

L-Għid it-tajjeb, I shall miss you. I do already.

The views expressed are personal to the author and do not necessarily represent in any way the US Department of State.

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