October 9, 2009

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Answering students’ questions about faith and being an archbishop

Last spring, I received letters from students preparing for first Communion and confirmation at our 175th archdiocesan anniversary celebration. I promised that I would answer some of the students’ notes and questions after the beginning of this new academic year.

Miguel wrote from St. Philip Neri Parish’s confirmation class. He named the prayers he had to learn, the seven sacraments and other items of faith. He added: “I am glad that I am going to be confirmed and my younger sister, Rocio, also. … I am kind of a slow learner because I play around and I also talk a lot but I can’t help it. Please pray for me that I will be able to change my life. Also pray for my family. Thank you.”

Miguel, I will pray for your intentions and that you grow in faith and behavior, but I think you are on the right path.

Elijah from St. Simon the Apostle Parish wrote: “Thanks for being our archbishop. Do you like being an archbishop? Do you really get a ring when you become an archbishop? I hope you answer my questions.”

Elijah, thanks for your note. It sounds like you and your classmates were studying about the sacrament of holy orders. Sept. 9 marked my 17th anniversary as Archbishop of Indianapolis.

It is a privilege to be your archbishop as the years fly by. When a priest is ordained a bishop, he is given a ring as a sign of his commitment to the diocese that he will serve. The meaning of the ring is something like a wedding ring; it represents the love of the archbishop for his people.

Megan, a fifth-grader (last year) from St. Simon the Apostle Parish, wrote that she learned “that you received holy orders three times [deacon, priest and bishop]. Do you regret being an archbishop? Do you like being a bishop? Thank you so much for your work.”

Megan, I never expected to receive all three of the holy orders when I was preparing to be a priest. A deacon is ordained to serve people in the ministry of charity. A priest is ordained for that too, but also for offering the Eucharist, celebrating other sacraments and preaching the Gospel. A bishop has the added privilege of ordaining deacons and priests. I have loved all three orders, and thank God over and over again that I was called to serve.

Maggie from St. Simon the Apostle Parish wanted to know what color my ring is. And which of the three orders (deacon, priest, and bishop) was my favorite. She wrote “you are so cool for doing this!”

Maggie, I don’t know if I can really answer your question about my favorite order. All three have two things in common: We are ordained to serve God and the people of God, and we are ordained to proclaim and preach the Gospel and the teachings of Jesus.

As for the color of my ring, the one given to me when I became a bishop had a black onyx stone. Since that ordination, people have given me other rings. The one that I wear most every day is gold-plated in the shape of a miter, the bishop’s hat.

Matthew, from St. Simon the Apostle Parish, asked: “What is it like to have so much responsibility and power? Is it fun to have that much power? I don’t have much power in the Church. I wish I could be you.”

Matthew, you have it right that an archbishop has a lot of responsibility in the Church. I don’t look at that so much as a matter of power, but as an obligation to serve God and the people of God. We are ordained to serve, not to lord it over people. I hope some day you are ordained to serve God and his people. Maybe you will be an archbishop.

Jack, from Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish’s first Communion class, asked three questions: “How do you pass on the power to other priests to change the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus? Has Jesus ever appeared to you? How did you celebrate your first Communion day?”

Jack, those are three good questions. When a priest is ordained, he receives from Christ through the Church the power to change the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Do you notice at Mass that it is Christ who says, “This is my body; this is my blood?” Jesus consecrates through the priest.

Jesus has not appeared to me physically as the God-man, but I know him present in mystery in the Blessed Sacrament.

My first Communion day was many years ago, but I remember that after the Mass we had a large family gathering at my parents’ home.

That afternoon, I received the sacrament of confirmation from the bishop of Evansville. †

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