November 13, 2009

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Bishops and priests proclaim Christ as our hope in the world

The Holy Father honors our archdiocese, and especially our presbyterate, in naming one of our own priests as the eighth Bishop of the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyo.

Bishop-elect Paul D. Etienne has been a beloved pastor here, and he will be the same in Wyoming.

When Bishop Etienne is ordained on Dec. 9, he becomes a successor of the Apostles.

At his ordination, we cannot help but think of the 12 Apostles. They poured out their life’s blood for love of Jesus Christ and the community of believers. Their intriguing, checkered lives are wonderful testimony that God does great things for us despite our humanity.

Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara used to say, “Isn’t it marvelous how much good God accomplishes in spite of ourselves?”

Speaking about the office of a bishop and a priest in his apostolic letter on priestly formation, the late Pope John Paul II quoted from St. Augustine, who was speaking for bishops at a celebration of the martyrdom of Sts. Peter and Paul centuries ago: “We are your shepherds, with you we receive nourishment. May the Lord give us the strength to love you to the extent of dying for you either in fact or in desire.”

We are sometimes asked, What is it like to be a bishop these days? What does it take?

A bishop has to be strong. A bishop is a martyr, not in the “poor me” sense, rather in the original sense of the Greek word. He is a witness like Peter, saying with his very life, “You are Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Mt 16:16).

In a secularized world that believes only in what it sees, by his consecration and by what he does, Bishop Etienne becomes a witness to Mystery.

The very life and identity of the bishop (and of priests) are rooted in the order of faith, the order of the unseen, and not in the secular order of values. And so, in a secular society, the challenge to be a spiritual and moral leader is great. Above all, this means our very lives testify that our human family needs God in a world that would often believe otherwise.

Bishops and priests are visible sacraments of the priesthood of Jesus Christ in a world that needs to see and hear and touch Jesus—and is no longer sure it can.

In a divided world, along with the priests of the diocese, Bishop Etienne will be a humble servant of unity—unity in the faith of the Church and unity in the charity of Christ.

Without humility, one does not serve. Without humility, one does not build community. In a note for my silver anniversary as a priest, Mother Teresa wrote, “Be humble like Mary, and you will be holy like Jesus.”

In a world where so many people do not know Christ, Bishop Etienne will become the chief teacher of the Diocese of Cheyenne in the person of Christ the Teacher.

And so like the Apostles, by episcopal ordination, Bishop Etienne will be charged to be a living sacrament of the paschal mystery of God, to be a humble servant for the unity of the Body of Christ, and to be Teacher in the Person of Christ, the Head of the Body of the Church. What an awesome life!

When we say a bishop or priest is a witness to Mystery, we say he must be able to live the paschal mystery in a way that he knows how to lead the people of God to participate in it. That means many things.

Right at the heart of the paschal mystery stands the Cross of Christ. We may not try to short-circuit the paschal mystery by trying to side-step the centrality of the Crucifixion as the way to the glory of resurrection. God’s love is freely given, but free grace is not cheap grace. Bishops and priests are called to preach Jesus Christ.

The identity of the Church, the identity of the community at prayer, is rooted in the mystery of God. The identity of the bishop and priest is rooted in the mystery of Christ. It doesn’t work to try to understand priestly ministry and identity apart from the mystery of Christ. And so, we are often misunderstood.

The single driving motive for the call to ministry in the Church is love of Jesus Christ, and love of him moves us to a pastoral love for the many and not just for an exclusive few. Love of God is the motive that leads us to want to serve and not be served.

The pastoral love of Christ in us serves unity and communion in the Church in a divided world. We bishops and priests proclaim Christ our hope in a world longing for hope. †

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