August 19, 2011

Seeking the Face of the Lord

A bishop is a humble servant of unity in the Church

As I mentioned in my column two weeks ago, I have also had numerous requests for the text of the homily from Bishop Charles C. Thompson’s episcopal ordination as the new shepherd of the Diocese of Evansville.

Following is Part 1 of his Ordination Instruction.

Ordination Instruction - Part 1

Thank you, Bishop Thompson, for saying yes to the Holy Father.

Thanks to your parents, Joyce and Coleman, and your family for supporting and encouraging your priestly vocation for the last 25 years. Sisters and brothers, let us show our appreciation for the Thompson family.

Joyce, Coleman, family and friends of Bishop-elect Thompson, Archbishop [Joseph E.] Kurtz, Archbishop [Thomas C.] Kelly, Bishop [Gerald A.] Gettelfinger, brother bishops, brother priests, deacons, seminarians, consecrated religious, sisters and brothers in Christ:

When we ordain a successor of the Apostles, we cannot help but think of the original Twelve, especially on this feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

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 the poverty of our humanity.

My predecessor, 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, Blessed 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.

St. Augustine said, “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.”

When we reflect on the succession of Bishop-elect Thompson in the apostolic tradition, we note his place in succession to Archbishop Kelly through the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin on back to Pope St. Pius X, and even into the 15th century.

That’s an awesome thought for Bishop-elect Thompson, who as a young seminarian in an interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal said: “He thought he might go to Saint Meinrad and give the seminary a try.”

Needless to say, that quote caught my attention and I allowed that much more would be expected than a try.

In fairness to Bishop Thompson, he embraced priestly formation with an open and full heart and completed the program with flying colors. Sisters and brothers, here is your Bishop-elect Thompson.

Archbishop Kurtz, I am confident that Bishop-elect Thompson will make Louisville and Evansville proud. Let me assure you seminarians, your new bishop will expect good things from you.

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 your consecration and by what you do, Bishop Thompson, you will be a witness to mystery.

The very life and identity of a 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 life testifies that our human family needs God in a world that would often believe otherwise.

We 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 that it can.

Bishop, you have heard me say more than a few times that our first duty as priests is to be men of prayer. Your patron, St. Charles Borremeo, said, “My brothers, you must realize that for us Churchmen nothing is more necessary than meditation. When you administer the sacraments, meditate on what you are doing. When you celebrate Mass, reflect on the sacrifice you are offering. When you pray the office, think about the words you are saying and the Lord to whom you are speaking. When you take care of people, meditate on the Lord’s blood that has washed them clean. In this way, all that you do becomes a work of love.”

In a divided world, along with the priests of this Diocese of Evansville, Bishop, you will be the servant of unity.

By God’s grace, we build unity and communion in two ways—unity in the faith of the Church and unity in the charity of Christ.

A bishop is a humble servant of unity in the Church. Without humility, one does not serve. Without humility, one does not build community. In a note for my silver anniversary as a priest, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta wrote, “Be humble like Mary, and you will be holy like Jesus.”

In a world where so many people do not know Christ, Bishop, you will be the chief teacher of this diocese of Evansville in the person of Christ the Teacher. †

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