Installation Mass Homily
Meymandi Hall, Raleigh, North Carolina
Feast of Saint John Vianney
August 4, 2006
A few days prior to my being informed that I was named the new bishop of Raleigh, I had the privilege of celebrating a Mass of Thanksgiving with newly ordained priests. I reminded them of the words that Pope Benedict XVI spoke to all priests in his Chrism Mass homily: [On your ordination day], the Holy Father stated, "Jesus took possession of you, saying, 'You belong to me.' However, in saying this he also said, 'You are under the protection of my hands. You are under the protection of my heart. You are kept safely in the palm of my hands, and this is precisely how you find yourself in the immensity of my love. Stay in my hands and give me yours.'" I believe this is the same invitation the Lord is offering to all of us in the Diocese of Raleigh at this new and historic moment, and to all who gather in His name.
What does it mean to stay in the hands of Jesus? It requires the acknowledgment of our utter dependence on God and having a deeply grateful heart for His goodness to us. Today, my heart is filled with such thankfulness and joy.
First, I am profoundly grateful to Almighty God for the call to serve Him and His people as priest and bishop.
I express gratitude to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for his confidence in appointing me the fifth Bishop of Raleigh, a diocese that is vibrant and on fire with the gift of the Holy Spirit.
I am grateful to Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the apostolic nuncio, for his fraternal care. Archbishop Sambi is represented today by Monsignor Krebs, and we are thankful for his presence.
I am honored to have been installed by Archbishop Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Atlanta, and I am ever grateful for his support.
I express heartfelt gratitude to Bishop Joseph Gossman for his dedicated service to this diocese for the past 31 years. You have welcomed me so graciously, and I am deeply touched by your promise to support me in any way possible. Bishop Gossman, on behalf of all who gather today, we express gratitude for the gift you are and will remain to this diocese and the entire church.
Our diocese is honored today by the presence of my brother bishops and, in particular, by the presence of their Eminences, Cardinal Keeler, Cardinal Rigali, Cardinal Bevilacqua and Cardinal McCarrick.
I am thankful to the ecumenical and religious leaders, members of the interfaith community, and brothers and sisters of all the faiths represented today for your commitment to serve together for the glory of God.
I extend a cordial welcome to Governor and Mrs. Easley and Mayor Meeker and to all civic officials. I look forward to working with you and all people of goodwill on behalf of the dignity of the human person.
I appreciate the welcome extended to me by all those in the Diocese of Raleigh. I thank you for your greetings and assurance of prayers. (In particular, I remember one hand-created card by a youngster in summer bible school who wrote, "Bishop, Welcome to our hearts and our lives. So far it seems as if my family and I are going to like you!")
I am thankful to all the priests in the Diocese of Raleigh for your warm reception. As the ordination rite reminds us, you are the first among the collaborators of the bishop in leadership and service. Many of those you serve have mentioned to me in their greetings the great love they have for you. Be assured of my desire to assist you as you carry out your pastoral ministry, and the same promise is extended to our pastoral administrators.
I also appreciate the generous ministry of service given by our permanent deacons. A thank you is expressed to your wives and those family members and friends who support you.
This diocese is blessed by the generosity of numerous religious congregations whose members serve in varied apostolates throughout this local church. Thank you for your countless contributions.
I am proud of the seminarians who are here today. You and all those preparing for religious life are a source of inspiration for us and remind us of the words in today's Gospel: "The harvest is good but the laborers are scarce. Beg the harvest master to send out laborers to gather his harvest." I am convinced the Lord Jesus is calling many of our young people to follow and to serve Him as priests and consecrated religious. One college student who wrote to me this summer shares my conviction. Listen to his words:
"The youth of Raleigh are in love with Christ and His Church. And with that love, the potential for vocations to the priesthood and religious life here in this diocese is abundant. I believe it is my generation that will end the priest shortage and begin to fill the seminaries and religious houses of this nation with zeal and joy for our Lord Jesus."
It is a priority for me to work constantly on behalf of promoting vocations. I make an earnest appeal to our young people here today and to those watching through the media to seriously consider if Jesus is calling you to follow him as a priest or religious. I beg all in the Diocese of Raleigh to pray daily that our Lord Jesus will bless our local church with more priests and with an increase of vocations to the religious life.
To the church in Philadelphia represented here today by Cardinal Rigali, Cardinal Bevilacqua, my brother bishops, priests, deacons, religious, seminarians and many other lay faithful: You know of my deep affection for you and words cannot express the appreciation I have for your presence today. You will always be in my heart, and I count on you being close to me in thought and prayer.
And in a special way, I am thankful to Almighty God for the gift of my dear parents, who are a powerful example of faithful married love for these past 54 years. How blessed I am to have them with me today! I remember you, Mom and Dad, at this Mass as well as my best friend and brother, Fran; his daughter Kelly and her fiancé, Walt; my niece, Chrissy, and nephew, Franny; and all of you, my dear family members and friends in Christ Jesus.
Along with having a grateful heart, staying in the hands of Jesus demands a commitment to grow in holiness. What a perfect example we have in the life of Saint John Vianney, whose feast we celebrate today. With God's grace, this holy and humble man, though challenged intellectually, transformed the village and people he was sent to serve. No wonder he is the patron of parish priests! He constantly reminded those entrusted to his care of the basic spiritual practices that lead us closer to our Lord Jesus. He summarized these practices in this Easter homily:
"Let us break the bonds of sin, let us live in God, let us promise anew fidelity to Jesus Christ, and let us stand firmly in the faith. Then, one day we shall arise gloriously; we shall be transformed, and we shall possess the kingdom that has been prepared for us from the beginning of time."
Like the people Saint John Vianney served, we are called to ongoing conversion and transformation. My brothers and sisters in Christ, may we use this day to renew our commitment to build upon the great foundations that have been established in this diocese and rededicate ourselves to responding to the challenges Saint John Vianney preached to his people. With God's grace:
Let us break the bonds of sin: St. John Vianney went through the streets, preaching the need for people to turn away from sin and to celebrate God's forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Imagine the ongoing transformation that would take place in our diocese and in our lives if we abandoned those patterns of living that are not of God and sought his pardon with the conviction that no sin or failure is greater than His love and mercy.
Let us live in God especially in prayer and the Eucharist. Saint John Vianney could never understand his parishioners when they told him they were too busy to pray and would ask what could be more important than being and living with God. It is the same message conveyed by Pope John Paul II in his Letter on the Eucharist. He said:
"Christians must be distinguished more than ever by the art of prayer," and then stated, "How can we not feel a renewed need to spend time in spiritual conversation, in silent adoration, in heartfelt love before Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament."
Imagine the ongoing transformation that would take place in our diocese and in our lives if we allowed time each day to be quiet in the Lord's presence and discovered a renewed reverence and deeper appreciation for the Eucharist as the source and summit of our lives.
Let us promise fidelity anew to Jesus Christ and stand firmly in our faith. Like many other new bishops, I have been asked, "What is your mission?" and "What are your goals?" The answer is the same for any bishop and for any follower of Christ: the clear and unequivocal proclamation of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom which He has gained for us by his suffering, death and Resurrection.
Imagine the ongoing transformation that would take place in this diocese and in our lives if we were renewed in our commitment to proclaim Jesus with clarity, compassion, conviction and with a strong fidelity to our holy Catholic faith, to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to the teachings of the Church rooted in this Gospel, especially those found in the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
We who have been called to stay in the hands of Jesus are also asked to give our hands to Him. This past year I celebrated a Mass during which some who gathered received the Sacrament of Anointing. Most of the people were cancer victims. As I was greeting the people entering the church, one young woman told me of her condition and that there was little hope for recovery. Certainly, I assured her of my prayers and asked if there was anything else I could do. She obviously noticed my sense of helplessness and said, "It is okay, just give me Jesus."
Just as in the days of the disciples and the era in which Saint John Vianney lived, there are so many people in our world who, in spoken words and in the silence of their hearts, are saying to us, "Just give me Jesus. Give me Jesus."
To respond to that plea we must be mindful of what is required of us as conveyed by the prophet Micah in our First Reading: "To do the right and to love goodness and to walk humbly with God." Today, then, we renew the commitments conveyed in the mission statement of the Diocese of Raleigh, to use our time, talents and resources to:
- advocate the worth and dignity of the human person from the moment of conception to natural death;
- eradicate the causes of division and polarization;
- and promote greater social justice in the cause of peace.
We could easily be overwhelmed by these challenges. However, we must remember that the transformation Saint John Vianney's village experienced was not overnight. It happened slowly and steadily, required patience and perseverance and demanded that people work together calmly and consistently. In the Prayer of the Faithful today we hear the echoes of the many ethnic backgrounds and rich traditions that are part of our diocese, including the blessings of a growing African and Hispanic population. We are united in one faith, one baptism and one creed.
Just as the disciples in today's Gospel we -- the ordained, consecrated religious, married couples, single persons and all the lay faithful -- must strive daily, with God's grace, to dispel the demons of abortion, abuse in all its forms, pornography, poverty, prejudice and injustice of any kind, and must seek to bring the healing love of Jesus to our parishes, campuses, hospitals, prisons, institutions, workplaces and wherever we serve.
However, we can never do this alone. The words of the prophet Micah must resonate in our hearts as he tells us "to walk humbly with God." Without God all our efforts are in vain. It is essential that we call upon the love of the Father, the grace of His Son and the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all that we do, so that in and through us the Lord will continue to work miracles and accomplish mighty deeds.
Thus, nourished today by Word and Sacrament, we seek the intercession of Saint John Vianney and Mary our Mother so that all of us in this diocese and throughout the entire church may stay in the hands of Jesus and give him ours as we continue to walk humbly with God. Then one day "we shall arise gloriously, we shall be transformed, and we shall possess the kingdom that has been prepared for us from the beginning of time." Amen.