Some final reflections
The Office of Bishop, said St. Augustine, is the not the name of the honor, but a work. I think the great Church father and who was Bishop of Hippo in Africa could also have written that it is a source of joy. The bishop wears a cross to remind him that he must share the cross of Christ. Indeed we are all called to this — to share in His sufferings and contribute in our small way to the work of redemption, which is always going on and the bishop must set the example.
While you do not see many comments on it, it is true that the Second Vatican Council was a council for the reform and the renewal of the Office of Bishop. It was a return to the bishop as was understood by the Fathers of the Church and in the Scriptures relative to the apostles. Here is an example:
Sent as he is by the Father to govern his family, bishop should keep before his eyes the example of the Good Shepherd: “I have come not to be waited upon, but to serve.” — Mt. 20, 28 and Mk. 10, 45
To lay down his life for his sheep.
“Destined to render their souls to God by prayer, preaching and all the good works of charity, he should be solicitous both for their welfare and for that too of those who do not belong to the unique flock, but whom he should regard as entrusted to him by the Lord.”
— Constitution on the Church
No wonder then that in the midst of its profound reflection and its historic constitution on the Church, a document most central to the teaching of that great council, the fathers chose to present these words of the great Augustine.
What I am for you frightens me, what I share with you brings me consolation. For you I am bishop; with you I am a Christian. The former is the name of a duty I have received; the latter I am by grace. The former implies potential danger; the latter offers salvation. … Assist me by your prayerful support, so that my joy will be in serving you, rather than in being over you.
— St. Augustine, Sermon 340
Why would the great Augustine be frightened by his office? He knew, and taught that the office was supposed to represent Christ.
Accordingly, as Christ lay down his life for the flock, so will the bishop be judged on whether or not he has followed this example in his life.
As I reflect on these days, I think often of a certain scene from the past. As always, among priests there were rumors as to whom would be appointed bishop. It was generally thought that there would be more than one. In fact, there were four of us ordained on the same day, 35 years ago — on Feb. 11, 1975, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. Hearing such rumors, I asked a priest-friend about it. He said, “You should read everything about a bishop and then make a decision, in case it comes. If not, your reading and prayer may help you assist others in this way.” So I read extensively how the bishop is understood in the Church. I knew much about it already from my doctoral dissertation, which centered on the Second Vatican Council. But reading for study and reading for prayer is sometimes different. Having absorbed such teaching mostly from the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on the Office of Bishop, I realized it was a pastoral and spiritual office. I can remember sitting by the Atlantic Ocean outside a church used only in the summertime and telling the Lord that if it came, I would accept it and would try to live it as I have read it in the pages of the great council, and as lived by St. Augustine. The merciful Lord will be the judge.
A great consolation and joy came when the call came. The decision was easy. I had prepared over many weeks of reading and prayer. The Lord was very close at that time.
A great responsibility
As I reflect on these beautiful 24 years plus, I am thankful to God. Somehow at moments like this, I think of my dear parents — immigrants from Ireland, and what they gave me, by example of their great faith. I believe I am a priest and the bishop of this diocese under God’s grace because of their example and their holiness. But it was always a holiness marked by joy. I can still hear their laughter.
What lies ahead
Our new bishop will preside at a Mass for Life at the Sacred Heart Basilica on Jan. 19, along with Father Jenkins, the president of Notre Dame, and others, and Bishop Rhoades has kindly asked me to preach. It will be a joy to do this. There will be many young people there who will be going to the March for Life in Washington, D.C. Included will be many of the young students who gave such fine example last spring. Bishop Rhoades and I will go as well, with many young people from our diocese. All four of our high schools will be represented, under the direction of Fred and Lisa Everett, co-directors of our Pro-life Office. After celebrating a large Mass at a large stadium, then later a Mass with just the young people from our diocese, I will go to Boston for a few weeks.
Bishop, why don’t you go to Florida and spring training. Well, maybe some day. I always find the home where I grew up and visiting with my sisters and with the priests with whom I was ordained 53 years ago to be restorative.
I will be back to preach at several parish missions and do Confirmations and help Bishop Rhoades in whatever way he wishes. I will give a retreat to the bishops of Michigan and Ohio in May.
A responsibility for all of us
The council in its great teaching about bishops, place a responsibility that all of us should have in mind — priests, laity and religious and a retiring bishop in a special way.
As to the faithful, they should be closely attached to the bishop, as the Church is to Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ is to the Father, so that all things may conspire to harmonious unity and bring forth abundant fruit unto the glory of God.
This union with the bishop, openness to his teaching, the spirit of joyous welcome and promise of collaboration is now asked of all of us. As we live this historic moment together, let us be grateful to Christ for sending us not only a new shepherd, but one with much experience, who comes to us with many gifts. It should be a time for all of us of thanksgiving to God, and the promise of fidelity and love to our new shepherd.
A great day at St. Matthew’s
A beautiful Mass on the feast of the Epiphany, my final Mass as bishop at our co-cathedral. A full church and a beautiful reception afterwards. How could such a moment of separation not be filled with joy? It is a sign surely of the presence of Christ. Many thanks to Msgr. Mike Heintz, the umpire, and his worthy staff.
Special gratitude to my good friends, Msgr. Peter Martocchio and Father Paul McPartland, who took the train from old South Station in Boston, Mass., and came across country to be with us. My friends of a lifetime.
I will pray for all of you. Let us pray for our new bishop and accompany him, especially in his early days. And I know as a matter of faith, you will show him the love and the joy and the acceptance that you always gave to me.
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