Homily Solemn Evening Prayer
Dear friends, it is with much joy, and no little trepidation, that I gather in prayer with you in this Cathedral Church, on this, the vigil of my installation as the sixth bishop of Evansville. I thank you for your presence, especially those who travelled a great distance.
I am grateful to Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Holy Father’s personal representative in the United States, for presiding at Evening Prayer, as well as for the support and encouragement he has shown me.
It was a great pleasure to formally greet representatives from the priests and deacons, religious and lay faithful from throughout the diocese.
Be assured that I am committed to serving you to the best of my ability, and I ask for your prayers that I might be a wise, faithful, and courageous shepherd after the heart of Jesus.
I am grateful as well for the opportunity to greet many local ecumenical, inter-religious, and civic officials. You honor all of us with your presence. I look forward to working with you in addressing communal problems, serving common needs and working to achieve a better life for all the people in southwest Indiana.
There is a story about St. John Vianney, a holy pastor who lived in 19th century, that relates how the saint got lost travelling to his first parish assignment in the tiny French village of Ars. He met a young boy from the village along the way, who gave him directions. In response, he said to the lad, “You have shown me the way to Ars. I will show you the way to heaven.”
While with the wonders of a GPS, I didn’t get lost coming down here to Evansville, my responsibility as bishop, and that of all our pastors, will still be the same as that of the sainted pastor – to help lead the people of this Diocese to heaven.
In God’s mysterious plan, he called me, unworthy and limited as I am, first to serve as a deacon, then a priest, and now, through the Petrine authority of Pope Francis, as the Bishop of this local Church.
As Bishop, I will be called to shepherd the Lord’s holy people through my three-fold office of sanctifying, preaching and governing. Always modeling my ministry on that of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, I am to lead you in unity of faith, worship and service.
In our reading from the Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul speaks of such unity as he pleads with this early Christian community, and really with us today, to strive for unity. He reminds us that we have been fashioned by the Holy Spirit into a single community, united in one Lord, one faith, and one baptism; and our spiritual family is to be nourished by our humility, gentleness, patience, and peacefulness.
Yet within this unity, God has bestowed various spiritual gifts to be used for the good of all, to build up the body of Christ.
We are to discern the gifts that God has given to each of us, and then use those gifts to continue the mission Jesus gave to his Church – namely, to work for the salvation of souls through the preaching of the Gospel, the celebration of the Eucharist and sacraments, and through service to all people, especially those in need. This mission is not just for me as Bishop, nor just for the priests and deacons and religious.
We were all given the commission at our Baptism – to go out and evangelize as missionary disciples, proclaiming by our words and by the example of our lives, our faith in the Lord Jesus. We are called to work with all people of good will, to build a culture of life, justice, peace, and goodness in our communities and in our world.
More than ever, our society needs to heal wounds of divisions, and to work together to serve the common good. We are called to be those instruments of peace and reconciliation. It will be my responsibility, together with our priests and deacons, to help equip you for this work of evangelization and service.
Of course, we know that living and proclaiming the faith isn’t always easy or popular. Christ himself told us that following him would entail carrying his cross. Yet it is in dying to ourselves, our comforts and preferences, that our lives and efforts can bear real fruit, individually and as a Church.
St. John of the Cross, whose feast we celebrate today, was truly heroic in living up to his name, for the cross marked his life as a reformer, mystic, and theologian. In fact, it was at one of the lowest times of his life, when he suffered imprisonment and persecution at the hands of his own order, that he had one of his most profound mystical experiences, and wrote of it his spiritual classic, “The Spiritual Canticle.”
His example of his life is a living reminder for us of St. Paul’s words that when we allow God to fill our weakness and emptiness, then we find true strength and fulfilment. Despite all John’s work renewing the Carmelites, his profound spiritual experiences, his popularity as a spiritual director, St. John summed up the Christian life in this way: “In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.”
And so tomorrow, as the Diocese begins a new era with a new shepherd, let us pray for the grace to live our love for God in our love for one another, just as St. Paul instructed us, using our gifts to build up the Church in these 12 counties, always united in faith, hope, and charity.
May Mary, the Mother of God, our patroness, pray for us, that we might be evermore faithful witnesses to her Son. So that through our words and actions, Jesus Christ may be praised, both now and forever. Amen!