Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Pope's "Advice" to Newark: It's Time to Talk

Amid these long, strange months in American Catholicism's seventh-largest local church, it wouldn't be an ecclesial event in Newark if there weren't protestors.

And so – even if the demonstrations outside yesterday's Welcome Mass for Coadjutor-Archbishop Bernie Hebda mostly comprised the customary troupe of 50 guitar-strumming, drum-beating, full-out-rejoicing Neocat singers – three advocates for victim-survivors were likewise on the scene, toting full-body, all-caps signs blaring that incumbent Archbishop John "Myers must still go" and urging "Hebda: ignore Myers."

If nothing else, that even the toughest crowd of all hasn't demonized the new arrival – at least, not yet – underscores the extraordinary goodwill and high hopes invested in the figure the locals have dubbed "AB2." But now that he's wheels-down and taking to his new life with a police escort while housed in a college dorm, the question becomes how he'll handle what archdiocesan officials maintain will be a three-year apprenticeship of one of the Stateside church's most complex outposts.

Before four cardinals, 40 bishops, 325 priests, Hebda's Dad leading the family crowd, and Lou Vallone in the other front pew, yesterday's rites marked these shores' first entrance of an assistant archbishop with the right of succession since May 2010, when José Gomez rode into Los Angeles – with 5 million members, the largest diocese in American Catholicism's half-millennium journey – on a wave of historic exuberance, especially given the move's confirmation of his status as the Stateside hierarchy's first-ever Hispanic cardinal-in-waiting.

For an LA church whose Latino bloc numbers no less than 70 percent its total size, t
hat was precisely as it was intended – the fulfillment of a detailed three-year transition plan Cardinal Roger Mahony proposed to Rome when he requested an understudy in October 2008. And as Mahony's postmodern cathedral sparkled, its alabaster "rose window" giving the space a lighting worthy of Hollywood, that Mass ended with an unforgettable flourish when – true to his liturgical form – the iconic cardinal stunned his successor and sparked gasps from the crowd with the following moment....

As a coadjutor doesn't get another installation due to his immediate ascent upon the vacancy of the see, Mahony later explained to his close aides that – since the Welcome Mass was the one celebration for which his successor's family and friends would be present – the ritual act he assumed unto himself "was what they came to see, so let them see it."

This time around, there was nothing of the kind.

Even so, much as the 54 year-old double-Ivy lawyer turned Vatican star has had a rather "Electric Slide" into this 1.4 million-member archdiocese, the difficulties that precipitated Pope Francis' most significant US appointment to date are by no means suddenly vanished – in its latest instance, the media focus on the ground has now turned to assertions of a lack of transparency in the whereabouts of priests removed over abuse reports. Still, with the 1,400-seat Cathedral-Basilica of the Sacred Heart overflowed into the Gothic wonder's galleries upstairs, the sumptuous two-hour liturgy – an unusually intimate one given the Election Day absence of civic dignitaries and a light turnout of media – got the new chapter for North Jersey Catholicism off to a warm, uplifting start.

As familiar faces from Rome, Pittsburgh, a few from Michigan and even some of his spiritual directees from the NAC dotted the diverse crowd – one mostly comprised of the "everyday people" Myers preached of in describing the Newark church – in the post-Communion speaking slot traditionally given the arriving coadjutor, Hebda broke down on speaking of his last assignment and how he'll miss it "terribly."

Along the way, Francis' choice related the "advice" he received from the Pope on how to handle the new task, the sharing of which scored a loud, prolonged round of applause.

Above is video of the the new archbishop's wrap-up... and here, its fulltext:

My heart is filled with gratitude as we come to the conclusion of this Mass of Welcome. While I am certainly grateful to those who have made the trip to be here with me in Newark on this occasion (especially his Excellency Carlo Maria Viganò, the Holy Father's representative in the United States, their Eminences Cardinals McCarrick, Egan, DiNardo and Dolan, the many bishops who have travelled here from Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan and Florida and even Green Bay,  priests from Gaylord and Pittsburgh and many who have walked with me in my journey as a priest), I am especially grateful to Archbishop Myers, and the Bishops, priests, religious women and men and lay faithful of this Archdiocese who have gone out of their way to make me feel so welcome as I take up my new responsibilities in this local Church.

I’ve been offering many prayers of thanksgiving that my father has been able to join us today. He and my Mom were such wonderful teachers of the faith and it would be hard to begin this journey today without him here, along with my brothers and sister, neices and nephews, cousins, Godparents and even Confirmation sponsor. Thanks for being a part of this day.
What Catholic wouldn't feel at home in this extraordinarily beautiful Cathedral Basilica dedicated to the Sacred Heart, surrounded by so many dedicated brothers and sisters joining to give praise to God in a way that is totally familiar in offering a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, not to mention a convincing prelude to the heavenly choirs--I can see why Archbishop Myers raves about the music at the Cathedral.  Isn't it wonderful to be Catholic?

The movie Bella opens with the line: "If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans." Nothing could have surprised me more--or done a better job of pointing out the comedic nature of my plans--than the call I received from Archbishop Vigano in September informing me that the Holy Father had named me to be the coadjutor Archbishop of Newark.  I had just that week submitted for the critique of my senior staff a first draft of a pastoral letter setting forth my vision and priorities for the diocese of Gaylord for the next three years. I told the Lord my plans and he not only laughed, he had me moved me to a diocese that is arguably the polar opposite of Gaylord–the territory of the diocese of Gaylord is some twenty times larger than that of the Archdiocese but only four percent of the number of Catholics registered here in Newark. I spent Saturday and Sunday exploring the Archdiocese of Newark by car and don’t think that I even once saw an elk-crossing or bear-crossing sign.

While I will miss the excellent priests and faithful of the Diocese of Gaylord terribly [pause] and the strength of the small but strong parishes that distinguished that Church, I am truly excited to embrace the call to serve here in the Archdiocese of Newark.

I don’t pretend to be an expert here, but in the few days since I have arrived, I’ve noticed many similarities to the Church in Gaylord, that give me great comfort, and a few differences that have highlighted some areas for personal growth. I was thrilled to see a posting of the commandments outside my apartment in Xavier Hall at the university but a closer inspection has revealed that the Ten Commandments that I knew in Michigan had been boiled down to eight in Newark--now that’s an example of Eastern efficiency... and with a few twists. I found particularly intriguing the third commandment: Thou shalt not enter the hallway unless fully clothed. I can promise you, Archbishop Myers that that’s a commandment I will always observe. The students have been great. I left my keys in the door last evening and woke up to find a note under my door letting me know just where the RA’s had put them.

I have already been delighted to experience the wonderful closeness that is shared by our priests here and their parishioners –whether it has been at the barber shop or the drugstore or in the greeting line after Mass, I’ve heard the faithful of the Archdiocese praise their priests, offering stories of how their pastors have touched their lives in moments of joy and in sorrow. At one of our parishes, a group of parishioners wouldn’t let me go until I had promised to return to the parish someday to witness how beautifully their pastor prays the Mass. If Pope Francis wants to find priests and deacons who proudly wear the smell of their sheep, I’m quite confident that he could find hundreds of them in our four counties, ministering in a host of languages to a variety of cultures. You raise the bar high, brothers, and I look forward to working with you and learning from you. Thanks for coming out today in such great numbers.

Equally impressive has been the way in which the priests boast about the giftedness of the lay faithful of this Archdiocese. From the Archbishop on down, there’s a deep respect for the contributions that are made day in and day out by our laity—whether it be in educating our children or young adults, performing with great love the corporal works of mercy, or keeping the Archdiocese fiscally sound. I look forward to meeting you. I had the opportunity to speak briefly with Pope Francis a few weeks ago and asked for his advice in approaching this new assignment. His response was very simple. Enter into conversation with the people of the diocese. I intend to do that.

Looking out into the Congregation I can’t help but notice the great number of Religious. Thank you for the convincing witness that you give to the evangelical counsels and all that you lovingly do to build up Christ’s kingdom. A number of your communities have already invited me to vist and I look forward to hearing more about your apostolates and charisms.

While I haven’t had much experience with Religious as a bishop, they certainly were an imporant part of Catholic life in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where I was formed. There are a few of the Felician Sisters from Corapolis who have made the trip to be here. I’ve always counted on their prayers and am glad that they’re here. I am also honored that a few of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill who taught in my grammar school have made the effort to be here as well. You will be happy, Sisters, to know that the chapel in my dorm is dedicated to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. The Sisters of Charity, along with the Christian Brothers, gave me a educational and spiritual foundation for which I will always be grateful. They are responsible, moreover, for my passion for Catholic education—how great to have been assigned to a diocese with not only a wonderful tradition of Catholic schools and religious education programs, but also a first-class Catholic university.

In the presence of a Church with such incredible riches characterizing both the shepherds and the flock, I’ve found myself scratching my head and asking what I could possibly contribute here. Quite honestly, I’m not sure why the Lord has called me here, what gift or gifts he is asking me to add to this ecclesial mix, but I am confident that there is some reason, some purpose — I believe that with all my heart - and trust, to paraphrase Blessed John Henry Newman, that the Lord has created me to be a link in the chain that is this great Archdiocese, so that we can together give convincing witness to Jesus and bring others to experience His love. I ask for your prayers and patience as we together discover how it is that the Lord is asking me to serve.

Archbishop Myers, from the bottom of my heart I thank you for the warm welcome that you and your flock have offered to me and my family. They will go home not only with Seton Hall sweatshirts but also great memories of the vibrant Church that is now my home. Thank you.
...and here – 12 years since his own arrival from the Illinois cornfields into the land of Turnpike congestion – the text of Myers' graceful, touching, unusually personal homily:
Each of us faces the danger of taking on the habits and the way of life which dominate increasingly our culture. Father Anthony de Mello told a story which graphically underscores this possibility.

A man found an eagle’s egg and put it in a nest of a barnyard hen. The Eaglet hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them.

All his life the eagle did what the barnyard chicks did, thinking he was a barnyard chicken. He scratched the earth for worms and insects. He clucked and cackled. And he would thrash his wings and fly a few feet into the air.

Years passed and the eagle grew very old. One day he saw a magnificent bird above him in the cloudless sky. It glided in graceful majesty among the powerful wind currents, with scarcely a beat of its strong golden wings.

The old eagle looked up in awe, “Who’s that?” he asked.

“That’s the eagle, the king of the birds,” said his neighbor. “He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth – we’re chickens.” So the eagle lived and died a chicken, for that’s what he thought he was.

All of us are “everyday people.” Whether we are important in the eyes of the world or not, we are all called to great things, to holiness of life, to love one another and all people.

When I Skype with the young people in the high schools of the Archdiocese, I very much enjoy their questions. I remind them that any honest question is a good question.

That does not mean that every question is a deep question. Sometimes they ask, “How much do you make?” I respond frivolously “not enough,” but then I simply answer: “about what a pastor makes in the Archdiocese.” Then some will ask “What kind of car do you drive?” and I say: “a seven year old Buick.” While some questions are of this nature, most of them are questions about our Faith, about our Church and about how both of these realities affect their own lives. The students are honestly in search.

Sometimes they ask, “What led you to become a Priest?” Years ago when I was serving as Vocation Director back in Illinois I would start to name some Priests who had been significant in the formation of my own vocation. And of course Priests and their example and encouragement are always important. But then it dawned on me that the primary influence on my vocation was my parents and my family.

They were and we are everyday people. And yet their lives were deep in Faith, deep in generosity and deep in love for one another and for all of us in the family and always it was through love for Jesus Christ and His Church. In them, everyday people that they were, I saw greatness. This greatness took the form of holiness and of extreme generosity and fidelity to their own commitments and fidelity to their responsibilities and love for each of us seven children.

The First Reading taken from the Prophet Isaiah reminds us that the Spirit of the Lord brings glad tidings to us. The Gospel of the Lord is a very positive message an invitation to live up to our dignity as daughters and sons of God. And we care not only for one another but also we are to “bring liberty to the captives, release to prisoners and to announce a year of favor from the Lord.” The Lord’s love and invitation is all encompassing and includes not only those who know of Him and are close to Him but also those who may be far away or who are searching or in particular difficulties.

It gives me a great joy to know that these injunctions are carried in the particular Church of the Archdiocese of Newark. Our Catholic Charities has ten shelters for the homeless and nine homes for Senior living. In addition to the many programs of Catholic Charities, a great number of our parishes have food pantries and soup kitchens. Youth Groups and students at our various Universities, parishes and schools reach out to people not only in this country but beyond our borders. This aspect of the Good News which impels us to care for others is very much a part of the life of this local Church.

Saint Peter in his First Epistle echoes the Prophet Isaiah in this special call from God. He sums it up as did Jesus himself with one word, “Love.” “Let your love for one another be intense because love covers a multitude of sins.” We are to preach the Word of God and preach from the strength with which God endows us. We are to do this so that “God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”

We who are everyday people are called to this greatness, to this holiness. Each of us has a vocation in life, that is, each of us seeks to live as God would have us live in the role to which God would call us. Families are the foundation of the Church of Christ as well as the foundation of society itself. Sharing the Word of God with others and supporting parents in their God-given responsibility in the upbringing of their own children, is one of the reasons why we put such a large amount of our commitment into our Catholic School system. The extended time made possible by this System together with our commitment to academic excellence helps young people to have a solid and well-formed start in life as they take responsibility for their own decisions and the direction of their own lives. We certainly do not forget the tens of thousands of young people within the Archdiocese who are not enrolled in our Catholic Schools. They, too, together with their parents deserve support in hearing the Gospel and learning the implications of Gospel living. As Saint Francis of Assisi has said to us, “preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”

One of the powerful images which Jesus himself used in His teaching is preserved in the Gospel according to Saint John. “I am the True Vine and My Father is the Vine Grower.” This image speaks to us of the intimate union which exists between Jesus Christ and those who are joined to Him by grace. Just as the vine and the branches are not physically one but share the very source of life, so we are not simply physically joined to Jesus through His Church, but rather our union with Him is a deep interior union from which our entire life of faith is made possible, created and nourished. Of course, as I have said, we are everyday people. None of us is perfect. Just as the vine must be pruned so also we must be pruned; that is, those aspects of our lives which need to be eliminated or improved must be faced in the encounter with Jesus and in light of the Holy Spirit. Seeking an ever deeper interior union with Jesus Christ entails also a willingness to change and even to abandon some of our ways if they are not consistent with Gospel living. The Lord’s promise is deep and abiding. “If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.” It is this promise of the Lord and this reality of Grace which enables us, humbly yet boldly, to approach the Lord with our needs and the needs of others and the needs of the world itself.

All of this continues to be true even if the “powers that be” in this world are against us. They do not understand or do not accept the dignity which we have as children of God and the great call which each of us has to live out our humanity to its fullness. This fullness highlights the dignity, goodness and beauty which God is making possible for each person. These gifts abound in our world if we would but seek them. Ours is not a Church of condemnation, saying “NO!” “NO” - a thousand times “NO!” Rather we are invited to be joined to the vine of which we are the branches. We are invited to share the very Life of God especially through His Word and the Sacraments which carry on the very action of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit. In each particular Church or in each division of the Church – One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ is found. We welcome this truth and we rejoice in it.

Today we rejoice that the successor of Saint Peter has sent among us another successor of the Apostles to assist all in the Archdiocese of Newark, to embrace enthusiastically life in Jesus Christ, and to share that with others. We welcome Coadjutor Archbishop Bernard Hebda who will take up residence among us and serve among us. We cannot offer a Church of towering giants but rather a Church of everyday people, people who live their lives in union with Jesus Christ, who love the Holy Eucharist and all the Sacraments and welcome the Word of God deeply into their hearts. We welcome Archbishop Hebda as yet another gift from God and know that he will lead us both by his teachings and example to fuller union with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

We ask God’s blessing upon him and his ministry here and we earnestly seek the intercession of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary that all of us together, even though we are everyday people, may rise to the heights, following her example, to which her Divine Son calls us.
PHOTOS/VIDEO: Kelly Marsicano/Archdiocese of Newark(1,2,4)