Wednesday, February 15, 2006

To Know, and Believe, in Love

The installation having been accomplished and the Mass concluded, you can find the installation homily of Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco here in PDF form.

There were present two cardinals, 52 bishops -- Sean O'Malley among them -- 2,500 clergy, dignitaries, family, friends, and faithful. Archbishop Levada led his successor to the Cathedra as the specially-appointed Papal Legate.

Some snips:
First of all, I wish to declare my gratitude to His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, for the confidence he has expressed in my by appointing me the eighth Archbishop of San Francisco. I am genuinely conscious of my own shortcomings, and therefore of my need for your prayers and God's light and strength and grace as I assume this office. I am grateful as well to Monsignor Leopoldo Girelli, representing the Apostolic Nunciature here today.

I thank my friend, His Eminence, Justin Cardinal Rigali, for coming from Philadelphia to be here this afternoon.

I thank my friend and classmate, the Cardinal of the West, His Eminence, Cardinal Roger Mahony, for honoring us by being here today. He came all the way to The City from A City to the south of us! ....

Three weeks ago today, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, published the first Encyclical Letter of his pontificate, Deus Caritas Est, God is Love. Today we are gathered around this altar to celebrate and pray for the beginning of a new Archbishop's service and leadership in San Francisco. We can have no better guide than the Pope to help us to appreciate this afternoon's readings, to understand who we are as the local Catholic Church in San Francisco, and to discern how we are called to live and work together. As the Holy Father's letter guides us now, we can consider some implications for our life together as a local church.

Pope Benedict begins his letter with the foundation of our faith in God, in the words of the first letter of the apostle John: "We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us." We are not orphans in a cosmos but children of a loving, life-giving Father, who calls us to share his love for us with one another. Our Father has created - and loves - the whole human person, body and soul. The Pope points out that the Old Testament prophets like Hosea and Ezekiel used images of human marital love to describe the relationship of God to Israel, his chosen people.

In time this loving God took flesh in Jesus Christ, making himself visible. In Christ, Pope Benedict tells us, God himself goes in search of his stray sheep. Hundred of years before, God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, in our first reading, rejecting the false shepherds of the flock of Israel who had betrayed them, and promising that he, the Lord himself, would be their shepherd and gather them together. Further he had promised to send faithful shepherds who would protect and nourish his flock. In the fullness of time Jesus Christ declared himself to be the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep. In our second reading, from the second letter of Peter, we hear the apostle exhorting those who shepherd in Christ's names and power: Watch over the flock, willingly, generously, selflessly, serving as humble examples, not as arrogant lords....

We American Catholics, steeped in individualism from our cradles, need always to be reminded that the most important experiences in life cannot be attained alone, because they are relationships: you can't have a friendship all by yourself, you can't get married alone, and you can't be a disciple of Jesus Christ in splendid isolation. Pope Benedict reminds us that worship, Eucharistic communion, includes the reality of being loved and loving in return. These are the Holy Father's own words: "A Eucharist that does not cross over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented."

Eucharist makes us one around the altar and one as a universal, Catholic Church. We are not called to factions, or even to congregationalism. We are to be Catholic in every parish, Catholic in every diocese, and Catholic throughout the world. The rich and challenging diversity of Catholics in this Archdiocese of San Francisco bears constant witness to his truth. Just last Friday evening, at my first public appearance after arriving in San Francisco, I had a wonderful experience of this diversity, at the annual Archdiocesan Chinese New Year Dinner. Many languages, customs and cultures are to be woven together into one fabric of worship, faith, service and love....

Indeed, the sign of the Church's oneness with Christ and its fidelity to God is Christian love in practice. Pope Benedict opens his entire section of the letter devoted to love of neighbor with this statement of St. Augustine's: If you see charity, you see the Trinity." At the Rite of Ordination for a bishop, the Church asks the candidate whether he promises to be "welcoming and merciful to the poor and to all those in need of consolation and assistance." The church knows she is called constantly to carry out the service of charity, attending always to the suffering and needs of her neighbors.

Nor may those who serve consider themselves superior to those who are served, the Pope warns. This is especially true of the service of leadership in the Church. No one is to lord it over anyone else in Christ's Church. This afternoon's reading from Mark's Gospel is the touchstone for those who would lead: "Whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all." And what is the theological reason for that? Jesus tells us right away: "The Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve - to give his life in ransom for the many." The proud minister is a countersign in the kingdom of God.

For the Church, the Holy Father goes on to explain, "Charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being." While it is true that civil authorities bear a major responsibility for the welfare of the citizens, still Pope Benedict recognizes that no state can eliminate the need for a service of love, that there will always be suffering, loneliness and material need. Furthermore, Catholics are committed to justice as well as charity, called to advocacy as well as immediate relief of suffering. In the politically charged atmosphere in this country nowadays, what the Pope has to say about Catholic social doctrine is most significant: that social doctrine does not give the church power over the state, nor is it meant to impose faith and its practice on non-believers. It is principally the responsibility of the lay faithful to work directly for a just ordering of society. The Holy Father acknowledges that the Church cannot take on herself the political battle for a just society, that she cannot replace the state. On the other hand, neither can the Church remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.

Here is where misunderstandings and conflicts can arise. In the many moral dilemmas that face them today, Catholics look to their Church, to their faith, to be a compass, not a weathervane. The Church must point toward the true North of God's loving will, and not merely track where the winds, or the polls, are blowing. This is not a new issue. About seventy years ago, the poet T. S. Eliot indicated why many people in our modern world aren't' particularly fond of the Church: "She is hard where they would be easy, and easy where they would be hard." "Hard where they would be easy:" think of abortion and euthanasia; "Easy where they would be hard:" think of capital punishment and immigration law.

What then are citizens to do, when they disagree? Well, first of all, disagree without being disagreeable. Presume good faith until it is proven otherwise. At the end of one of his poems, Robert Frost famously suggested his own epitaph: "I had a lover's quarrel with the world." I believe that is a richly helpful image. God often had a lover's quarrel with his people, Israel, and the prophets were his spokespersons. Please presume that if the Church challenges an action, a policy or a program it is because she loves the world around her, and wants what is best for it. All around you here in the Cathedral today you can see evidence of the Church's lifelong love for the arts: Architecture, painting, sculpture, and music. Always presume that it is love that led to a quarrel, and that love will endure when the quarrel has passed.
As predicted, a blockbuster. Then again, that's what's to be expected from Benedict XVI's hand-picked appointees....

AP/Jeff Chiu