Friday, July 24, 2009

"We Are Not Constituencies... We Are Not Partisans": Unity Day in Omaha

Using a half-century old crozier as one of the nation's three cathedral choir schools provided the music, George Lucas was installed as the fifth archbishop of Omaha on Wednesday as a capacity crowd of 1,000-plus packed St Cecilia's Cathedral, led by two cardinals, some 40 bishops and 200 priests.

Inheriting a 250,000-member local church that's grown by a fifth since his predecessor's arrival in 1993, the rites welcoming the 60 year-old St Louisan (fullvideo/Mass-book) saw several pointed appeals for unity in the Nebraska archdiocese, both from Lucas and papal nuncio to the US Archbishop Pietro Sambi. What's more, the papal bull formally appointing the new Omaha prelate contained an unusually direct exhortation (relatively speaking) from B16 to his pick, which could be read as Lucas' "marching orders" on taking the reins:
Finally, Venerable Brother, with the Virgin Mary interceding, we beseech for you the choicest gifts of the Paraclete Spirit: aided by them, you will fulfill your new office of shepherd by words, and especially by the persuasive eloquence of [your] life example, mindful of the well-known dictum: "Words impress, but examples persuade."
Translation from the Vaticanese: "Energize the place -- and, please, mind your temper."

Not that Lucas -- by all accounts, a sweet and gentle type -- has shown evidence of one... his predecessor, however.....

For all the rest, the local World-Herald's compiled an impressive photo-gallery, religion-scribe Christopher Burbach's wrap-up is an example of the beat at its knowledgeable, context-savvy best, the archdiocesan Voice runs a full spread... and here below are snips from the new archbishop's homily, a call to a unified witness amid the church's manifold gifts:
St. Paul tells us very clearly that there will be different spiritual gifts – different charisms – in the church. Each true gift is a manifestation of the one Holy Spirit; they are ordered in their diversity to serve the one Lord Jesus Christ. We give thanks to God that these God-given gifts are so evident as we gather for this sacred liturgy. We are the proof that St. Paul is right about the nature of the Church....

[Thanks to various dignitaries and groups in attendance -- prelates, clergy, laity, family and friends, organizers, musicians, et al.]

Do you need any further evidence that St. Paul is right? All of these different people whom I have mentioned manifest the action of the one Holy Spirit. We are not separate constituencies; we are not partisans. We are members of the Body of Christ. It is the living Lord that is present in this sacred liturgy. Through our various forms of service, Jesus is known in the Archdiocese of Omaha, known in the Church throughout the world. Drinking freely of the one Spirit, we come to offer fitting praise, honor and glory to Our one Father.

This is the same Holy Spirit that enabled Peter to address Jesus as Lord. Just a few days earlier, Peter had denied Jesus 3 times. “I do not know the man,” he had protested. Now to the 3-fold question of Jesus, Peter confesses Him as Lord. What had changed since Peter’s denial? In a real sense, everything had changed. The Son of God had offered Himself up to death on the cross. But as Peter could clearly see, Jesus was not dead, He was alive. It was the certain knowledge of that truth, the greatest truth mankind can know – Jesus is alive – that enabled Peter to be no longer a boastful, yet cowardly disciple, but now a fearless witness to the risen Christ. The Holy Spirit led Peter to martyrdom rather than back away from proclaiming Jesus as Lord.

I reflected on that witness of Peter in Rome several weeks ago. At the spot of Peter’s martyrdom I received the pallium from his successor, Pope Benedict XVI. The Vicar of the risen Christ exhorted me to tend God’s flock by my own witness to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Modern transportation and peace in our part of the world made it easy for me to get from Rome to Omaha with the pallium. But think of all who have put themselves on the line to witness to our faith since Peter encountered the risen Lord.

We cannot just take for granted that the light of gospel truth would reach us here in this corner of Nebraska in the 21st century. We give thanks for Mary’s gift of her life for Christ, for the witness of the apostles, and the generations of martyrs, including our patroness, St. Cecilia. We recall with gratitude the missionaries who braved great hardship to bring others to Christ. We don’t forget our own grandparents and parents. They put themselves on the line because they knew that Jesus is alive. They learned as Peter did, not to focus on their weaknesses and fear, but to put all their trust in the power of his risen life. Because of their witness, we know the risen Christ.

You and I will never be able to put ourselves on the line in our time and place – to profess our faith in Jesus – to be witnesses as well as disciples – unless we are sure that He is alive – risen from the dead. We will never be convinced of that truth unless we have a personal encounter with Him, as Peter did. The Holy Spirit makes that personal encounter with the Lord possible right where we live, in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist. In our Catholic faith, we not only remember Jesus, we meet him. We are formed into His living Body by the Holy Spirit. If we are really witnesses to Christ, then we look for opportunities to bring others to Him. We will never convince anyone to put faith in the risen Jesus unless we can offer them a personal experience of Him. That becomes possible when we put ourselves on the line for Him – when it is clear to our neighbors that we will not turn away from Jesus, the living truth, no matter what.

None of us would be here today if we were not convinced that Jesus is calling us to be his witnesses. And we see that none of us have to do it alone. We are given to each other that we might strengthen each other in the midst of a culture that is often inhospitable to faith and witness. The devil tempts us to become discouraged, but we lift each other up with the hope given to the baptized.

Since Jesus is alive, no good thing is impossible for us. Will we who know that Jesus is risen allow ourselves to think that chaste marriages are impossible? It is not impossible to witness to the risen Christ in this way. Knowing that Jesus lives, can we give up on feeding the hungry or sheltering the homeless? Will we ever let ourselves think that it is impossible to foster a culture of life, to revere our brothers and sisters in the womb, the sick, the dying? Has it become impossible to teach the beauties of our Catholic faith to our children, including poor children?

Is it impossible to think that gifted young people would put aside their own plans to follow Jesus in the priesthood and the consecrated life? Is it impossible to accept forgiveness, even for grievous sins, as Peter did, from the crucified and risen Christ?

It is difficult now to be witnesses to the risen Christ – as it has been in every age. We are weak and we fall short. However, let us not think for a moment that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead has somehow become a smaller event over the years. Let us not think that the Holy Spirit has gotten tired over so many generations and so many miles, that we might not have a full portion of the Spirit in Northeast Nebraska in 2009.

Jesus has asked Peter to care for the flock. Pope Benedict repeated this exhortation recently to me and 33 other new archbishops from around the world. The responsibility of shepherding the flock of Christ belongs in a particular way to bishops. But you will soon be reminded of what you already know – I can’t do it by myself. We all share, each in our own way, in extending the care of the Good Shepherd to a fragmented world. Let us commit ourselves to think, pray, work and worship together – with all of our attention on the risen Christ. Then our every sacrifice will be so fruitful, and our witness will be so clear, that no one in Northeast Nebraska will ever wonder whom we love and serve.
PHOTOS: Jeff Beiermann(1), James R. Burnett (2)/Omaha World-Herald