Saturday, August 22, 2009

"Come, Live in the Light": Sonrise in Crescent City

It might've been St Bernard's feast, but as he took the reins in New Orleans, Archbishop Greg Aymond opted instead to underscore the figure (and use the Votive Mass) of the Good Shepherd.

Given the lay of the land, that alone spoke volumes... but there was more.

At another historic turn for the 216 year-old Crescent City church, the first-ever native son turned NOLA Archbishop served up an impressive Homecoming Gumbo on Thursday. Yet even as Aymond's talent as a sharp, conciliatory operator got him over the Day One hurdle with room to spare, it was the crowd who delivered the day's indelible memory.

The overflow throng of 1,300-plus didn't just clap as the city's 18th ordinary entered St Louis Cathedral for his installation. They roared, screamed, howled and hooted....

In a word, they whooped it up.

The reception was so raucous, the audio on the raw feed blew out for a good minute and a half. So while the papal letter sending Aymond home called on the locals to give the prodigal prelate a "warm welcome," the hometown folks didn't need any extra prodding to pile it on and then some.

Like the place itself, there was something for everyone -- French classical architecture and papal chalices mixed with David Haas anthems. But just as the unprecedented, moving presence of his three living predecessors led the new archbishop to jokingly ask "Who's really in charge?" at the outset of his homily, the threads that emerged drew heaviest from the eldest and most revered of the bunch: Archbishop Phillip Hannan, widely considered the city's "first citizen" and still well at work in his 97th year.

Named to NOLA in 1965, the last living bishop tapped by Pius XII (who preached JFK's funeral, still gives interviews... and can still fit into his World War II paratrooper's uniform) ordained his latest successor a priest a decade later, setting the young cleric on his way by naming Aymond rector of Notre Dame Seminary in 1986, where the protege made his name by transforming the place into one of the nation's largest formation houses (a trait he'd maintain in the years ahead).

A former professor of homiletics and pastoral theology, while fulltext of Aymond's inaugural preach has yet to surface, fullvideo's available in (one, two) parts... and, here below, some worthwhile (transcribed) snips:
On June 12th, as Pope Benedict appointed me as the archbishop of New Orleans, both the Times Picayune and the Clarion Herald had similar headlines: "Native son returns to New Orleans as Archbishop."

In reading this, something immediately came to mind that was said by Someone two thousand years ago: "The prophet is accepted except in his own country."

So I would ask you to please be nice to me -- my mother would want that....

The Gospel today gives us a blueprint on how to continue the mission of Christ today and into the future. The Gospel today reminds us, sisters and brothers, that our faith, our words, day after day, actions -- we make Christ the shepherd present. And that is a challenge for all of us.

But today please permit me for a moment to take these words of Jesus very personally as he calls himself the Good Shepherd. I promise to stay close to Jesus, the Good Shepherd. I promise to ask God daily for the mind and the heart of Jesus Christ, that I may be a good shepherd to you. I will also need your prayerful support to carry on this ministry of Christ the Good Shepherd, and I beg for that gift today.
The archdiocese of New Orleans, this local church -- who are we? People with a rich history, great ethnic diversity, strong Catholic identity, alive parish communities, institutions and schools with strong Catholic character, a large Catholic Charities that reaches out in love to the poor and those who are in need, dedicated priests, deacons, religious and laity committed to evangelization, seminarians and novices serious in their discernment.

God has been faithful to us for over 200 years. He has acted in our history and will continue to do so.

My friends, in the present and in the future, we as a church -- throughout the world and in this nation and in the archdiocese -- we do face challenges. And on this important day we ask God to bless and to lead us because he is our shepherd.

And what are some of the challenges that we face with God's leadership and wisdom?

--We live in a time when societal structures and busy lives can squeeze God out of life;
--To express faith in God is often not "politically correct";
--Family life needs our quality time and attention;
--Some have been hurt by the church and have left our family of faith;
--Violence, and crime, and racism are sins that are present in our world and our community today;
--Human life is often not held as a precious gift from God, therefore we must be a voice -- for the unborn, but also for the born: the poor, those with disabilities, those on death row, the terminally ill.

All of us together, as God's People and the Body of Christ, we must face these challenges as Jesus the Good Shepherd leads us to be peacemakers.

And a special word to our youth and young adults: you are the church of today, but we look to you to be the leaders of tomorrow. And we need you to offer your gifts and your energy with us in this mission.

God is indeed faithful -- he has used others in the past, he will use us today to foster his kingdom of justice and peace in the archdiocese of New Orleans.

My sisters and brothers, we too must be faithful and we turn to two models of fidelity today: Our Lady of Prompt Succor and St Louis, King of France [NB: the city's twin patrons]. And I ask Our Lady of Prompt Succor and St Louis, King of France: please pray for us, that we will always remain grateful for our rich history and have the courage to live our faith today and into the future.
One word that didn't make the cut: Katrina.

While Aymond referenced "yellow fever epidemics, floods, hurricanes, fires" among the "many challenges" the NOLA church has faced over the centuries and overcome thanks to "God's fidelity," mention of the 2005 mega-storm -- from which the city's still rebuilding -- was conspicuous by its absence.

In its rollout, the local Times-Picayune features an extensive profile of "the bishop Austin sends back," and a horde of photos from the day.

Given Aymond's knack for, among other things, racking up impressive numbers of priestly aspirants -- he left Austin with 46 seminarians, the largest contingent the Texas capital's ever known -- it's worth noting that the challenge awaits again at home: in its report, the paper noted that New Orleans has all of eight men in formation.

And lastly, Thursday's rites served as further testimony to Louisiana politics' historic knack for strange bedfellows.

Among others, the dignitaries box (above) featured controversial Crescent City Mayor C. Ray Nagin behind the Republican Congressman (and onetime Jesuit) Anh Cao, both of whom served as gift-bearers, and even had a third-pew cameo from the most inexplicable coupling of all: the Democratic operative and uber-pundit James Carville with his wife Mary Matalin, a campaign and administration operative under both Presidents Bush.

One could hope that the whole church would be so united... these days, though, don't hold your breath.

PHOTOS: G. Andrew Boyd (1), Michael DeMocker(2,3), Eliot Kamenitz(4,5)/New Orleans Times-Picayune