Friday, December 11, 2009

Rocky Mountain High... Hats

At the close of a year justly described as a "Docket-buster" -- 27 appointments on these shores... even more close at hand -- no shortage of new high-hats have had to travel some to reach their new assignments.

Yet of them all, none's been called on to undergo a greater change of scenery than Bishop Fernando Isern of Pueblo, who's had to trade Miami's warm sun for a Southern Colorado so frigid that, on his ordination yesterday (photos), the news reported closures due to bursting pipes.

The first Cuban exile to lead an American diocese since 1994, the 50 year-old's mother and clan led a crowd of over 1,000 who came to witness Isern's elevation in a Pueblo arena yesterday. With LA's Cardinal Roger Mahony (who never fails to provide a touch of red at Western installations) topping out the hierarchy in attendance, preaching duties fell to the principal consecrator, Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, whose homily was summed up in a CNA brief:
Before focusing his homily on the example of St. Augustine, Archbishop Chaput touched on the day's Scripture readings, which he said tell us three things: “They tell us who we are. They tell us who God is. And they tell us what we need to do with the life we've been given.”

Giving the example of a married man, who “never fully knows who he is, until he's loved by a wife and children,” the archbishop broadened the analogy to include every human person. “Every person needs to love and be loved. In loving another person, we prove that the other person is worth loving. And likewise, those who love us show us the good in ourselves that we can't see, and so often don't believe.”

But we aren't just defined by human love, Chaput said. We are defined by the love of God. “It's his love that made us. It’s his love that sustains us... and with the tenderness of a father, He selects each one of us to be uniquely his own.” This radical love also defines who God is, Chaput continued. “God invites us to love as radically and unselfishly as He does, and through that love, to help him remake the world.” He noted, “the irony is that in giving ourselves to God, we find ourselves in him.”
This fatherly love takes on a special meaning in the role of the bishop as exhibited in the case of St. Augustine. A 1,600 year old example of the 'prodigal son' story, St. Augustine converted from paganism with his son, who died in his teens.

St. Augustine was “a brilliant scholar, and a tireless writer, preacher and defender of the Catholic faith against its enemies. But he became one of the greatest bishops in Christian history because he lived first and foremost as a father, moved by a father's love,” Chaput preached.

“In his ministry as a bishop, Augustine never forgot the lessons of a father's love,” he added. “He never forgot that his first task was not to be a brilliant intellect, or a marvelous preacher, or a great administrator, or a good fund-raiser – although each of these things has a proper place in the life of a bishop. His first task was to love God as a son, and to love the people of God in his care as a father, with a father's heart.”

This kind of love, said the archbishop, “is tireless. It's all-consuming. And without the grace of God in a man's life, it's overwhelming. Only when a man puts himself entirely in the arms of God; only when he abandons himself and his pride completely to God – only then, but truly then, the ministry of bishop is a joy and a liberation.”

Archbishop Chaput told those at the Mass that “the purpose of a bishop is to be a father to his people, a brother to his priests and deacons, and a witness of Jesus Christ to world.” He also encouraged the faithful of the Diocese of Pueblo to pray for and support their new bishop because “there is no greater joy in the life of any bishop than to love and be loved by God's people.”
In an extended interview with the local Chieftain, Isern indicated one priority for the 110,000-member diocese: increasing the prevalence of perpetual Eucharistic adoration, which, he said, was a pivotal key to discovering his vocation.

* * *
Meanwhile, just before undergoing one last surgery to complete his recovery from a summertime cancer scare, Bishop Bob Lynch of St Petersburg has posted his full homily from Wednesday's ordination of new Cheyenne Bishop Paul Etienne.

A former general secretary of the USCCB, Lynch met Etienne in the mid-1980s when the latter, still in discernment, took a DC-based job doing advance work for Pope John Paul II's two-week cross-country trek in September 1987. On Etienne's ordination, the Florida prelate preached his protege's first Mass.

Here, some snips:
“For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” These words of the Evangelist Matthew in the Gospel just proclaimed are at one and the same time comforting and challenging. The office of bishop in Christ’s church has undergone some major changes in both job description and perception in my lifetime. The expectations of the Catholic faithful of Wyoming this afternoon are great and if you will allow me to continue Dickensonian language, we are both in the “ best of times and [at least according to TIME magazine] the worst of times.” They call for episcopal leadership which is positive, hopeful, inclusive, collegial, humble and faithful.

Scripture is not a great help in defining the expectations of a bishop. However St. Paul, whose name you and your father carry, in the pastoral epistles speaks of bishops in only two instances. In one he counsels the bishop to take no more than one wife [not particularly helpful advice this afternoon] but then continues that the bishop should also be of “even temper, self-controlled, modest and hospitable. He should be a good teacher. . . .He ought not to be contentious but rather gentle, a man of peace.”2 In his letter to Titus, Paul repeats his qualifications for the office of bishop and adds this timely reminder: “The bishop as God’s steward. . . [must] in his teaching hold fast to the authentic message so that he will be able both to encourage men to follow sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it.” So there my dear friend Paul, and the Church of Wyoming is the core of the job description for a bishop, then and now.

So your name sake sets a high bar and defines the nature of the yoke soon to be placed on your shoulders. I know since we spoke about it that you were captured by Archbishop Sambi’s talk at last month’s bishops’ meeting in Baltimore that the bishop should have three requisite qualities: fidelity which allows for an appropriate application of creativity, prudence and a positive approach to Episcopal leadership which gives hope to a people often struggling.

Not only will the Lord lighten the burden of office, but your brothers in priestly ministry will be an enormous help to you. Quite frankly, we can not administer the Church without our good priests and they will look at you from varying perspectives. To some you will be a “father” and to others “a brother” and perhaps to some, even a “bother.” But you must listen to them carefully, dismiss their advice cautiously, if ever, and consider them always your closest collaborators in ministry....

While the Church in Wyoming does not have a large number of deacons and religious women and men, they too are a part of the mosaic of ministry you will find here, Paul. And the Church which is not yours or mine, but belongs first to Christ and then to the baptized. Good people of the Church of Cheyenne be patient with your new bishop. Archbishop Buechlein and I can honestly attest to you that there was to be found no trace of ambition in Father Paul Etienne. Becoming a bishop was the farthest thing from his mind. He has spent 18 years becoming a good pastor, spiritual director and servant leader.

When he learned from Archbishop Sambi that the Holy Father wished to name him to be bishop of Cheyenne, he was floored. When it was safe to do so he called me one night and we talked about what was coming in his life. Just before he hung up, he said, “you know Bob I know nothing about what I will need as a bishop – what to wear. I don’t even own a rabat vest. And someone said I needed a ‘coat of arms’ and I have no clue what should go on it.” Remembering a Monday several years ago when I called his cell phone, only to be answered by the ear splitting sound of a rifle being discharged and Paul saying, “got to hang up, Bernie and I just shot ourselves a deer” I could not help but tell the soon-to-be new bishop that perhaps in one corner of his coat of arms he should have a dead deer and choose as his motto, “like a deer that once longed for running streams.” The Etienne three brothers gave each other hunting rifles for priesthood ordination gifts and I have been wondering if Episcopal ordination warranted something bigger still, like a bazooka.
So soon-to-be Bishop Paul, the great expectations which everyone has here today and the challenge of the Pauline adjectives can be met if you just remain yourself, comfortable with who you are. There is no role to be played, but rather a ministry of loving service to be lived out. Be humble. Be what you have been which led so many to write in favor of your possible appointment as a bishop. Be the same pastor and brother that has led so many of your brother priests from Indianapolis to fly the long distance to hand you over to another Church. Be the pastor whom people in all the parishes which you have served who said farewell to you in tears these last few weeks will long remember. On the darkest of days which hopefully will be few, look at the crucified Lord and know that compared to His, your burden is indeed light.

I end with deeply personal reflection which perhaps is somewhat inappropriate for a moment like this. In August of this year I struggled to hold on to a slender thread of life. In the ensuing four weeks in intensive care I asked myself over and over again and asked the Lord, “why me? why didn’t you take me to you Lord.” Today I feel I finally know a possible reason and I can in faith repeat the words of Simeon: “now Master you have kept your word, you may [if you wish] dismiss your servant in peace.” Church of Cheyenne, God’s holy people, brother priests and deacons. It will not take you long to discover how lucky you are. With the Lord help this man shoulder the yoke of office and help it be lightened for him so that the Gospel promise of today will also be your experience.
As previously noted, Lynch has ties to both of the Mountain West's new bishops: Isern was the lone parochial vicar he ever had.

PHOTOS: Chris McLean/Pueblo Chieftain(1-3); Indianapolis Criterion(4)