Tuesday, August 25, 2020

On St Louis' Day, The Arch's Call – "We Must Be 'Gateways,' Not Gatekeepers"

(Updated with homily.)

One hundred sixty years ago, on the eve of a Civil War whose echoes have eerily resurfaced in these days, the bond between Catholicism's oldest diocese in these States and the mother-church of the American West was created when Baltimore and St Louis were respectively led by Dublin-born brothers named Kenrick.

Today, as the Premier See's own Mitch Rozanski crosses the Mississippi to become the ninth successor of the younger of the siblings, the MetroLink comes full-circle. And much like Peter Richard – the founding archbishop who would hold office for 52 years (the record tenure of any US prelate) – the nation's newest metropolitan now outranks his "older brothers," becoming the first Baltimore priest named to an archdiocese in nearly four decades.

Gratefully, there is no need today to say "Noli Irritare Leonen" – the Kenrick motto once memorably translated by a successor as "Don't mess with the lion." Here, if anything, facing a roiled scene of pandemic-induced turmoil, one of the nation's outsize venues of civil unrest over racial injustice – and, indeed, a local ecclesiology encrusted by history that has led to strong perceptions of a disconnect with the people it's supposed to serve – the more fitting opening line is drawn from the 1791 prayer of Baltimore's John Carroll, the nation's founding shepherd: namely, "[T]hat they may be preserved in union and in peace."

With that in mind, it's Arch-time – from the sumptuous "New Cathedral" named for the city's patron on his feast-day, the livefeed of the Installation Mass, beginning at 2pm Central – and, here, the rite's ample libretto:

...and in a potent answer to the call given by today's papal legate for the event – that is, Rome's wish for a ministry of "unity and prophecy" (citing Francis' loaded Peter and Paul preach in June) – here below, the new Arch's opening word.

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25 AUGUST 2020 

It is with a heart that is deeply humbled that I am in your midst this day: grateful to God for calling me to priesthood; grateful to Pope Francis for calling me to shepherd this Church of St. Louis; grateful to his representative in our country, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, who has shown me such great kindness over these past two months. 

As Archbishop Pierre could not be with us, I thank Msgr. Dennis Kuruppassery, the Chargé d’Affaires of the Apostolic Nunciature, who so graciously bestowed the Pallium earlier in our celebration in the name of our Holy Father. This past Sunday’s Gospel reminds us powerfully how our Lord built his Church on the “rock” of Peter’s faith. And so as a Catholic, even more as a pastor, I pledge my own fidelity and unity, and that of God’s People in this “Rome of the West,” to Peter’s successor among us, without whom we cannot know the Lord who sent him, the Lord who seeks to send us. 

As we are graced with the presence of our Seventh Archbishop, Justin Cardinal Rigali, Your Eminence, welcome home. And to all my brother Bishops who honor us with your presence here today, many of you sons of this illustrious local Church we now share, I offer not only my personal gratitude, but that of all of us here. What a joy it is to gather with brother priests, deacons, women and men in consecrated life, seminarians and the good people of this venerable Church of St Louis – it is a privilege, it is my joy, to be able to serve the Lord with you! 

Bishop Mark Rivituso and Bishop Robert Hermann have been so welcoming in sharing with me their great love of our archdiocese and her people; I pray that I may have that same share of enthusiasm and joy in serving here for which they are so well loved. 

On the day I received the phone call from Archbishop Pierre with the surprising news that the Holy Father had appointed me to St. Louis, the next person I spoke with was Archbishop Robert Carlson. Serving here as Archbishop for the past eleven years, he is a shepherd truly dedicated to the Lord Jesus and His people. We are all so grateful to Archbishop Carlson for his generous response to the call of Jesus to serve as priest of fifty years, and a remarkable 37 years as bishop across no less than four dioceses. Archbishop, please know of the gratitude of the entire Church for your solicitous care for everyone in this Archdiocese and beyond! 

I thank our friends in the media who are sharing this Mass of Installation with the wider world, and I look forward to working closely with you. But for now, please know how your work is allowing two very, very special people to watch this Mass from their home in Baltimore, Maryland. My Mom and Dad, Jean and Alfred, are united with us here in prayer. Throughout their sixty-four years of married life, they have made a home where God is the center of who we are as family; living out the vocation of marriage in a heroic way. I would not be living out my vocation if they first did not show me the way of love, faith, devotion and gratitude. My two brothers, Ken and Albert, and my nephews, Kyle and Dalton, join with me in thanking you for everything, Mom and Dad! 

And now, I look to my new home. Alongside our Stanley Cup Champion Blues, baseball’s Eminent Cardinals, and delicious ribs, the defining symbol of St. Louis to the world is the Arch. A tangible symbol of this “Gateway to the West,” the span of the Arch reminds us of the hopes and dreams of so many, who either settled here in the early history of our country, or those who passed through here to move to a life on the great western frontier. They came with many hopes: for a better life, for a place to raise their families and to be a part of that great adventure in the growth of this nation. 

How much that hope is needed in our world today! Back in late February, just six months ago, could any of us have imagined how, within days, we would be plunged into the greatest pandemic to affect the human race in over a hundred years? As we mourn the passing of tens of thousands of our fellow citizens, and offer prayers for the millions among us who are still struggling with the impact of the coronavirus, we share in the frustration of its devastating impact on all of our lives, be they physical, emotional or economic. As one person remarked to me, “How much longer can we take all this?” 

But sisters and brothers, COVID-19 is not the only urgent cross facing us today. As a nation – and, indeed, as a Church – we find ourselves still struggling with the scars of systemic racism in our society. To quote a brother bishop who this area knows well, this crime against human life and dignity is another, no less devastating virus, this one a man-made plague that also isolates us from one another and diminishes the God-given humanity that we all must cherish if we are to be His children. 

Our civil discourse these days is not very civil; when a person shares a differing opinion, the tendency to demonize the other, often in deeply personal ways, eclipses any type of dialogue, common ground or understanding. And as Catholics – as Christians – we need to ask: Where is God in all this? 

We need only look at the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel: “Love one another as I have loved you.” How many times have we heard these words of Jesus from the Gospel of John? That Jesus wanted his own to “Love one another as he has loved us.” In the midst of a pandemic, a societal reckoning on the life issue of race relations, an atrophied civic discourse – and, yes, the often-sinful polemics we now face within our Church – loving one another seems to be a tough thing to do these days. Yet, my friends, we are called to be a people of hope! 

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI helps us to understand Jesus’ command when he wrote in Deus Caritas Est that “Love of neighbor, grounded in the love of God, is first and foremost a responsibility for each individual member of the faithful, but it is also a responsibility for the entire ecclesial community at every level: from the local community to the particular Church and to the Church universal in its entirety. As a community, the Church must practice love.” 

I am humbly called to be with you in this ecclesial community of St. Louis. This “Gateway City” provides us a rich imagery – for in order for us to live out this fundamental command to love one another, it must be carried out in action. We ourselves must be gateways, not gatekeepers: Gateways to healing, to evangelization, to mercy, to compassion – gateways to listening with the ears of Jesus. As Pope Francis has so clearly and repeatedly taught: “We must build bridges and not walls.” 

How do we put our love of others into action? How do we serve the Lord with gladness? How do we rejoice in the Lord always? It’s simple: Jesus calls us to encounter people just as He did. Jesus never shied away from anybody – but rather He knew how significant and fundamental it is to meet people face to face no matter their history, their sinfulness, their sanctimoniousness, their abilities or their shortcomings. And so we are called to do the same. 

Shortly after being elected Pope, our Holy Father Francis found and elevated Fr Konrad Krajewski – a junior staff-member at the Vatican – to be the papal almoner, the bishop who oversees the distribution of alms and goods to those in need. Having heard of Fr Konrad’s nightly ritual of feeding the poor of Rome with leftovers he was given from the city’s restaurants, Pope Francis gave him a very clear description for his new job: he said, “Here is your office and here is your desk and I don’t want to see you behind that desk because if you do you will not have this job very long.” 

On the feast-day of this illustrious city, how poignant a message this is for a diocese and community named for a saint who was holy not for the crown he wore, but the service it allowed him to give. My friends, in the spirit of St Louis, let us remember: parishes are not built from behind desks; communities are not built from behind desks; as a Church, evangelization does not happen from behind a desk. 

During this pandemic, most of us have been confined to Zoom calls and virtual “meetings.” Thank God we have these, but, like most of you, I yearn for the day when we can meet safely face to face and not through our TVs, computers or phones. While we are compelled to be our brother’s keeper and so live within these necessary public safety parameters for the time being, let us nonetheless be visible and encounter people as best we can to spread the joy of the Gospel. 

The call to leadership in the Church today is a call to a deeper love: a love for God and for His people, who are the Body of Christ in the world. This calling is a challenge to all of us to pour out our lives in service. Pope Francis reminds us of this in the Joy of the Gospel. Our Holy Father beautifully sets forth the way a bishop ought to be present and ceaseless in his pastoral activity and conversion: “The bishop must always foster [a] missionary communion in his diocesan Church, following the ideal of the first Christian communities, in which the believers were of one heart and one soul. To do so, he will sometimes go before his people, pointing the way and keeping their hope vibrant. At other times, he will simply be in their midst with his unassuming and merciful presence. At yet other times, he will have to walk after them, helping those who lag behind and – above all – allowing the flock to strike out on new paths. In his mission of fostering a dynamic, open and missionary communion, he will have to encourage and develop the means of participation proposed in the Code of Canon Law and other forms of pastoral dialogue, out of a desire to listen to everyone and not simply those who would tell him what he would like to hear. Yet, the principal aim of these participatory processes should not be Ecclesial organization but rather the missionary aspiration of reaching everyone." 

My brothers and sisters, let us walk together on this path – I need your help and your prayers. 

As we are encouraged to do so, let us be bold and creative in the task of rethinking goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization. With your prayers, voices and commitment, let us work together in wise pastoral discernment. 

In all our words and deeds – in everything we hope to do – may we remember the words of the prophet Sirach: “Compassionate and merciful is the Lord.”

So must we be “compassionate and merciful.” So must we be!