A married friend told me last week that getting ready for today reminded him of planning for a very, very, very big wedding. He was being humorous, but he was actually more accurate than he knew. The relationship of a bishop and his local Church is very close to a marriage. The ring I wear is a symbol of every bishop’s love for his Church. And a bishop’s marriage to the local Church reminds me, and all of us, that a bishop is called to love his Church with all his heart, just as Christ loved her and gave his life for her.
Of course, my appointment to Philadelphia is an arranged marriage, and the Holy Father is the matchmaker. The good news is that romance is a modern invention -- and given the divorce rate, not everything it’s cranked up to be. In fact, history suggests that arranged marriages often worked at least as well as those based on romantic love. When arranged marriages were common, there was an expectation that people would get to know each other and then come to love one another. Good matchmakers were aware of the family history of each of the spouses and their particular needs. And the really wise matchmakers could make surprisingly good choices.
In the Church, we believe that the Holy Spirit guides the decisions of the Holy Father. And the results are always joyful if we commit our wills to cooperating with God’s plan. For any marriage to work, two things need to happen. People need to fall in love, and together they need to be fruitful. That’s what we need to dedicate ourselves to today – to love one another and be fruitful together in the new evangelization.
Getting to know each other is a great adventure. Our life together is part of the story of salvation, which God continues even into our own time. Mary didn’t expect the Annunciation. She didn’t expect to be mother of the Redeemer. And yet her act of obedience changed the course of history and led to a new covenant of love and fruitfulness. I have no illusions of being worthy of this ministry, but I do trust in the wisdom of the Holy Father. So I’m deeply grateful for his confidence and the privilege of serving this Church.
Along with a ring, two other symbols really define a bishop’s ministry. The first is the pectoral cross that rests next to the bishop’s heart. Jesus tells us that if we want to be his disciples, we need to do three things (Mt 16:21-27): We need deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. It’s vitally important for the bishop to really believe this, to live it, and to preach it, even when calling people to accept very difficult things in fidelity to the Gospel.
The second symbol is the crosier, which is a symbol of the shepherd. The Good Shepherd was the first image of Christian art created by the earliest disciples in the catacombs in Rome. One of first representations of Christ we have is the Good Shepherd who carries a lamb on his shoulders. All of us should keep that image in our hearts in the months ahead because the Good Shepherd really will bring the Church in Philadelphia through this difficult moment in our history to security and joy and a better future.
This installation today takes place in the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. The word cathedral comes from the Greek word cathedra, which means chair. The cathedral is the church that houses the bishop’s chair, which has always been seen as another key symbol of the bishop’s role – in this case, his teaching authority. St. Augustine of Hippo, speaking in the 4th century captured the role of the bishop in these words:
“Jerusalem had watchmen who stood guard . . . And this is what bishops do. Now, bishops are assigned this higher place” -- the bishop’s chair in the basilica –“so that they themselves may oversee and, as it were, keep watch over the people. For they are called episkopos in Greek, which means ‘overseer,’ because the bishop oversees; because he looks down from [his chair] . . . And on account of this high place, a perilous accounting will have to be rendered [by the bishop] – unless we stand here with a heart such that we place ourselves beneath your feet in humility.”
Another time, on the anniversary of his episcopal ordination, Augustine described the bishop’s duties in the following way:
“To rebuke those who stir up strife, to comfort those of little courage, to take the part of the weak, to refute opponents, to be on guard against traps, to teach the ignorant, to shake the indolent awake, to discourage those who want to buy and sell, to put the presumptuous in their place, to modify the quarrelsome, to help the poor, to liberate the oppressed, to encourage the good, to suffer the evil and to love all men.”
It’s crucial for those of us who are bishops not simply to look like bishops but to truly be bishops. Otherwise, we’re just empty husks -- the kind of men Augustine meant when he said, “You say, ‘He must be a bishop for he sits upon the cathedra.’ True – and a scarecrow might also be called a watchman in the vineyard.”
My installation today takes place on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a feast which has its origin somewhere in Syria or Palestine at the beginning of the 6th century. The traditional date of the feast, September 8, falls exactly nine months after the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. It’s an important feast because it prepares the way for the birth of Jesus. I was ordained a bishop on the feast of Mary’s parents, Saints Joachim and Anne. I was installed as the archbishop of Denver on the Feast of the Annunciation. And now I celebrate my installation as bishop of the great Church of Philadelphia on the Feast of Mary’s birthday. For me, like so many other priests, Mary has been a constant source of hope and protection in my vocation. So I would ask all of you today to pray for me to the mother of God so that she surrounds all of us with her love and protection.
The birthday of Mary is a turning point in the history of salvation, planned from all eternity by God’s divine providence. So the readings for today should reassure us in a powerful way. All the events of a believer’s life are shaped by the will of a loving God. God’s purpose undergirds everything that happens to Christians, for God is truly in control. So in the midst of the turmoil of the Church in our time, specifically in Philadelphia, this feast of Mary’s birth should remind us of God’s loving plan. We need to make the act of faith embedded in today’s first reading: that “all things work for good for those who love God and who are called according to his purpose.” And just as God foreknew and predestined Mary’s birth, God foreknew and predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son so that Jesus might be the firstborn among many brothers. Saint Jose Maria Escriva said this about the struggle with fear and anxiety that all of us sooner or later face: “Have you forgotten that God is your father? Or [that God is] powerful, infinitely wise, full of mercy? [God] would never send you anything evil. The thing that is worrying you is good for you even though those earthbound eyes of yours may not be able to see it now.”
Of course, in the unfolding of Scripture, Mary’s birthday is ultimately about the birth of her son. The Gospel for today is the story of how Jesus was conceived. And we honor Mary precisely because she gave birth to Jesus, our messiah and Lord. The Gospel focuses on Joseph’s goodness and fidelity, and on Mary’s perfect surrender to God in love, trusting in the providence of God. We need to follow the example of Mary and Joseph, trusting God in the difficult times of our life. The issues that Joseph and Mary faced seemed insurmountable and caused intense confusion. But the name given to Jesus signifies “Savior” and we know that in Jesus, God promises to be with us. God is truly Emmanuel – God is with us. This gives us great confidence in the future God has planned for us.
This Church in Philadelphia faces very serious challenges these days. There’s no quick fix to problems that are so difficult, and none of us here today, except the Lord Himself, is a miracle worker. But the Church is not defined by her failures. And you and I are not defined by critics or by those who dislike us. What we do in the coming months and years to respond to these challenges – that will define who we really are. And in engaging that work, we need to be Catholics first. Jesus Christ is the center of our lives, and the Church is our mother and teacher. Everything we do should flow from that.
What we embark on today is an arranged marriage, where someone who loves you, the Holy Father, is also someone who loves me. And the Holy Father knows in his wisdom that we will make a good family together. So we should see each other as gifts. I receive you as a gift from the Holy Father; and you receive me and my service as a gift from the Holy Father. And this requires us to make a commitment, an act of the will, to love one another, to be patient with one another, and to lay down our lives for one another.
I’ll close by repeating what I said in July to the bishops, priests and deacons of this diocese, to our men and women religious, and to all our people: Whatever my weaknesses and whatever my lacks, no bishop will give more of himself than I will to renewing this great Church.. No bishop will try harder to help persons who have been hurt by the sins of the past. And no bishop will work harder to strengthen and encourage our priests, and restore the hearts of our people. Everything I’ve learned, everything I know, and everything I have, I will give to this ministry, because all of you -- the people of God -- deserve at least that much.