by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
On Sept. 3 (Labor Day), I celebrated the tenth anniversary of my ordination as bishop. This seems hardly possible!
This summer, when I was at Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in Topeka installing Father Brian Schieber as pastor, a woman told me at the reception that she and her 10-year-old daughter were seated near the rear of the church during Mass. When I processed by them at the end of the ceremony, the daughter remarked to her mother, “The archbishop sounded young when he was giving his homily, but he looks really old!”
Anniversaries remind us of the passage of time, but even more they are opportunities to reflect on God’s many blessings and to rededicate ourselves to our vocations.
I feel truly blessed to be your archbishop. I am inspired by the dedication of our priests; the quality of our seminarians; the reverence and the beauty with which the Eucharist is celebrated; the vibrancy of our parishes; the number of people who come to daily Mass, as well as the number who spend at least an hour a week in eucharistic adoration; the excellence of our schools; the generosity of our people; the extent of our charitable ministries; and the goodness of our youth. This litany could go on and on!
I can take no credit for this. It is a credit to Archbishop Keleher and the priests and the people of this archdiocese.
At the same time, the challenges to our Catholic faith have never been greater. The secular culture is hostile to the moral teachings of the church. Sadly, many Catholics fail to participate each week in Sunday Mass and, even worse, some have become completely disconnected from the church.
When I think of the bishop that the priests and the people of this archdiocese deserve and need, I am saddened by my awareness of my own limitations. Yet, I am consoled by the knowledge that the
Lord likes to use the weak and frail to be his instruments of grace.
During my ordination, I was asked if I was resolved: 1) “to preach the Gospel of Christ with constancy and fidelity”; 2) “to guard the deposit of faith, entire and incorrupt, as handed down by the Apostles”; 3) “to build up the body of Christ, his Church, and to remain in the unity of that body together with the order of bishops”; 4) “to render obedience faithfully to the successor of the blessed Apostle Peter”; 5) “to guide the holy people of God in the way of salvation as a devoted father”; 6) “to be welcoming and merciful to the poor, to strangers, and to all who are in need”; 7) “as a good shepherd to seek out the sheep who stray and gather them into the Lord’s fold”; and 8) “to pray without ceasing to almighty God for the holy people and to carry out the office of high priest without reproach.”
Humanly speaking, these responsibilities and duties are impossible for any person to fulfill. But, with God, all things are possible.
The day of my ordination, in the church’s liturgical calendar, is the feast of St. Gregory the Great. St. Gregory was born in Rome around the year 540. He was the son of a Roman senator and became himself a prefect of the city of Rome. He renounced his civic office and gave away his considerable wealth in order to become a monk. On Sept. 3, 590, against his own personal desires, he was ordained the Bishop of Rome. He is one of only two popes who have been given the designation “great.”
Pope Gregory was a remarkable leader in initiating reforms that touched every aspect of the life of church, e.g., liturgy, clergy, and governance. He has been named a doctor of the church and — along with St. Augustine, St. Ambrose and St. Jerome — identified as one of the four Fathers of the Western Church. Suffice it to say that Pope Gregory was an extraordinary bishop and pope.
In the Office of Readings for his feast, there is an excerpt from a homily given by St. Gregory on this text from the third chapter of the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel: “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel.” Reflecting on this verse St. Gregory wrote:
“Note that a man whom the Lord sends forth as a preacher is called a watchman. A watchman always stands on a height so that he can see from afar what is coming. Anyone appointed to be a watchman for the people must stand on a height for all his life to help them by his foresight.
“How hard it is for me to say this, for by these very words I denounce myself. I cannot preach with any competence, and yet insofar as I do succeed, still I myself do not live my life according to my own preaching.
“I do not deny my responsibility; I recognize that I am slothful and negligent, but perhaps the acknowledgment of my fault will win me pardon from my just judge.
“Indeed when I was in the monastery I could curb my idle talk and usually be absorbed in my prayers. Since I assumed the burden of pastoral care, my mind can no longer be collected; it is concerned with so many matters.
“So who am I to be a watchman, for I do not stand on the mountain of action but lie down in the valley of weakness?”
Each year, these words of St. Gregory shake me from my complacency and prod me to examine more carefully my own ministry as bishop. For my anniversary, I ask for your prayers that, through God’s grace, I may become a better, holier, wiser and more zealous bishop.
During this year, in which I have encouraged every member of the archdiocese to continue or to begin the daily praying of the rosary, I ask to be included among your intentions as you contemplate with Mary the face of Jesus.
Pray that I might be for the archdiocese a “watchman” as described by St. Gregory. Pray for the grace that I can strive daily to allow my heart to become more and more conformed to the heart of the Good Shepherd. Pray that I can become the bishop you deserve and that the church needs.