By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published October 1, 2009
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory gives a homily on the office of bishop at the ordination Mass Sept. 29 for Bishop Luis Zarama. This is an excerpt from it.
My brother, a bishop is called to exercise a three-fold office within the Church as you obviously are well aware. He must teach, govern and sanctify the People of God. Each dimension of a bishop’s service is important although your days will never unfold in such a neatly ordered sequence in regard to these three-fold responsibilities. In each pastoral activity that you undertake you will always be teaching, governing and sanctifying the people entrusted to your care. Yet it is helpful to consider each of these three responsibilities individually for the sake of our reflection in prayer today.
Every bishop by the very nature of our office must be a teacher of the Faith. We are once again entrusted with the Book of the Gospels as we first were on that ordination day when we became a deacon. This presentation comes as a renewed sign that our teaching must always be grounded in God’s Holy Word. Yet we are also entrusted with the legacy of Faith that also belongs to the Church – our Sacred Tradition. Each bishop must use all of his talents and zeal to proclaim and to defend the entire deposit of Faith for the People of God and for the world.
Yet each bishop has to do so according to his own style and skill. Your preaching, writing, lecturing and exhortations must seek to make known the entire Truth that the Church holds as a sacred trust. Our contemporary world is desperately in need of discovering such truth – not a relative truth that is dependent upon the mere whims of the moment, not a truth simply equated with facts and data, but the truth that belongs to eternity and that is subject to God’s own authority. My brother, you must teach the entire truth – whether convenient or inconvenient, in season or out of season as the Apostle urges us (2 Timothy 4:2). Yet this must always be done in such a fashion that it continually encourages people to believe the truth, to accept the truth and to live the truth.
Episcopal governance is a unique service that bishops must offer to the Church since it symbolizes and expresses the encounter that people have through you with Christ the Good Shepherd. Governing the flock of the Lord must always be exercised with constancy, courage and fidelity to that sacred image. The authority of those of us who Shepherd the Lord’s flock as bishops comes from Jesus Himself and must always be modeled on Christ. It is far more complex than simply possessing the power to command people to do one’s bidding. It is the responsibility of ordering the Church according to the design of God Himself. A bishop always seeks to guide and govern the Church in ways that draw people together around the Truth that is Christ and at all times in love. Even in the exercise of administrative decisions and organizational tasks, the bishop shows forth the compassion of Christ the Good Shepherd in the way that he fulfills his responsibilities.
A bishop must never shy away from prophetic candor in proclaiming the truth, but he must also listen carefully to the hearts of his people so that he will know how best to guide them always according to the Mind of Christ.
A bishop is a minister who must sanctify the Church – that is to impel it toward Christ Himself. You do so most importantly through your own good example of prayer and reverence for the things of God. A bishop presides in charity over the local Church entrusted to his care. At the Eucharist, you will find the utmost and the central means of sanctifying the Lord’s flock. As you gather our priests, deacons and faithful around the altar of Christ, you will make Him present to the Word and Sacrament but also you must remember that He is to be found within the very assembly in turn that surrounds you.
Our people expect us, and properly so, to be men consumed by the pursuit of holiness. They are encouraged when they see us at prayer and heartened when they know that we pray for them and for their children and all their loved ones. Our own journey of Faith must become for the entire Church a great public witness and a source of hope and confidence.
These three responsibilities that are placed upon the shoulders of a bishop can be quite burdensome at times, but they are also always our means of following Christ and making Him present to the Church entrusted to our care and indeed to the entire world. As you and I work together in this blessed Church, we must do so in such a fashion that our unity and fraternal affection for one another will strengthen the Faith of our people. Gladly will I share with you the pastoral care of all of the people of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Our collaboration must be more than the mere distribution of tasks, but the joint desire to teach, sanctify and govern the Lord’s People in such a fashion that Christ Himself will be present through our ministry.
Because we are such a diverse community, comprised of people of so many races, cultures, languages and sentiments, we must constantly remind the entire local Church that our unity is to be found only in Christ Jesus and it is made possible solely through the grace of the Holy Spirit. The Episcopal Office in the Church is above all a unifying ministry. First of all, we are members in a College of Bishops that must always be in union with the Successor of Peter who heads and directs that College. That bond with the Holy Father and the College of Bishops continues within the Church the Apostolic character that Christ established as the way He desires His Church to exist in the world. As a committed and united fraternity, together we must proclaim the One Faith, celebrate the Sacraments and gather all of the Lord’s flock in a bond of harmony, peace and love. The many gracious bishops who are here to share in your Ordination are a sign of the fraternal affection into which you are being welcomed and established today.
Your ordination brings a great deal of joy for the Archdiocese of Atlanta and in a special way for our wonderful and diverse Hispanic community that is such a valuable part of this one family of believers. Our priests, religious and all of the faithful will receive you with joy as you begin to serve them in this new ministry. Reassure them often of the presence of the Good Shepherd who always cares for His flock with tenderness, joy and fidelity. May the Lord who has begun a good work in you, Luis, bring it to fulfillment. Amen.