Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Homily of Abp. John Nienstedt at Ordination of Bishop Paul Sirba in Duluth

EPISCOPAL ORDINATION OF
BISHOP PAUL SIRBA

DIOCESE OF DULUTH
December 14, 2009

BY THE MOST REVEREND
JOHN C. NIENSTEDT

Readings: Isaiah 61:1-3abcd

1 Cor 2:1-10a

Luke 14:25-33

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“Oh, let the Son of God enfold you,

with His Spirit and His love,

let Him fill your heart and satisfy your soul,

oh, let Him have the things that hold you,

and His Spirit like a dove,

will descend upon your life

and make you whole.

Jesus, oh Jesus come and fill your lambs.

Jesus, oh Jesus, come and fill your lambs.”



Bishop-elect Sirba has already the special blessing of several saints as he begins his Episcopal ministry. His call came on the feast of St. “Padre” Pio of Pietrelcina, September 23rd. His letter of appointment arrived on the feast of the Little Flower, St. Therese of the Child Jesus. The public announcement of his appointment was made on the Feast of St. Teresa of Avila, October 15th. And now his Episcopal ordination falls on this feast of St. John of the Cross.

And, as I reflected upon it, today’s feast is probably the most fruitful one for us to ponder as we ordain this former spiritual director to be a successor of the apostles.

St. John of the Cross was, of course, not only an experienced spiritual director himself, but an accomplished psychologist and theologian. In his prose writings, he pondered such themes as the cost of discipleship, abandonment to God’s will and the purification of one’s mind and heart. Together with St. Teresa of Avila, he set out to reform the Carmelite rule and practice, restoring the order to its original charism, which meant a greater austerity and a closer following of the original rule of life. What St. JohnSt. John did is similar to what a bishop must do for the whole Church: that is, to encourage her members continually to be renewed in their faithfulness to Jesus Christ. For such a noble intent, however, suffered opposition, misunderstanding, persecution and even imprisonment at the hands of his brother monks. Welcome, Bishop Sirba, to the Episcopal rank!

And yet, paradoxically, it was out of this suffering that St. John’s poetic and mystical spirit came to birth. For from his darkness, he began to learn that agony is the forerunner to ecstasy, abandonment leads to possession of the truth and denial of self brings one to God. St. John embraced the darkness, knowing that it would bring him into the light. Step‑by-step, he saw that Calvary is the surest route to eternal glory.

The last two Scriptures to which we have listened are suggested by the Church for this feast. In the first, St. Paul admits to the weakness of his preaching while acknowledging the power of the Word he proclaims. Herein lies a wisdom, not known to the secular mind, but rather one that reflects “God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden, predetermined before the ages.”

This is a wisdom that defies normal, human logic—a wisdom which makes one willing to be hated by father, mother, brother or sister for the sake of the Lord. It also expresses a desire to not only receive, but even to embrace the Cross. Such reasoning, strange as this may seem to our natural instincts, can only be learned only through faith.

This is the faith that comes with the anointing of the Holy Spirit, as so eloquently described in our first reading: It is the power to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to announce a year of favor from the Lord, to comfort those who mourn and to place a glorious mantle over a formerly listless spirit. In other words, this is the power of transformation, made possible by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the release of His Holy Spirit upon the Church.

Now, my dear brother, you have known this power of transformation in your own ministry as a deacon and parish priest and most assuredly as spiritual director for aspiring priesthood candidates. All of this experience has led you, by God’s own Divine Providence, to accept the fullness of the priesthood in the Episcopal order. I know you did not desire this promotion for yourself and that is the surest sign that this call comes from God Himself. But be assured that the God who calls never fails in His generosity to sustain us. As St. John of the Cross understood well, there cannot be union with God without a degree of suffering, for it is through the Cross of Christ that salvation takes place.

In the text of the instruction provided by the Church for this ritual of ordination, the following three important points are made:

1. First, the Lord Jesus Christ is, in and through this Episcopal ordination, present to his priests and his people. The bishop is the one who guarantees the authentic proclamation of the Gospel, the proper administration of the sacraments as well as the attractive call to conversion, in order that he may lead God’s people in wisdom and prudence on their sacred pilgrimage;

2. Secondly: The noble title of bishop is ultimately a call to service, not one of honor. The bishop is called to be concerned about all his people, and especially the least among them. Never may he lord his authority over them. The bishop is a teacher, a consoler, a pastor who should be readily available to his people. The bishop must always be willing to ask of himself, “Am I giving enough, am I serving as I should, am I leading in the way that Christ leads?;

3. Thirdly, the Church reminds her sons called to the Episcopal ministry that the bishop must be a faithful steward of the practical assets of the local Church, and even more so a steward of the mysteries of faith. Concerned as he must be about the support of Catholic schools and Catholic charities, he, nevertheless, needs to be personally concerned about the sick, the poor, the marginalized, the strangers in his local Church. And finally, the bishop is exhorted to be attentive to those who are “not yet gathered into the one fold of Christ.” Thus, he must not exclude from his pastoral concern those of different faiths or no faith at all.

My dear Bishop Sirba, I can only imagine that at this moment your mind is spinning. How will you do all this? How can you meet these multiple and varied responsibilities, aware of their gravity and seriousness? How do you measure up to all that is now expected of you?

As a bishop of 13 years, I want to assure you that the answers to these questions do not come easily.

Yet, you are perhaps not so unfamiliar with this situation as you might assume. When you were the pastor of a large parish, you certainly could not predict the questions that would be asked of you or the demands made of you. And as spiritual director, how could you anticipate what concerns a young seminarian might bring to you in his spiritual direction?

In a similar way, the situations you will face in your daily life as bishop will be varied and unexpected. Perhaps at times, they will be unwelcome. But have confidence that all will go well if you are true to yourself, true to what you believe, true to what the Church proclaims.

Like the good Pope John XXIII, I find consolation in the fact that, at the end of the day, I tell the Lord that it is, after all, his Church and I am giving it back to him as I go to bed. We are but his servants, all that we do must follow his lead. Hence, our heartfelt prayer, “Jesus, O Jesus, come and fill your lambs!”

And as you rely on the intercession of all the saints, do not forget the powerful help that Mary, Mother of God and your Mother, can give. She is the most faithful of disciples and she is here to assist you in serving the Master. Know well that she will never fail you as a mother, a mentor, a patroness and a guide. Let her words be yours every day of your life “Fiat voluntas tua.” May Your will be done.

“Oh, let the Son of God enfold you,

with His Spirit and His love,

let Him fill your heart and satisfy your soul,

oh, let Him have the things that hold you,

and His Spirit like a dove,

will descend upon your life

and make you whole.

Jesus, oh Jesus come and fill your lambs.

Jesus, oh Jesus, come and fill your lambs.”


The Music [Tip O' the Hat to Pat P.]

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