What a beautiful day in Juneau yesterday. What a beautiful day for the Church. Three months from his appointment, Bishop Andrew Bellisario, CM was ordained and installed in the Diocese of Juneau yesterday.
Bishop Andrew was well represented, by his family and friends, his new family in Juneau, his Vincentian family of priests and sisters, as well as a very good showing of priests and parishioners from the Archdiocese of Anchorage. At the end of a powerfully moving Mass, his remarks were right on queue, and his pastoral heart was readily on display.
It was a privilege and an honor to work with him as a priest in the Archdiocese of Anchorage, and a distinct pleasure to serve as the Principal Consecrator for his ordination. Below you will find my homily from yesterday’s celebration.
Many thanks to Dominique, Communications Director in Juneau (and his wife!) for the pictures.
Isaiah 61:1-3; 1 Peter 5 1-4; John 21:15-17
Good afternoon and welcome! Archbishop Pierre, it is good to welcome you back to Alaska for another visit – I believe this is your third in less than a year! We are going to have to make you an honorary resident!
Bishop Warfel, Bishop Burns, welcome back to Juneau.
To all my brother bishops and priests, deacons, religious, to the representatives from other faith communities, civic leaders and faithful from this Province of Alaska and beyond – welcome.
In a very special way, we extend a warm greeting to all of Bishop-elect Andrew’s family and friends, including his brothers and sisters of the Vincentian community.
Bishop-Elect Andrew – welcome. I hope that you have felt the many prayers we and so many others have offered for you during these past few months since you were appointed the sixth bishop of Juneau. It is good to finally gather for this auspicious moment.
I wish to address specifically this local Church of Juneau. We are here today to assure you that in this man before you, whom we are soon to ordain as your new bishop, your prayers have been answered!
As I prepared for this day, and this homily, I was mindful of the many church documents I have read over the years which address the life and ministry of a bishop. As I reflect both upon my own experience as well as all that Mother Church has to say regarding this daunting task of episcopal ministry, I often think, who could ever possibly fulfill all of those expectations?!
In fact, during one of my early retreats as a bishop, after a few years of ministry, I prayed about that specific question: “How can I possibly be capable of carrying out this awesome ministry?” As God often does in retreats, he led me directly to the answer of my prayer.
St. Paul in his 2nd Letter to the Corinthians says this: “Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that of ourselves we are qualified to take credit for anything as coming from us; rather, our qualification comes from God, who has indeed qualified us as ministers of a new covenant,” (2 Cor. 3:5-6)
Even in a more recent retreat, God once again focused my attention on the words of St. Paul: “Paul, and apostle of Christ Jesus, by the will of God …” (Ephesians 1:1)
Even Jesus himself recognized that for him to accomplish all that was involved in the Father’s will for him and for our salvation, he could only navigate his ministry by faithfully gazing upon the face of the Father in prayer – by being docile and sensitive to the presence of the Holy Spirit.
This is reflected in the first reading today from the Prophet Isaiah, which Jesus chose to introduce his public ministry. “The Spirit of the Lord [a]God is upon me, Because the Lord has anointed me.” (see Isaiah 61:1-3)
Bishop-Elect Andrew, I’m sure in your priestly life and ministry, you have come to realize just how much you rely upon the Lord. I can assure you, this holds especially true in the life of the Bishop. I’m also convinced that the particular charism that is yours as a member of the Congregation for the Mission will serve you well in your new assignment, for indeed, we live in a time when we are all called to rediscover the missionary zeal and nature of the Church.
God created you with a unique personality, with many gifts and talents. And you will be given every opportunity now to utilize those gifts to their fullest extent. But do not forget the words of St. Paul. It is God who qualifies us as ministers of the new covenant. It is God who has now chosen you as a successor to the apostles, and by God’s will, the grace of Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, you will do your best work.
St. Paul also said, “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) … even walk in the footsteps of Bishop Ed Burns!
One thing you will quickly experience: Our people have high expectations of us. Mother Church holds a high standard for us. In the face of such expectations and standards, cling to Christ. Trust that as you take up your crozier today, He leads you as you lead your people. You can and will do great things in Christ who is your strength and guide.
Believe as the episcopal ring is placed on your finger today, that Christ takes you to himself – draws you deeply into the heart of his love – because our primary mission as bishops is love – the love of Christ.
Hear again the words of Jesus to Peter in today’s Gospel: “Do you love me?” Your love for Christ and his love for you is the love you are now sent to share and grow with the People of God.
As you faithfully carry out this mission of love – and embody the rich mercy of God as your episcopal motto proclaims, you will daily grow in holiness – symbolized by the miter soon to be placed upon your head. Lead your people to the same holiness that is our calling – to become more fully the Body of Christ that we are as members of the Church.
Our lives as bishops are profoundly rooted in Christ. We are each day to be transformed more fully into Christ. As bishops, we are successors to the Apostles, which means it is Christ who both calls and sends us. Christ sends us not only in his name, not only with his missionary mandate, but ‘in his person.’ Every priest, every bishop, is called to become Christ.
As a Bishop, you bear the ‘fullness of the Priesthood’, and it is our prayer for you through this consecration today that you will experience and fully cooperate with this indwelling of Christ the Eternal Priest, that you may proclaim as did St. Paul: “yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me;” (Galatians 2: 20) In Christ – our ministry bears the fruitfulness of the Father.
Pope Francis encourages bishops today to accompany the People of God. These are the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel:
“Feed my sheep. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.” Take time to be present to and with your priests and deacons and other collaborators in your ministry at the chancery and in your parishes. Regularly visit your people, going out to the various parishes of your diocese. Preach the Gospel, lead them in prayer and sacrament, listen to them, and continue to encourage them and instruct them in their call to holiness.
Take time for your own personal growth in holiness. Make sure you have daily time to ‘waste with the Lord in prayer.’ Gaze upon his face, share with him your hopes and dreams, your doubts and desires. Spend time with the Word of God, that you may proclaim the Word with integrity and effect. May you abide in God’s Word, and may the Word of God always be found living loudly in you.
We as bishops need a living encounter and relationship with Christ, and our people need us to be in close relationship with Christ. Our friendship with Christ, indeed, our love for Christ, will lead us to his cross. I pray that Christ may help you to see the crosses of your life also as a ‘friend,’ for it is solely from this ‘tree of life’ that we enjoy the gift of salvation. This prayer of St. Ignatius comes to mind:
Jesus, may all that is you flow into me.
May your body and blood be my food and drink.
May your passion and death be my strength and life.
Jesus, with you by my side enough has been given.
May the shelter I seek be the shadow of your cross.
Let me not run from the love which you offer.
But hold me safe from the forces of evil.
On each of my dyings shed your light and your love.
Keep calling me, LORD, until that day comes,
When with your saints, I may praise you forever.
Finally, a word regarding your devotion to Our Lady and the role of the Holy Spirit. One of our Blessed Mother’s titles is the Spouse of the Holy Spirit. Know that Mary is always with you, always at your side, most especially when you celebrate the Eucharist. Seek her powerful intercession that you may be ever more docile to the same Holy Spirit by which she conceived Christ, that your episcopal ministry may bear the same fruit of the Spirit’s anointing – that you may bring Christ to every moment, every decision, every person that you are sent to serve.
Bishop-Elect Andrew, you have answered the call of Christ. (Or at least that of Archbishop Pierre!) Now, single heartedly serve Him in those to whom he sends you, to those entrusted to your care. Selflessly persevere in your call, leading others to faith.
Keep the sails of the Church trimmed to Christ, filled with the breath of the Holy Spirit, keeping her and all souls on board ever on course for our eternal home.
Bishop-Elect Andrew, know and believe from this day forward, you are a successor to the apostles of Jesus Christ, by the will of God. (see Ephesians 1:1) Walk each day in the presence of Our Lord and Our Lady, as you walk in the midst of God’s holy, faithful people, and God will take care of the rest.