Today is a day of Thanksgiving as I celebrate the 5th anniversary of my ordination as a bishop. The words come to mind of Blessed Mother’s response to Elizabeth upon hearing the words: “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” My own heart is so full of gratitude to God: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” (Luke 1 43, 46-47)
Today’s readings could not have better captured the joy and responsibility it is to be a bishop. The Gospel from Matthew (18:12-14) speaks of that Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep behind to go in search of the one who has strayed. This is certainly the task of every good shepherd, to look for the lost and to restore them to the family of God.
As I reflected upon this role of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, I am first struck by the reality that I had to first be ‘found’ by him in order to know his presence in my own life as the Good Shepherd. I am so grateful that the Lord chased me and hounded me in my younger life, in order to help me find my true way, which is to follow him.
Once I allowed myself to be found, I came to know Jesus also as my Friend, and to know myself as his friend. I recently had the opportunity to return to my college seminary, St. John Vianney in St. Paul, Minnesota. I longed to sit again in the chapel where I first began to ‘give in’ to the Lord’s love, and allow him to come to me in the Blessed Sacrament. A part of my deep desire as bishop is to find ways to help people today come to know the close friendship of Jesus in their lives.
The Prophet Isaiah in today’s reading (Isaiah 40:1-11) is instructed to give comfort to God’s people. These are the same words the Lord speaks to the shepherds today: “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.” Preaching the Gospel is perhaps one of my greatest pleasures as a bishop. Preaching and living God’s Word is one of the privileged means by which we bring comfort and consolation to God’s people today. One of my greatest prayers is that more and more of our people will discover the truth of the Gospel and allow this Word of Life to give direction and purpose in their lives.
The final image of Christ that comes to mind today is that of Spouse. As a bishop, Christ has invited me into a deep and intimate union of love with himself. This love is lived and experienced in many ways, in preaching, celebrating the sacraments and carrying out the day to day demands of governance. This spousal union with Christ is experienced in my day to day encounters with God’s People, particularly in the many ways I am asked to serve this local portion of God’s People.
Perhaps even more, Christ comes as Spouse in those private moments of prayer, not all that unlike the private moments of husbands and wives. It is in those moments when Christ comes to console, strengthen and renew his love for me, and allow me to express my own love for him. These are the moments that ‘underpin’ all the other aspects of my ministry.
So, to the People of the Diocese of Cheyenne, I say it is good to be with you, and a privilege to serve you as your bishop. May each of us rediscover the joy of being ‘found’ by the Good Shepherd. May each of us renew our commitment to follow and serve him for he truly is the Lamb of God, who comes to take away the sins of the World.
May Christ continue to capture our hearts and imaginations so that we may never leave him. Rather, may our response to the Lord be the words of St. Peter: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)