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Bishop's role: prophet, witness, servant of hope

Archbishop Wenski's homily at ordination of Bishop Peter Baldacchino

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Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily at the ordination of Bishop Peter Baldacchino, Miami’s 10th auxiliary bishop. The ordination took place March 19 at St. Mary Cathedral.

Today this local Church of Miami will witness the episcopal ordination of a new auxiliary bishop to assist me in my duties as its archbishop. St. Augustine reminds us that the title bishop is not one of honor but of service. We are grateful to God who inspires Bishop Baldacchino to generously assume the duties of a bishop so as to serve the people of South Florida. 

In the name of the priests, the deacons, the men and women of consecrated life and the members of Christ's faithful, I welcome members of the bishop-elect's family who have traveled here from Malta, his brother John and his wife Maria, and several nieces. We also welcome those of his family, including his elderly father, who while not able to travel here, are following this ceremony which is being live-streamed through the Internet. We also welcome those from the Turks and Caicos and from Newark who are here this afternoon at St. Mary’s Cathedral or who are also following the ceremony on the Internet.

Also, a special welcome to the bishops who join us today: Archbishop Patrick Pinder of Nassau, Archbishop Charles Defour of Kingston, the bishops of Florida and the bishops from New Jersey and elsewhere who join with me in the laying of hands through which Bishop-elect Baldacchino becomes a successor of the apostles and a member of the College of Bishops.

Today, we celebrate the solemnity of St. Joseph whom God chose to “substitute” for himself when the Word became flesh to dwell among us. Joseph fulfilled God’s plan – even when that plan eluded human understanding. He lived his life with steadfast faith in Providence. As every bishop is a Vicar of Christ, we do well then to invoke the intercession of St. Joseph, patron of the Universal Church, as Bishop-elect Baldacchino also gives his “yes” to God’s plan for himself and for this local Church. Like St. Joseph, Bishop Baldacchino must also accept this calling which will change his life forever with that same steadfast faith.

Peter, it’s only been a month since you learned of the Holy Father’s decision to call you to the episcopacy. For each of us bishops, the call to the episcopacy – like the call to the priesthood itself — was a humbling and overwhelming experience — for each of us is keenly aware of our own unworthiness. And certainly, as St. Joseph experienced, for us too God’s plan does elude human understanding. You might be asking yourself: How did this happen? How was it that I became a bishop? But, don’t worry. Like St. Joseph did, put your trust in God. Besides, in a few years, you will look around at your brother bishops and be tempted to ask: How in the world did they become bishops?

In speaking about the qualities that a candidate for the episcopacy should have, Pope Francis recently cited as common characteristics required of a bishop “professionalism, service and holiness.” But, more importantly, he said that, just as when the original apostles set out to replace Judas, they agreed that the next apostle be a witness to the Resurrection, a bishop must know how to be a witness of Jesus’ Resurrection. “The bishop is,” Pope Francis says, “first and foremost a martyr for the Risen One… His life and ministry must make the Resurrection credible. In becoming one with Christ in the cross of the true gift of himself, he makes the life that never dies flow forth for his Church.”

For this reason, a bishop with the courage of humility must be “capable of fascinating the world with the beauty of love, with the freedom offered by the Gospel.” As Blessed John Paul II wrote in Pastores Gregis, the bishop is to be “the prophet, witness and servant of hope.” In this way, all the flock entrusted to his care, but especially those whom the world would throw away, those considered the least, the last or the lost, will recognize in him the voice of a true shepherd calling them to the refreshing waters of faith.

Peter, you have followed an itinerary of Catholic formation – a work of the New Evangelization – known as the Neocatechumenal Way, which Blessed John Paul II deemed “valid for our society and for our times.” Pope Benedict XVI described “The Way” as a “precious instrument” that contributes, “with new impetus and ardor, to the radical and joyful rediscovery of the gift of baptism.” As you walked this itinerary you discovered – in the proclamation of the Kerygma – the Evangelii Gaudium, the Joy of the Gospel. As a bishop you must continue to share that joy with all – as you recognized in the choice of your episcopal motto, Ubi Dominus, ibidem Laetitia (Wherever God is, there is joy).

The liturgy of episcopal ordination interprets the essential features of a bishop's ministry in the questions which I will shortly pose to you. "Do you resolve...?" I will ask you eight times. Each question solicits from you a statement of your intention — your willingness to undertake what is being asked of you; and each question points out a path for you to follow in the exercise of your episcopal ministry: And what is asked of you? What are those paths to be followed? You are asked to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ; to go ahead of and lead God's people; you are asked to teach the sacred heritage of our past; to defend and promote the doctrinal unity of the faithful; to show mercy and charity to the needy and the poor; you are asked to pray without ceasing. These questions set before you a road map, or itinerary, to be followed in the exercise of your episcopal office.

My dear people, the call to the order of the episcopate is a complete abandonment to the mystery of the cross — to the mystery of love. It is a dying to self. As Pope Francis says, “The courage to die, and the generosity to offer his life and to expend himself for the flock, are inscribed in the DNA of the bishop. Renunciation and sacrifice are connatural with the mission of the bishop.”

To cite St. Augustine, “with you he is a Christian but for you he is a bishop.” We are not bishops for ourselves but for you, for the Church. And so, I ask you, my dear people of God, to respect this new bishop, to love him, and to pray for him, that his ministry as bishop among us will be fruitful.

Comments from readers

Fr Alfredo Ortiz - 03/21/2014 12:19 PM
Felicidades a La Arquidiocesis de Miami,de una manera especial a el Neocatecumenado y a todo el pueblo de Dios. Al Obispo Peter toda las oraciones y buenos deseos en su nuevo ministerio, y al Arzobispo Wensky y al equipo que preparo esta liturgia felicidades por tan exelente trabajo.
Saludos afectuosos desde Orlando.

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