My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
This is the full text of the homily preached at the Mass of Thanksgiving and Celebration of Bishop DiMarzio’s 25th Episcopal Anniversary and 18 years of Ministry in the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph, Prospect Heights, on Oct. 30.
During my years of preaching, I have found that concrete images help the hearers focus on what the truth of the homily is about. So I want to give you an image that in my mind encapsulates the role of the Bishop in the Church. St. Augustine tells us, “With you, I am a Christian, and for you I am a Bishop” which is printed on the cards distributed at today’s Mass, with a new picture of myself. This is what I believe about a Bishop’s role in the Church.
The image I wish to propose is that of a juggler. Jugglers gain a certain skill at juggling, sometimes they keep many objects in the air. At times they may falter and one falls, but not all of them at once. As I look back over the past 25 years of my Episcopacy, I believe that the Office of Bishop is one of trying to become an expert juggler.
There are three objects, or balls in the air, that the Bishop needs to juggle, the three responsibilities that the Bishop has; teaching, sanctifying, and governing the Church. More complicated yet, however, is the method by which the Bishop is expected to exercise these responsibilities. First, as friend, and then brother, and father. These seem to be contradictory roles; certainly, as we see them worked out in our own families and human experience. As I have reflected in prayer in preparation for this homily, I can see no better image to explain the challenge, and at times the impossibility, of fulfilling the role of Bishop, especially in today’s Church.
Allow me to speak first about the role of teaching. As the documents tell us, the Bishop is the chief catechist in the diocese. Most of all, he must teach the faith in any way possible. I am guided by the insight of St. Paul VI when he said, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” Teaching, perhaps, is best done as a friend. Who were your best teachers? Those who befriended you, those with whom you felt understood, the ones you could speak to, the ones who understood you, the ones who could guide you if you were confused about what they were teaching?
Hopefully, the teaching in my weekly article, “Put Out Into the Deep”, in The Tablet, my pastoral letters, my annual Chrism Mass homily to my priests and deacons, interviews on television, and numerous other ways show that in a friendly way I was trying to communicate something which I believed in, something that was important to the life of the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens and the Church at large.
My dedication to Catholic education was sustained by that responsibility that as chief catechist I had to see that we teach our children the faith. In our Catholic academies and schools, and religious education programs we have to teach the truths of the faith. Otherwise, future generations would be all the poorer as Catholic Christians, not knowing what to believe, nor how to put those beliefs into practice.
I tried to develop the quality of religious education for our public schools’ students. Also, I worked more closely with the Catholic high schools, and even the Catholic and non-Catholic colleges and universities in Brooklyn and Queens. All of these higher education entities needed attention and the best way to support them was to meet with the presidents and show my concern for their students. The Bishop must be a friendly teacher and a witness to what he teaches, so that others will follow. Not follow the Bishop, but follow Christ Himself whom the Bishop represents.
Most important is that I have the responsibility to teach priests and deacons, fellow participants in the sacrament of Holy Orders. Hopefully, it is my example that teaches best, and not just the words that I utter or write. This relationship is important; that I know the priests and that they know me. The most important teaching that is necessary today is fidelity into the mission of the New Evangelization.
All of us have gotten tired over the years or trying to make Christ present in a culture that seems closed to that presence. We must unburden ourselves from the failures that we might have experienced and give ourselves again a new energy to try new ways to influence God’s people in the culture in which we live.
The second major responsibility of the Bishop is to sanctify, to bless, and lead the people of God to holiness. Certainly, this is through the celebration of the Liturgy, but it is also through a personal life of prayer because no one can lead others to God if they are not already on that path themselves.
One of the most important Liturgies for the Bishop is the Ordination of men to the Priesthood. How important it is that the preparation of those to be ordained be under the purview of the Bishop. Also, what was important for me was to actively be involved with the recruitment of new seminarians and to follow them along the way of their preparation to the priesthood. This is a responsibility I take seriously.
At the same time, the sanctification of God’s people must take place through the priests who are delegated by the Bishop to become icons of Christ for them in their individual assignments. The way this can be accomplished most fruitfully by me, again, is as a brother. The Bishop must be to his priests a brother, which I have tried my best to be for each of them. Also, the people should become our brothers and sisters to us.
When it comes to the deacons, I am fondly known to be their grandfather. Many years ago in one of the talks I gave to deacons, I made this comparison and have not yet been able to live it down. But grandfathers are the more indulgent than fathers and perhaps this is what our deacons need to understand their special mission in the Church of Brooklyn and Queen. In addition, I formed a Diaconal Council which meets several times a year. This has proven to be a good opportunity for us to dialogue, and to discuss issues related to the Permanent Diaconate and its ministry.
Many years ago after seven years of ministry, I had my first change of priestly assignment. It was difficult for me and for the parish that had become dependent upon me, especially the Italian immigrant community. One day, I witnessed a confrontation between one of the women faithful to the parish and the pastor. She took him on fiercely as a lioness, saying, “How can you take him away!?”, thinking that it was his decision to move me to another responsibility which, in fact, was not the case. I heard her clearly say, “You can’t take him away, he’s my brother!”
More humbling words I have never heard spoken about me. Yes, we must become brothers to our people who for us are our brothers and sisters. There is no other way that we can lead our people to sanctity without becoming truly one with them. It is the sanctification of God’s people that is truly a work of service, for only by serving can we bring about the sanctification of others.
The Diocese of Brooklyn is blessed with the past and present service of many women and men religious who have ministered among us. I formed a Council of Religious where these religious men and women can regularly dialogue with one another and I dialogue with them regarding their needs, as well as issues which we can tackle together. This Council has been a great experience for all involved.
In our first reading today from First Timothy, we hear the fatherly advice that Paul gives to Timothy, a Bishop whom he had just ordained, that he must respond to the grace bestowed upon him in Christ Jesus. And that his trust should be in the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within him. There is no better advice that can be given to any Bishop.
The work of sanctification also demands that the means of sanctification be adequate. In our own diocese in Brooklyn and Queens, we underwent a reorganization of our parishes so that they could not only be financially self-sufficient, but also more efficient in pastoral care. Christ Jesus Our Hope reminded us that parishes could be stronger by joining with the neighboring parishes and that our Church buildings were no mere meeting halls, and so very few were put out of commission or closed. In fact, one of these parishes became the Co-Cathedral of the Diocese of Brooklyn where we gather today.
Looking at things differently helped me to continue the sanctification of God’s people, so that more effort could be made in building community than in taking care of buildings which were not as useful as they could be.
And finally, the work of governing clearly seems to be the most difficult one that the Bishop must exercise, and the one which perhaps the Bishop shies away from most of all, because this governance must be exercised truly as a father, and a shepherd as we hear in the Gospel today. Yes, the shepherd is appointed to guard the sheep and take care of them. Today’s Gospel is a beautiful one and again, perhaps, it is important to understand, most probably, how it happened.
In a movie released several years ago called “Resurrection,” the post-resurrection scene on the Sea of Galilee has Jesus questioning Peter portrayed in an interesting way. The film had Peter walking along the shore with Jesus’s hand over his shoulder, asking him those three most important questions: Do you love me, Peter? And Peter, at first, is more upright, however, as the question is asked a third time we see Peter with his head down. The Lord has given Peter the gift of humility because Peter recognized that his love for the Lord was not perfect, because he had denied Him three times. And Peter’s love needed to grow, as he was rehabilitated and forgiven. And so it is with the Bishop who is father and shepherd of the flock. It takes time to understand the love of Christ, the love that Christ has for us, and the love that Bishops must have for Him and for the flock.
As I look back on my work of governing, it was, hopefully, accomplished in ways that built up the Diocese of Brooklyn for the future that we face here in Brooklyn and Queens. Straightening out accounts and putting us on an even keel was not an easy job, however, obviously, that is not the only thing that was at stake. What was at stake was enabling people to take responsibility for their own schools and their own parishes.
More importantly, is the work of evangelization. From the first day when I arrived as the Seventh Bishop of Brooklyn in October of 2003, I spoke about the New Evangelization, and do so until this day. The sheep must know the Shepherd who is Christ the Lord, and that the love of Christ gathers them into His flock.
The New Evangelization reaches out to the immigrants in Brooklyn and Queens and those who have been here a long time, as well as the internal migrants who have flooded our diocese in the last several years, all young people from all over the world and the United States. They come to New York seeking their future and fortune, and sometimes are disoriented and lack a base and community. We tried through the San Damiano Mission and the Emmaus Center to reach out to these young people. And we continue to coordinate over 30 language apostolates, trying to make everyone comfortable here in the Diocese of Brooklyn.
Sometimes my social work training reminds me of psychological truths that help us to keep life in balance. The stages of psychological development of Eric Erikson were part and parcel of that training, especially the last steps from ages 40 to 65, and 65 and older, which have been for me a guidepost. This psychologist said that from 40 to 65, either a person engages in generativity or stagnation. Generativity means the ability to produce, give themselves to a mission, and even made disciples to carry on that mission, otherwise a person tends to stagnate.
Hopefully, I have passed this stage well because the virtue that Erikson proposes is one of care, which is for us, charity, “pastoral charity” which is the necessary ingredient for the life of a Bishop. Being able to recruit new disciples, clerical and lay, is so important to the work of the Bishop. And I have tried to accomplish this each day of my ministry among you; the priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful of Brooklyn and Queens.
While I was still in Camden, I took my mother to the priestly ordination of four men. On the way home in the car, my mother said something I will never forget, “Now I know what a Bishop does, he makes new priests!” Yes, a perfect example of generativity.
The final stage is when one reaches 65 years and beyond, normal retirement age, then a person either is able to live their life with integrity or the person despairs in the aging process, which is never easy for anyone and for some is overwhelming. But Erikson says that the virtue necessary at this time of life is wisdom.
Hopefully, I can say that I have gained some wisdom over the years. I have tried to govern the Diocese of Brooklyn with pastoral wisdom and patience. It gives me some satisfaction to see that as I leave this post I find satisfaction in what I believe I have accomplished. Hopefully, others will judge in the same way, because I know that no one is a judge in their own case.
The Bishop must be the center of unity in any diocese. Hopefully, I have accomplished this to the best of my ability. I hope that I leave a diocese that is unified around the Office of Bishop. So that our new Bishop will be able to pick up where I left off in the major tasks assigned to the Bishop. And carry on into the future of the Church of Brooklyn and Queens.
As successors of the Apostles, Bishops have a great responsibility and not everyone can always accomplish all that is required. For many years, I kept a book on my shelf for my years by Karl Rahner, a noted theologian who dealt with the question, “Was each Bishop a successor of a particular apostle”? Rahner answered, “No, they are successors of the College of Apostles.” This means that the College had many different types of apostles with many virtues and vices; two were traitors, others fled when the going got tough, and just a few stayed around to the end. But since we Bishops carry the characteristics of all of the Apostles, we can expect different characteristics to be evident over the course of time.
I give thanks to Almighty God for the blessings that I have received during these 25 years of the Episcopacy. For my family and friends who have sustained me during these years. And the priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful whom I have served to the best of my ability. I cannot say that I ever was unhappy, although I faced difficult days, especially during the days of the unjust accusations that I suffered. But God’s people sustained me and, hopefully, I was able to sustain them by being faithful.
Yes, I hope I was a good juggler. And, yes, I may have dropped the ball here or there. If I did, I seek your forgiveness and ask that you be as accepting to your new Bishop as you were to me during these past 18 years.