Put Out into the Deep

Successors to the Apostles

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

My first week of July was spent with Bishops-elect Raymond Chappetto and Paul Sanchez on retreat.  It has been my custom to make a retreat with those to be ordained to the episcopacy, a canonical requirement for them prior to their day of ordination.  I preached the same retreat as I did in 2006 to Bishops Caggiano, Cisneros and Sansaricq, which is a meditation on the lives of the Apostles.

In some ways, we know little about some of the Apostles.  However, tradition and historical records have revealed to us different personalities.  When studied, we see the different aspects of the spiritual lives and characteristics of episcopal ministry.  I enjoyed giving the retreat and making it myself, and it is my hope that the Bishops-elect also enjoyed the time.

There is an interesting theological question as the Bishops are the successors of the Apostles.  To which Apostle do individual Bishops succeed?  Is there a choice?  Is there one that they will emulate?  The theological answer for me was found in the writings of the great German theologian, Karl Rahner, S.J.  He stated, “Bishops are the successors of the whole college of Apostles, and not any one.”  Reading this was a very comforting thought for me, as perhaps all of the good characteristics of the Apostles are to be found in those who are ordained to succeed them, and the less admirable characteristics subsumed somehow.

An episcopal ministry today truly is a challenge.  The Church recognizes this fact and all newly ordained Bishops throughout the world are invited to travel to Rome and attend a 10-day seminar offered by the Congregation for Bishops.  After their ordinations, Bishops Chappetto and Sanchez will join their brother Bishops to study the essence of episcopal ministry.  When I was ordained a Bishop in 1996, this conference was not offered.  Hopefully, by the grace of God, I have done well without this training at the beginning of my episcopacy.   Since its inception, those newly ordained Bishops who have attended these sessions have gained a lot of insight, most especially to be able to network with new Bishops throughout the world.

Being a Bishop is something you learn day-by-day in exercising the responsibilities to celebrate the Eucharist, the sacrament of Confirmation and other special ceremonies that Bishops are asked to perform.  The essence of episcopal ministry, however, is the governing and shepherding of the Church.  Sanctifying and teaching are essential elements, but they seem to take place through the governing responsibility.

Bishops take seriously the tasks and responsibilities that come with episcopal ordination.  The ceremony itself is so beautiful, streamlined a bit from the past, and yet characteristically updated to the Second Vatican Council where the Word of God plays an important part in the ceremony when the Book of the Gospel is held over the head of the one to be ordained, emphasizing the teaching.  Anointing with Chrism on the head is reminiscent of the Old Testament in anointing prophets, kings and high priests; this shows the sanctifying function.  At the end of the liturgy, when the newly-ordained Bishops process through the Church carrying their crosier or shepherd’s staff, the responsibility of governing becomes so clear.

Bishop Chappetto and Bishop Sanchez are two of the finest men in our presbyterate.   They and I have heard true compliments concerning the selection of these men by our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, to serve as Auxiliary Bishops here in Brooklyn and Queens.  They both exude compassion, care and understanding for God’s people, and in particular for the priests of the Diocese.  The presbyterate of the Diocese of Brooklyn is fortunate to have them serve in their new role as auxiliary Bishops.  I look forward to working closely with both of them and sharing my ministry with them as we teach, sanctify and govern God’s people.

As a small sign of my concern and affection for them, and for all those I have ordained, my custom has been to give them a plant commonly known as the “Crown of Thorns.”  It is a spiny, irregular growing tropical plant that periodically produces small red flowers.  The plant is special to me as it belonged to my grandmother and has been in my family as long as I can remember.  Over the years, I have propagated new shoots and have presented them to those to be ordained, reminding them of the responsibility of the office; not only its pains but also its satisfactions.

My grandfather used to say that there is “no rose without a thorn.”  As so, the greater difficulties we bear, the greater satisfaction that is ours.  From the thorn is produced a rose with all of its fragrance and beauty.

Bishops-elect Chappetto and Sanchez will put out into the deep on the day of their ordination as Bishops.  They will both teach, sanctify and govern God’s people in Brooklyn and Queens with great love and compassion.  I ask the Church of Brooklyn and Queens to pray with me, as these two men are ordained to the episcopacy for the service of God’s people here and in the Universal Church.

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