Praised be Jesus Christ—Now and forever!
We rightly thank God today. Why? Because our Almighty Father has loved us so much as to provide another, unworthy though he may be, as your bishop, a successor to the Apostles. We, in this Church of Lansing, need this divine link to our foundations, to our roots, so that we might be joined, in the Spirit, to Jesus Christ himself. Hence it is that Paul tells us who we are. We are fellow citizens of the household of God. This is because we are “built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone” (Eph 2: 20).
The local Church of the Diocese of Lansing is apostolic because it has a bishop. How so? I would like to speak of four modes of this apostolic nature of our local Church. First of all, as St. Irenaeus of Lyons, at the end of the second century, has noted (Adversus haereses III, 3:1), Christ has revealed all there is to know about the heavenly Father and all we need to know about our salvation. Christ revealed this to the Apostles who have handed on this divine message to their successors, the bishops. And so, the bishop’s chair, the Cathedra, represented here today by the one used by Bishop Albers and Bishop Zaleski, is for all of us a guarantee that we shall not lack the truth (Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops, 57). Tertullian, a contemporary of Irenaeus, wrote:
Well then, if you wish to make better use of your curiosity in the business of salvation, go to visit the Apostolic Churches, those places where the chairs of the Apostles even now preside in their places” (De Praescriptione Haereticorum, 36).
The bishops hand on, generation after generation, the teachings which were written and spoken by the Apostles. Their memory of the words of Jesus and their interpretations of the message of Jesus are what we hand on. Jesus did not write a book. He did not leave notes. Instead, he instituted the college of the Apostles and their successors, by the working of the Holy Spirit, to hand on what was essential for the life of the Church. The bishop then is an Apostolic teacher. To St. Catherine of Siena, whose feast we observe today, God says: “I have shown the ignorant where to find those who point out and teach this way that is truth. These are, I said, the apostles and evangelists, the martyrs and confessors and holy doctors who have been set like lamps in holy Church” (Dialogue 29). That is why the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II, so emphatically stated: “The faithful need the word of their bishop, they need to have their faith confirmed and purified” (Pastores gregis, 29).
This teaching work has as its aim the very goal of the apostolic mission, to make all people disciples of Jesus Christ and to encounter the divine mystery, to meet Jesus himself. There is no greater kind of fatherhood toward which anyone can aspire, than to serve as bishop for a community seeking Christ, seeking holiness.
Secondly, having a bishop makes the Diocese of Lansing Apostolic because the bishop is the minister of our Apostolic unity. Is this not the message of our Gospel today where Jesus does not call one apostle alone but a band of twelve apostles, a college of apostles, a communion of apostles. The ring worn by the Bishop, and especially this ring, which was worn regularly by Bishop Povish, symbolizes this communion, a communion across the ages, across the globe, and across our ten counties. St. Ignatius of Antioch, during his journey to his martyrdom in Rome around 110 AD, wrote to the Church of the Trallians, that without deacons and presbyters and a bishop “no group can be called a Church” (3:1). It is the presence of the bishop which provides that visible connection with the one Church and thus enables the local community to be the Church. This sense of never being an isolated community is the heart of the message in the Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops (58): “Ecclesial communion will lead the Bishop to work consistently for the common good of the diocese, mindful that this is subordinated to the good of the universal Church and that, in turn, the good of the diocese prevails over that of individual communities.” The bishop’s ring, however, is not a symbol of sterile unity. Rather, like that ring worn by all you married folk, symbolizing your oneness, the ring also symbolizes your life-giving love. This reminds us that all communion is based on love, and especially the love of Christ for his body, his bride, the Church, of which the bishop, spiritually married to the local church, is a sacramental sign. Love for you means that I will pray for you constantly and give my life so that we will remain one on the path to eternal life and that, as a Church, we will bear much fruit.
Thirdly, this cross, this pectoral cross worn by the bishop, and especially this particular one, worn by Bishops Zaleski, Povish, and Mengeling, means that Christ is at the heart of the bishop’s apostolic ministry. The Second Vatican Council, in Lumen gentium (26) calls the bishop the “steward of the grace of the high priesthood.” Christ is that high priest and by his cross he has reconciled us to the Father and poured out grace in abundance. Paul, in reminding us that we are built on the foundation of the apostles, never loses sight of who is the key: Christ is the capstone in whom we are all “being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Eph 2: 22). Jesus has given this Diocese of Lansing another bishop to ensure that this sacramental grace, pouring from his own pierced heart, will flow generously to all of us in need. Thus the bishop, embracing that cross, sees to it that this liturgical life, in communion with the whole Church, is faithfully celebrated and proclaimed so that the genuine nature of the Church is unambiguously expressed (Pastores gregis, 35). Most important of all, the bishop celebrates with you the Eucharistic Mysteries, the most compelling and most important act of all his pastoral ministry (Pastores gregis, 37). I pray that I may be blessed with even a small portion of the zeal with which God blessed Bishop Mengeling as he shared the Cross of Christ in such an evangelizing spirit with all of you.
Finally, the Diocese of Lansing is made Apostolic by the presence of her bishop, because in her bishop she has a leader, a shepherd. In the consecration prayer for a new bishop, the ordaining bishops pray to God to send on the new bishop the “Spirit of governance” or Apostolic leadership. Thus the new bishop is invested with a crozier, for his governance is in the image of the Good Shepherd and so is one of service. This crozier used by Bishop Albers, is a reminder of two aspects of being such a shepherd. First of all, as Pope John Paul reminded us bishops, our leadership not only carries on the Apostle’s authority and sacred power, but it also continues their form of life—one which is Apostolic suffering for the Gospel, one which calls forth gentle and merciful care for the people, one which directs our attention to the weak and poor (Pastores gregis, 43). Just as Peter and the others, in our first reading today, boldly proclaimed their faith in Christ even if it meant their death, so too this apostolic ministry means the bishop is to pour out his life. Such a leadership, of course, is first of all a love for my brother priests, who place their hands in the hands of their bishop, who then “obliges himself to look after those hands” (Pastores gregis, 47). This same obligation of love, this officium amoris, is owed to the whole flock entrusted to the bishop’s care. This crozier, however, carries a second burden, one which compels the bishop to guide the flock. A prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours (Lent, Evening Prayer, Week I, III, IV), recited by clergy, religious, and many laity, states: “Father of all holiness, you gave us Christ as the shepherd of our souls; stay with your shepherds and the flock entrusted to them, do not leave the flock without the loving care of its shepherd, do not leave your shepherds without an obedient flock to follow them.” The very Apostolic nature of the Church requires that we remain in the flock. St. Cyprian of North Africa (Unity of the Church 66:8:3) around 255 wrote:
Whoever is not with the bishop is not in the Church. You must understand that it is to no avail that people may beguile themselves with the illusion that whilst they are not at peace with the bishops of God, they may still worm their way in and surreptitiously hold communion with certain people.
This sacred duty to guide the flock is necessary for its unity, so that we may all journey together toward salvation.
So, my sisters and brothers, we are grateful to God today. He has made us an Apostolic Church and he has continued that Apostolic ministry in our midst through the office of the bishop. We know that there will be others after me, for Christ means for this service to last “until the end of time (cf. Mt 28:20) since the Gospel which they have been charged to hand down is the life of the Church in every age” (Pastores gregis, 6). Thanks be to God for such a pledge to give us his own life.
What I have described here is both a wonderful gift and an awesome duty. I know that I am unworthy of this duty and gift. Yet we all have great confidence that what God calls us to do, He provides the grace to accomplish it. Pray for me for an abundance of that grace.
Praised be Jesus Christ—Now and forever.