Today in this sacred space I have committed myself to join with Archbishop Daniel in his work as principle shepherd of this archdiocese. This is a place with a lot of history. St. John’s is the oldest Catholic parish in Indianapolis and its former pro-cathedral. Many happy events including this one have been celebrated here. There are many words that seem to echo in this building: the words of Scripture, the words of ritual, words of prayer, words of encouragement, all captured in the faith that we share in the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. In the midst of this beautiful symphony, it is hard to hear the words of just one instrument ringing through, but I seem to hear voice of the prophet Jeremiah saying, "I will give you shepherds after my own heart" (Jer. 3:15). Shepherds after my own heart - shepherds who in word and action pour forth the love of God that flows from the heart of God. This was the ministry I was ordained to as a priest and it is now the ministry I have been ordained to more deeply as a bishop.
We don’t often use the word shepherd in our day to day work of ministry. We prefer, the Latin word for shepherds – pastores – pastors. But either word points us to the heart of the ministry of both the priest and the bishop – to be shepherds and pastors, men who seek to lead others to the glorious pastures of salvation. We can all be good administrators, liturgists, preachers, healers, teachers, good and friendly guys, but if we are not about spreading the good news of salvation in and through the Catholic Church, then we are missing the point of our ministry. In my almost four and a half years as a pastor in suburban Boston, I came to realize this truth more deeply each and every day. The truth of what the Church offers to humanity is an immeasurable gift. It is a gift that frees us to live in the knowledge that we are all in God’s hands. It is a gift that strengthens us to live in the surety of Jesus’ ultimate victory over sin and death. It is a gift that is to be shared. Jesus Christ has asked all those who have accepted this gift and taken on the name of Christian to in turn offer it to others, to spread the good news that He is Lord and Savior to the praise and glory of God the Father forever and ever, amen.
As a shepherd, the priest or bishop is a bearer of this εὐαγγέλιον – this “good news,” this gospel. We proclaim this Gospel through our authenticity of lives, our sincere and diligent efforts on behalf of the mission of the Church, and the care and fraternal love that we show for men and women entrusted to us. We proclaim this Gospel from the pulpit, the altar, and the baptismal font. We proclaim this Gospel at the hospital bedside, the dining room table, the school classroom, the university hall, the senior center, and the nursing home. We proclaim this Gospel on the phone, in the email, and on the blog – btw, if you need the address to my blog, just ask.
My friends, we can never lose sight of the fact that the mission of the Church is about salvation. Whether we are ordained, religious or laymen and women, each of us in our way is asked to participate in spreading this good news. As it has in the past and as it is now, all that we do as Christians must be formed by this truth of faith. Both Pope John Paul II and our present Holy Father, Benedict, have called us to the work of the new evangelization, the renewed announcement of the “good news.” We are being asked to commit ourselves to a new effort to reach out to those who have never heard the Gospel, those who are indifferent to the Gospel, and those who have lost the Gospel. It is quite the challenge that we face but it is one that we do in and through the Church, supported by each other and the sacraments we share.
As we take up this challenge, however, we may have to first recognize the need to evangelize and renew ourselves. When I became a pastor, the parish staff and I determined that before we could invite people to the table, we first had to get our house in order. If we were going to go to all the work of reaching out to those who have no faith, or a looking for something more in faith, or have lost their faith, we first had to make sure that when they walked through the door of the church, they were encountering a warm welcome, a clean church, good liturgy, good preaching, a strong Catholic identity, and parish social and educational programs that encouraged them to get involved. The later success that my parish came to know over the last few years in terms of a significant growth in membership was I believe directly tied to the foundation we laid as a community to make sure that our house was in order when they came through the door.
My desire as I come to this archdiocese is to do something of the same here but on a much larger scale, to work with Archbishop Beuchlein, the priests, deacons, religious, and laity to strengthen and build upon the good works already taking place in our parishes and Catholic institutions, to renew ourselves and to enter into the work of the new evangelization. I do so, as a servant to the Church universal and local, as a brother who walks with you, and as someone who seeks to be a friend to all. I am truly excited about coming to Indianapolis and to being a bishop for you. I promise you that I will try and do all that is possible to be a shepherd after God’s own heart. Archbishop Beuchlein, thank you for giving me that chance. My brothers and sisters in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, thank you for opening your door to me and welcoming into your house. Let us walk together in faith. God bless.