St. Michael's Parish - Cobourg

The celebration of the installation of Bishop McGrattan was a beautiful ceremony, which was the first time I have attended one. We enjoyed his homily and requested to share it with you. I encourage all to take a moment and read his words. –Fr. Higinio

 

Installation Mass of Bishop McGrattan

                                            Homily – Vigil of St. John the Baptist                                         –June 23, 2014

 

My dear friends in Christ,

 

This Installation Mass has brought together many people, it is a sign of the People of God, and for those who are present I wish to first greet …

 

His Excellency Most Rev. Luigi Bonanzi, the Apostolic Nuncio for Canada, representing the Holy See and Pope Francis, Cardinal Thomas Collins the Archbishop of Toronto, His Excellency Most Rev. Brendan O’Brien the Archbishop of Kingston and Metropolitan for the Diocese of Peterborough, too my brother bishops who have from across Canada, Bishop Nicola De Angelis, the emeritus bishop of Peterborough, (and if you look I think he should be smiling), to the  priests present here from the diocese of Peterborough, the diocese of London, and the archdiocese of Toronto, to the many religious, priests, sisters, and brothers here among us that represent apostolic and contemplative communities, to the ecumenical presence of ministers the local Christian churches and representatives from other religions, to those who serve in public office at the federal and provincial level, to the municipal representatives, the mayor of the city of Peterborough, to my family and friends but most especially to you the faithful of Peterborough who have come from “many parishes but form one community of faith”.

 

Today our coming together as the People of God also marks the Vigil of the Solemnity of the Birth of the John the Baptist, the “Precursor”, a “Friend of the Bridegroom”, “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness”. There is no Gospel that begins Jesus’ public ministry without first introducing us to the life and mission of John the Baptist. John’s role in preceding Jesus is clearly fixed in the Christian tradition and in two of the three Gospels it is John who precedes Jesus first appearance on earth and his public ministry. His role in salvation history that announces the coming of the Messiah is beautifully recounted when we pray in the Advent preface of the Roman liturgy: “John the Baptist was his herald and made him known when at last he came.”

 

The solemnity of John’s nativity offers us the opportunity to reflect upon his role from a much wider perspective – one that begins with his birth, a miraculous favor and intervention of God to aging parents, then his time of preparation, of being called into the wilderness or desert, and then the witness of his ministry to turn the hearts of those who would come to believe in the coming of the Messiah.

 

John’s Birth    In the Gospel today the birth of John the Baptist is surrounded by strange circumstances, circumstances which forced his parents, his relatives to notice more clearly what takes place every time someone is born. There is a divine presence at work in every human birth and death. It is a favor when God calls a human person into being. It is an act of grace, of love, of kindness, of unspeakable mercy. What is given to us through human birth is a favor from God. Do we look on this life, with all of its mystery and challenges, and accept it day by day as coming from the hands of God?

In the Christian’s life this natural birth is closely followed by a spiritual re-birth of water, the election and choosing by God in the sacrament of baptism, and then the anointing with chrism, of being called set apart to be a priest, prophet, a king. Our own calling and mission as Christians is found in this profound moment of rebirth.  

 

The birth of John the Baptist also repeats the OT (Old Testament) pattern of birth revealed in the in the first reading from the prophet Jeremiah. “The word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:4-6). The predestination or election of a person to fulfill a particular role in salvation history forms them concretely to live out this calling later in life. This was the truth that the prophet Jeremiah and John the Baptist would come to learn later in their life. That at the very moment of their conception and at their birth they received God’s call of being a servant of the Word, of being sent forth as a prophet. Such spiritual moments of birth in our own live mark us indelibly with the grace of God, and it is only by choosing to look back through the Spirit that we are able to appreciate the patterns of grace, “the hand of God” and to allow this to become a lens of discernment as we live in the present.

 

The occasion of the installation of a new bishop is a unique opportunity to look back not on my own birth and calling but that of the diocese, the community of faith here in Peterborough. The living faith of this diocese was symbolized at the beginning of mass by the greetings offered from representative groups - priests, religious, families, laity both young and old from within the diocese. However in the past two months it has been instructive for me to begin to read the history of the diocese and in doing so I came across the following statement about the birth of the diocese which I believe reveals the divine favor of God.   

 

In Many Parishes – One Community (a book to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the Catholic Diocese of Peterborough) it states:

“The Irish Emigration of 1825 to the Newcastle District (Peterborough) was the first parishioners of the later Diocese of Peterborough created in 1882. However from 1825 to 1882 the faith community of the Roman Catholic Church grew from humble beginnings of Mass in settlers’ log cabins and from clergy riding on horseback or plying the lakes and rivers to reach the faithful scattered throughout the seven townships. The settlers brought few of this world’s temporal goods with them – but they did bring the Faith. From it they drew courage in adversity and in loneliness, and in the practice of their Faith they were sustained. Truly they were the founders of this Diocese, and its first parishioners.”

As I begin to travel to the various parishes and to make pastoral visits it will be important to understand the birth of each parish, its beginnings, its history, but also to witness the living grace of God that has sustained these communities of faith up until the present day. Even today we heard in the second reading about this same faith in the first letter of Peter “Although you have not seen Jesus Christ, you love him: and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith; the salvation of you souls” (Pt 1:8-9). This faith, this belief in Jesus, this joy in living the Christian life must be allowed to come to birth in the next generation as represented by our young people. This will be a perennial challenge of the Church and this diocese, to allow the gift of faith to be passed on to the next generation.

 

Desert – Wilderness       The second dimension of John the Baptist’s life was that he was a man who was familiar with the desert experiences of life. It was from the desert that he began his preaching: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his path”. His long years of preparation in the wilderness before his appearance as a preacher and teacher of repentance were the source of much fruitfulness. The desert and wilderness can be a time of testing, of hardship and solitude that results in one becoming more dependent on God, “trusting in the Lord” and not relying on one’s own strength. The desert was the place where John became more attentive to God’s word, to the patterns of grace which would allow him to know that he was a “Friend of the Bridegroom”. For those called to ministry and service in the Church, the experiences of the desert can strengthen our relationship with God. Only in moments of solitude and prayer can we be attentive to God’s word in our lives. How does the Word of God speak to us? Where is the holy ground in our own life where God’s word is unbounded and totally free to be heard, experienced and lived? Do we allow the deserts to speak to us and form us as did John the Baptist?

 

The years I spent in the archdiocese of Toronto at first glance would hardly be considered a “wilderness, or desert experience”. It is true that it is a large urban city and a Catholic population that forms a “multitude of people” from many cultures, languages, and countries from around the world. However, it was of time of preparation that has shaped me pastorally and spiritually as bishop. In many ways it has been enriching and I consider it a blessing.

 

Now I move to a diocese which is blessed with a vast “natural wilderness”. There is a countryside which is rich in scenic beauty, lakes and rivers, and vacation communities which welcome many people from the Archdiocese of Toronto each summer. It is interesting that since being named to the diocese of Peterborough Cardinal Collins has reminded me of this fact on several occasions. I can only speculate as to his motives but I can assure him that I will simply follow the advice of Pope Francis who always encourages the bishops and priests to be close to their people, and so I ask you how can I not have the  “smell of the sheep from the Archdiocese of Toronto”. I will always be generous and solicitous in this task.

In the years ahead as the shepherd of the diocese I will need to search out those moments of solitude, like the John the Baptist, to discover and be attentive to the word of God and the promptings of the Spirit which must guide the life of the parishes and the pastoral initiatives of the diocese if we are to be faithful to our mission. Quiet, persevering prayer, consultation, dialogue, listening and discernment are always necessary steps of preparation. I only ask that you be patient with me and trust that what seem like desert experiences will move us forward as I diocese in being open to the will of God. 

 

The Mission of John the Baptist      The third and final dimension of John the Baptist’s life was his ministry of preaching and baptizing. He was a “voice crying in the wilderness”, preaching “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. His preaching called for a change of heart and conduct, a turning of one’s heart and life towards God. It was not one of condemnation or judgement but rather a mission of preaching that allowed people to discover in their hearts a profound desire and longing of forgiveness, thus allowing them to experience God’s mercy and compassion wherever they were in their life’s journey. John knew that could not save but he did point out God’s mercy and the desire that each of us experiences in seeking this forgiveness.  In fact this is the only condition for recognizing the Messiah already present in the world. This is the message of the Gospel and it is the task of the Church like John the Baptist to allow others to have these experiences of God, the forgiveness of sins and of salvation.

In his most recent Apostolic Exhoration “Evangelii Gaudium” Pope Francis stresses the importance of preaching and teaching if the Church is going to be effective in promoting the New Evangelization, of announcing the Gospel with Joy to a world that may have become indifferent, preoccupied, or distracted from the message of God’s love revealed in Christ. The New Evangelization first calls us the Church to seek God’s mercy, to be open to a deeper conversion in living the Christian life, of turning our hearts to God in a living witness to Christ. It is true that the Bishop has a primary role in preaching and teaching yet the handing on of the faith is also the responsibility of priests, deacons, parents, educators and all the lay faithful. I believe that it is with this profound humility, as exemplified by John the Baptist, that we recognize our weaknesses and that we all approach this responsibility of passing on the faith with confidence. In our preaching and teaching, “there must always be one greater than ourselves” and like John, “he must increase and we must decrease”. It is in this humility, as reflected in our present Holy Father that people will listen more to the witness of the Gospel and then be more open to receive the teaching and preaching of Church. This is the responsibility of those called to ministry within the diocese in all roles of service.   

 

Conclusion    Today this great solemnity marks the installation of the 12th Bishop of the Diocese of Peterborough but it speaks to us more eloquently of John the Baptist who continues to speak to the Church down through the centuries to every generation. He is the “voice”, the greatest of the prophets who challenge the people to prepare the way of the Lord, to be open to a new birth of faith, to have courage in facing the external and internal wildernesses of our lives, and to see their mission of turning hearts to the Lord.

 

May this celebration of the Eucharist unite us in faith and to turn our hearts to the Lord and to one another. –Bishop McGrattan