Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
November 29, 2014
Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church
Funeral of Bishop Leonard Olivier
Lake Charles, Louisiana
“As gold in the furnace, he proved them; and, as sacrificial offerings, he took them to himself.” Wisdom 3:6
It was on that morning of November 7, 1988, when we learned at the Cathedral in Lafayette that Father Leonard Olivier, then Vicar for Black Catholics, had been appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Washington. I had come to know Father Olivier well when Bishop Frey assigned me Pastor of St. John Cathedral in 1985, because soon after Father Olivier came to live with Bishop Flynn at l’Evêché. We took our meals together, visiting frequently, and it was there that I learned how humble a man he was, how devoted to his people, and how faithful a son of the Church. You also could not take Southwest Louisiana out of him. Like any of us, born and raised in this region, we may be sent to ends of the world but there is always a thread, a string, pulling us back home.
Our first reading from Wisdom has always been a favorite of mine. It paints a picture. True, “The souls of the just are in the hand of God” (Wisdom 3:1), but this does not mean they have had an easy time of it. They seem to have been “punished,” “chastised,” and tried “in the furnace,” but God himself has allowed this trial, because value is not value when it is not tested. Gold must be purified in a furnace of fire. This is something that we find hard to understand these days, but those of the generation of Bishop Olivier understood it all too well.
What the progeny of this age seem to forget but what is still taught faithfully by Christ in His Church is what St. Paul refers to in Romans. “Hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts…” (Romans 5:5). This is the love that Christ taught us. God gave proof of His love by having Christ die for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). This is the love that God wishes us to take as an example. In fact, there is no love without sacrifice, the giving of oneself, and the dying to self that is the example of the cross. We cannot live without dying. This Jesus proved to us.
Jesus talks about life and death in the Gospel of St. John. “[T]he bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51). God knew what He was doing when He planned from before the beginning of time to select bread as a means by which He communicates Himself to the redeemed. We all know how bread is made. The grain of wheat must be ground up. Something must give way to something else. A transformation takes place. This is the Eucharist. How could it be any other way?
Jesus did not come to give us pious lessons. A good book would have sufficed for that. He came to transform our lives, and in order for this to happen, there must be death. And Jesus leads the way, giving us the example of His cross, and then leaving us the living presence of that death and life to transform us in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the living reality, as we eat His Body and drink His Blood, taking Him into ourselves, being fed by Him, professing our faith in His power to grant us a share in eternity.
I remember when Bishop Olivier explained to me the choice of his motto. Every bishop must choose one. So he chose, “Lead me, Guide me.” Verse 4 of Psalm 30 inspired the words and they form the lyrics of a classic old African-American hymn. He said the words spoke for themselves and were part of the way he had lived his life. He knew that God would place challenges before him that he could never have imagined, but he would embrace them because he trusted in God’s will.
Had not Jesus taught him this lesson? Does not Jesus teach us this lesson also? “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (John 6:53). Those are the words of Jesus. They are His promise to us. He does not lead us away from life. He guides us to life, and the life is nothing less than Jesus Himself. Lead us on O Lord. Guide us to You.
Bishop Glen John Provost