Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Saturday, June 3, 2017
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
“You know what has happened all over Judea.” Acts 10:37
These are the words of St. Peter to Cornelius and his household, Cornelius “a centurion of the Cohort called the Italica” (Acts 10:1)). Cornelius, based with the Roman army in Caesarea, was probably an auxiliary from Italy in a mostly Syrian army (cf. Josephus). He was, therefore, a Gentile in Gentile company listening to St. Peter. The Apostle’s approach was gentle yet firm and clear, concluding with a proclamation of mercy—“… everyone who believes in [Jesus] will receive forgiveness of sins through His Name” (Acts 10:43). The result was conversion, the Holy Spirit descending on the Gentiles, including them in the marvelous work of redemption.
In our second reading (2 Corinthians 4:1-7), St. Paul reminds the Corinthians that the preachers of the Gospel “… do not preach [themselves] but Jesus Christ as Lord, and [themselves] as your slaves for the sake of Jesus” (2 Corinthians 4:5). Again St. Paul is gentle yet firm and clear about his role as a proclaimer of the Gospel message. Whatever power exists comes from God and not from the preacher (2 Corinthians 4:7).
And then we come to the Gospel, the source of it all, to one of the most beautiful prayers in all the Sacred Scriptures. Prayed at the Last Supper, Jesus addresses the Father. He has revealed the Father’s name to those who “do not belong to the world” (John 17:14). Reminiscent of the High Priest on the Jewish Day of Atonement, “[t]he blessing of the Lord would be upon his lips, the name of the Lord would be his glory” (Sirach 50:20). “I revealed Your Name,” Jesus says to the Father, a Name leading to consecration in the truth (John 17:17).
This is a priestly prayer. We should not forget that fact. This prayer too is gentle, yet firm and clear. This priestly prayer from a priestly Word brings conversion to the Gentiles, encouragement to the weak of heart, clarity in the midst of deceit and falsification (2 Corinthians 4:2). It is a Word of mercy and a Word of truth—a priestly Word.
Are you ready to participate in this ministry? The work to which the ordained clergy are called is not their own. It does not belong to them. The liturgy is not their personal possession. The doctrines they teach do not emerge from their genius. Nowhere in St. Paul or St. Peter or any of the Apostles or Evangelists do we ever detect any evidence of self. What they preach comes from the Lord. They are simply servants. Their work is not to discern meaning. Their duty is to witness to a message.
On the canonical retreat when I was named bishop of this diocese, I read The Pastoral Rule of St. Gregory the Great. I recall what he said was the chief quality required of a bishop—humility. I repent of my pride but give thanks to God for being reminded often that I am nothing but an “earthen vessel” (2 Corinthians 4:7)). The same should be true of any cleric, deacon, priest or bishop.
The liturgy of this ordination is immersed in reminders of humility. Heed them well! You will promise me and my successors to the See of Lake Charles obedience and respect. The bishop is not an excuse to have a diocese. The bishop is not accidental to the reality of the Presbyterate, some kind of happy fraternity, going its own way, moved by the spirit of “mutual tolerance and respect,” nodding its head to hierarchy when needed but living independently of its prerequisites. Remember that promise when you are asked to do something unpleasant or assigned some task that appears daunting. Some might say that you are too young for the Bishop to give you so many responsibilities. In a day and age when some countries elect leaders in their 30’s to govern and young men in their 20’s are being assigned to command soldiers in Afghanistan, I think we need to grow up. You will take a promise of celibacy with all this implies, including chastity and continence. Celibacy is a gift. The grace to fulfill it comes from God. A sex-saturated world discounts its value, but, then, this world of self-absorption has little to offer in terms of value. The Catholic priesthood is indeed a paradox, even counter-cultural. It empties us of ourselves, yet fills us with everything. Yet, the cleric is not immune to the infection of self-interest, to thinking he is the victim, to currying favor with the rich and influential, to refusing to accept responsibility for his own actions. We need a corrective. Let us find it in humility.
Do you know the Litany of Humility? Attributed to Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930), the prayer is worth pondering. A devout Catholic layman recently told me he was shocked when he read the litany for the first time. Why, I asked. Because, he said, the prayer asked God to free him from everything that he had been taught was important in life. The prayer had silenced him with its sobering candor. “From the desire of being loved… From the desire of being honored… From the desire of being praised… From the desire of being consulted… From the fear of being humiliated… From the fear of being forgotten… From the fear of being wronged… Deliver me, Jesus.” “That others may be esteemed more than I… That others may be chosen and I set aside… That others may be praised and I unnoticed… That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should… Jesus grant me the grace to desire it.” You get the idea?
Humility is required of the ordained minister. He does not reinterpret the words of Jesus when they do not quite fit his agenda, however noble he might think that agenda to be. The Word of God is not to be dismissed or reinterpreted with the claim that tape recorders did not exist. His work is to witness the truth before this world’s Cornelius, to the Corinthians who need reminders of their nothingness before God’s power and mercy, and of the blinding glory of the Name revealed to those who “hold this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
Lord, grant us the humility required of true ministers. May our earthen vessels be emptied of our treasure and filled with Yours. Amen.
Bishop Glen John Provost