Homily at Vespers on the Eve of Ordination/Installation
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
"God's flock is in your midst; give it a shepherd's care." I Peter 5:2
Never having lived on a farm, I found myself as a young priest with a
dilemma. I was preaching on Good Shepherd Sunday. The text from the Gospel,
as you know, is John 10, "I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my
sheep know me" (John 10:14). I could have piously uttered sentiments of care
and concern. That just was not enough. To better understand what it was Our
Lord Jesus Christ was talking about, I made an appointment with the county
agent and asked him, "What can you tell me about sheep?" What he said was
He said that sheep were erratic animals. They were susceptible to disease.
The shepherd had to pay special care to what they ate. They did, in fact,
come to know the shepherd's voice, and when they did, they would follow but
not always with absolute fidelity. Some strayed. Some got lost, and when
lost, could helplessly die. The majority would stay in line, but there was
always a casualty. The county agent concluded his description with this
sentence. "In the business, we say they are an animal looking for an excuse
Unbeknownst to him, the agent had just described the plight of the sheepfold
of the Church. The shepherd was one who held the flock together. The
shepherd is Christ, but if Christ became man, then He indicated that He
wished His presence materialized in the world with those who would witness
to Him in His role as shepherd. "He who hears you, hears me," He would say
to His apostles. For the sheep alone, self-preservation was an impossible
task. Only with the shepherd were this unity and an abiding flock possible.
Christ came first and then those whom He commissioned with their successors.
For this reason, First Peter concludes his brilliant instruction to the
newly baptized with an admonition to the "elders", "presbyteroi" in the
original Greek, and as we know from St. Paul, a group to whom governing and
conducting worship was entrusted. He is "a witness of Christ's sufferings"
and a "sharer in the glory that is to be revealed." "God's flock is in your
midst," writes the sacred author. "Give it a shepherd's care," he continues.
"Watch over it willingly." There can be no profit for the shepherd except
that joy of knowing he has fulfilled God's will. In this way, the shepherd
becomes an example to the flock, not in a princely way, but generously,
giving of self, awaiting a reward that only the chief Shepherd can give.
Tomorrow morning, God-willing, Archbishop Hughes and the other apostles
gathered will lay their hands upon my head. In this ancient gesture
described by St. Paul in Second Timothy, the "flame" of the "gift of God"
will be "bestowed" (II Timothy 1:6). As a human being, I am all too
painfully aware of the "earthen vessel" into which will be poured God's
grace. As a priest, I have been taught that fidelity to the truth and
obedience to authority are Gospel values, witnessed by Jesus Christ Himself
and expected of His followers. As a bishop, I know the ministry now only
from the witness given by many fine shepherds that have preceded me.
I consider it a great privilege that Pope Benedict XVI, for whom I have
great admiration, has thought me able to shepherd the Diocese of Lake
Charles. I am considerably honored that you have joined me this evening.
Your presence here this evening touches me deeply. I grateful for the
prayers and support of each and every one of you.
As I reflect on the words of First Peter and a world today challenged by
materialism and tendencies to self-destruction, the mission of the Church,
rooted in Gospel values and envisioned by Pope Benedict XVI, rises to the
challenge of the times in which the mission of Christ finds itself. Our Holy
Father wrote, "The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not
the denial of its grandeur‹this is the program with which a theology
grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of our time." We have
nothing to fear from reason and we have nothing to fear from faith. The
entire "breadth" of their meaning, if approached with honesty, contributes
to a "program" that is able to meet face-to-face a world grown weary and
The message of Christ will never die. Christ lives‹of this we can be
certain. How Christ transforms the world is His work, in which we must
cooperate. We strive to be "on the same page" of the mission. For that
reason I took an oath of fidelity and made a profession of faith.
I am delighted to be in Lake Charles. It is a lovely place, with good
people, of fine civic conscience and enterprising genius. There are
challenges too, particularly with those still displaced by the recent storm.
A tour of Cameron Parish last week gave me an idea of how much destruction
there had been, what courageous work was accomplished and what more remained
to be done. Volumes of books and government reports could not have
adequately described what I saw. To those displaced, injured and homeless,
we must repeat the words of Jesus in the Gospel. "By patient endurance you
will save your lives." I have every confidence that with God's grace we will
continue to rise to the task.
May St. Peter Claver, our diocesan patron, intercede for us, he who knew
"man's inhumanity to man" but also God's overwhelming love. May Mary of the
Immaculate Conception pray for us, her children, who are homeless and whom
the world considers least. May Christ, the good Shepherd, make us true
witnesses "of Christ's sufferings" and sharers "in the glory that is to be