In light of the fact that we are bidding farewell to Bishop Cistone, who has been named Bishop of Saginaw, that I am conferring Episcopal Ordination on our new Auxiliary Bishop Timothy C. Senior and celebrating the Episcopal Ordination and Installation of the new Bishop of Allentown, John O. Barres, it is appropriate this week to reflect on the role of the Bishop in the Church.

From the Church’s beginning
At the recent Episcopal Ordination of Archbishop Augustine DeNoia, an American member of the Dominican Order, who has been appointed to a Roman Congregation, the Principal Consecrator, Cardinal William Levada, referred to the ceremony of Episcopal Ordination as “this ancient ceremony.” Although there are liturgical elements of the ceremony of Episcopal Ordination that go back to the earliest days of the Church, Cardinal Levada was probably making reference to the fact that it is the office of Bishop and the fullness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders that he receives, that can be traced to the Church’s beginnings.

We know that Jesus founded a visible Church, so that His work might be continued in the world until the end of time. He gave the mandate to “go forth” to preach and teach as He did, to the Apostles. He said to them: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21).

The Apostles, being human beings themselves, would eventually die, but we say that their office never dies because the Church lives until the end of time. Therefore, from its earliest days, the Church has taught that bishops are the successors of the Apostles in their mission and in their authority.

Concerning this, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council teaches: “This most sacred Synod, following in the footsteps of the First Vatican Council, teaches and declares with that Council that Jesus Christ, the eternal Shepherd, established his holy Church by sending forth the apostles as he himself had been sent by the Father. He wills that their successors, namely the bishops, should be shepherds in his Church even to the consummation of the world” (Lumen Gentium, 18).

A mission of service and proclamation of the Faith
Just as the Apostles were sent to different parts of the world that were known in their time, so each bishop is given the responsibility of serving the people of God and confirming them in the faith of Jesus Christ in particular regions of the world, as we know it now. This is always done under the authority and by the express mandate of the Pope, who is the Successor of Saint Peter and Head of the College of Bishops, just as Peter was Head of the Apostles.

My own mission mandate, entrusted to me by the Successor of Saint Peter, is to serve and feed the flock of Christ in the five-county region known as the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Because of the size of our Archdiocese we, and other large Archdioceses, are granted Auxiliary Bishops by the Holy Father.

These Auxiliary Bishops share in the fullness of the Priesthood which every Bishop receives at his Episcopal Ordination and they are members of the Apostolic College. By their office, they share along with me in the work of administering this Archdiocese and pastorally serving the faithful who reside within it.

This thought gives me the opportunity to express in this forum, as I have done and will do in several others, the gratitude of all the faithful of the Archdiocese for the splendid episcopal service that has been given to me and to all of us by Bishop Joseph R. Cistone.

Bishop Cistone, a son of this Archdiocese, has served us so very faithfully for many years as both priest and bishop. I am particularly grateful to him for the great dedication he has shown in his work as Vicar for Administration for the Archdiocese. Many of you have experienced Bishop Cistone in his pastoral role as a Bishop, but his hard work in assisting in the Administration of this large Archdiocese is less visible but experienced indirectly by all.

I am so pleased to acknowledge him and thank him for the hard work and dedication he has shown on behalf of all of us. Whether it has been seen directly or not, all the clergy, religious and faithful, along with myself, have benefitted by his exemplary service to us. As he leaves us to become Bishop of Saginaw, we send our love, prayers and gratitude with him.

Sent forth to other parts of the Lord’s Vineyard
It is not unusual in the Church for a bishop to be sent to serve in an area other than that in which he was born or to a diocese in which he has not served before. This can sometimes occur in the case of auxiliary bishops and it often occurs with the appointment of diocesan bishops. This is part of the profile of the bishop, as I have already said: “to be sent,” just as the Father sent the Son and the Son sent forth the Apostles.

We should not underestimate the sacrifice that is involved in being called to serve in this way. However, our Catholic people seem to know by their instinct of faith that their acceptance of a bishop, regardless of where he grew up or where he has come from, is part of their acceptance of the living reality of the Church and her mission.

A story is told concerning Cardinal John O’Connor, a priest of this Archdiocese, who served outside the archdiocese for many years as a Navy Chaplain, as Chief of Chaplains, as an Auxiliary Bishop for the Military Services, Bishop of Scranton and then as Archbishop of New York. When he went to New York to become its Archbishop, a little girl said to him: “I don’t know you, but I love you because the Pope has sent you to us.” This is the Catholic spirit of faith through which priests and people receive their bishops as those sent by Christ.

In addition to Bishop Cistone being sent forth to Saginaw, Michigan, Monsignor John O. Barres of the Diocese of Wilmington will receive Episcopal Ordination from me and be installed as Bishop of Allentown, Pennsylvania on July 30. Bishop-elect Barres, a native of New York and a priest of the Diocese of Wilmington, “goes forth” in the line of the Apostles, to shepherd the People of God in the region just north of us. He brings many gifts and priestly experiences with him as he leaves Wilmington.

I am so pleased, as the Archbishop of Philadelphia and as what is called the “Metropolitan Archbishop” of the Ecclesiastical Province of Pennsylvania, to be conferring the fullness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders upon Bishop-elect Barres and installing him as the fourth Bishop of Allentown.

Our new Auxiliary Bishop
On Friday, July 31, Monsignor Timothy C. Senior will become our newest Auxiliary Bishop. After his appointment by Pope Benedict XVI, I am honored to confer upon him the fullness of the priesthood.

We can look to the documents of the Second Vatican Council once again to refresh our understanding of this event. The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church teaches that “by episcopal consecration is conferred the fullness of the sacrament of Orders, that fullness which in the Church’s liturgical practice and in the language of the holy Fathers of the Church is undoubtedly called the high priesthood, the apex of the sacred ministry. By means of the imposition of hands and the words of consecration, the grace of the Holy Spirit is so conferred, and the sacred character so impressed that bishops in an eminent and visible way undertake Christ’s own role as Teacher, Shepherd, and High Priest, and that they act in his person” (Lumen Gentium, 20, 21).

I am sure that during these weeks, after Bishop-elect Senior learned of his selection by Pope Benedict XVI, he has been reflecting on these and similar texts which remind him of what he is being called to. Although this is a new and different role of service that the Church is calling him to, he knows well the concept of service to the Church and her people because he has fulfilled it so faithfully in the many and varied apostolates he has undertaken in service to our local Church over the course of his twenty-four years as a priest.

He will now assume the duties that Bishop Cistone so ably fulfilled, namely that of Vicar for Administration and Regional Bishop for the area of Philadelphia-South and a portion of Delaware County.

In the tradition of our Catholic people, who instinctively honor a bishop, not because of his own person but because of whom he represents in the Church, I know that you will all pray for Bishops Cistone, Barres and Senior and for all bishops, that despite our human weaknesses and imperfections, we may show forth the face of Christ, whose apostles we are, in the places and apostolates to which we are called.

23 July 2009