By Cardinal Justin Rigali

The day after this issue of our archdiocesan newspaper is published, I will have the joy of conferring Episcopal Ordination on our two new auxiliary bishops. This event is the subject of this week’s reflection.

Spiritual joy and continuity
There are events in life which bring us a sense of joy, even if we have not reflected deeply on them. One of these would be our attendance at the celebration of marriage. Great joy generally surrounds the couple, and the guests dress in a special way to honor the newlyweds. There is often a reception, where a festive meal is eaten and music is provided to add to the joyful spirit of the occasion.

The deeper reason for this joy is the fact that we are witnessing the wonder of human love. We see unfold before us, yet again, the marvelous possibility given to man and woman not only to love, but to love one person in a unique and exclusive way. This love, once it has deepened, leads to the desire within the mind and heart of an inspanidual to commit himself or herself to this other person for a lifetime. This is indeed an occasion for joy, and even if we do not always reflect deeply upon it, our human instinct calls upon us to celebrate this event in a special way.

Another joyful occasion, which our Catholic instinct tells us is one of great joy, is the visit of a bishop to a parish or an event. Many of you have experienced this and you know the preparation and joy that surround these events. Once again, even if we do not think about it often, there is a deeper meaning for this instinct of Catholic joy: we know that the bishop is a successor of the Apostles and the living continuity of the promise of Jesus to be with His Church until the end of time and to provide shepherds for His flock. The bishop is also the sign of living continuity with the Supreme Pastor, the Pope, who appoints bishops and sends them forth into various portions of the Lord’s vineyard. For all these reasons, we rejoice in the visit of a Bishop.

The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council teaches the following concerning the office of bishop: “The spanine mission, entrusted by Christ to the apostles, will last until the end of the world (Mt. 28:20). Just as the role that the Lord gave inspanidually to Peter, the first among the apostles, is permanent and was meant to be transmitted to his successors, so also the apostles’ office is permanent, and was meant to be exercised without interruption by the sacred order of bishops. Therefore, this sacred Synod teaches that by spanine institution bishops have succeeded to the place of the apostles as shepherds of the Church, and that he who hears them, hears Christ, while he who rejects them, rejects Christ and Him who sent Christ” (Lumen Gentium, 20.)

Specific portions of the vineyard entrusted to bishops
We know that the Church also teaches us that, as part of the mission of Jesus who “sent forth” His apostles to evangelize the world, there is a spanision of specific regions of the world, which we call dioceses. Over each of these specific regions a bishop presides with the authority to teach, govern and to sanctify in the name of Jesus. Those dioceses which are larger and contain large numbers of the faithful are often designated as archdioceses, to indicate both their size and venerable nature. Frequently, in these archdioceses, auxiliary bishops are named by the Pope in order to assist the archbishop in the mission he has received for that specific portion of the vineyard of the Lord. We are in the midst of a period of transition for two of our auxiliary bishops, who have served our local Church so faithfully, and for the two men chosen most recently to assist me in my mission of service to the Church of Philadelphia.

Bishop Robert Maginnis, who has served the Archdiocese of Philadelphia so faithfully as a priest and, for the past 14 years as an auxiliary bishop, has retired from the many activities in which he has shared in the administration of the archdiocese. While we wish Bishop Maginnis every blessing and extend to him our heartfelt gratitude, we know that he will continue to be in our midst, eager to serve God’s people in our local Church in any way he can.

Bishop Joseph McFadden, who has served as an auxiliary bishop for the past six years, has recently been named Bishop of Harrisburg by our Holy Father. Bishop McFadden’s experience and faithful service to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will serve him well as he assumes responsibility for his own portion of the vineyard of the Lord. We bid his farewell with our gratitude and prayers for his new mission.

New auxiliary bishops
I know that the faithful of the Archdiocese join me in prayer and gratitude for our two new auxiliary bishops: Bishop John J. McIntyre and Bishop Michael J. Fitzgerald. They join Bishop Thomas and Bishop Senior in assisting me in my mission of shepherding our local Church. It may be interesting to cite some statistics concerning our archdiocese in order to indicate the extent of service that is provided for God’s people in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the amount of labor involved in its administration. In all of this, our new auxiliary bishops will have a role in providing faithful service to all God’s people entrusted to us.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia serves almost 1.5 million Catholics in five counties. We have approximately 990 priests, 250 permanent deacons, 3,200 male and female religious, and 267 parishes. Our Secretariat for Catholic Human Services oversees a wide network of charitable and social services, for Catholics and non-Catholics alike, throughout the Archdiocese. These include: Catholic Health Care Services, which encompass programs for the elderly, parish nurse programs, nursing homes and hospitals; Catholic Social Services, funded in part by the Catholic Charities Appeal, which serves clients from all socio-economic backgrounds, who seek help for a variety of personal and social issues; Community-based Adoption, Child Care and Foster Care Services; Pregnancy Hotline, residential services for the homeless and medically and emotional fragile men and women; Developmental Programs, a Youth Services spanision and Nutritional Development Services. In addition, we have an extensive Catholic school system and many vibrant programs for adult education and faith formation.

Above all, the bishop shares with the Ordinary and all the priests of the archdiocese, in the work of building up the kingdom of God in our local Church and peaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They do this in an unbroken chain of continuity with the apostles, who were the first bishops, and whose office and mission live on in the bishops of the Church. Their role is one of service to God’s people and fidelity to the Church of Jesus Christ.

With every reason, we refer to this as a “spanine mission.” It is spanine, because it is entrusted to us by God Himself; it is a mission because it is that “sending forth,” commanded by Jesus in order to continue His work on earth.

The spirit of unity in the Church, in which we are all working toward a common goal, according to the vocation of life we are called to, is an expression of St. Paul’s beautiful exhortation: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). Just as our auxiliary bishops help me to fulfill my responsibility in this large local Church, we all aid one another by our prayers, fidelity and lives of faithful service. When a bishop visits your parish or is present at a function, you are seeing before you the continuity of the message and mission of Jesus. As we pray for our new auxiliary bishops, we also pray for ourselves, that we might be faithful to our own vocation and practice true Christian charity in aiding our neighbors in the fulfilment of their call to holiness and fidelity.

5 August 2010