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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Reflections on the journey

Here is the reflection I prepared for the gathering of God's people today: some thoughts about my recent visit to the town of Hearst for the celebration of the Episcopal Ordination of the new Bishop of that diocese, and some thoughts to feed our hearts and spirits.

Sent to live and to proclaim life

On Monday of this week, three busloads of people travelled north to the town of Hearst.  We went to participate in the liturgy which was celebrated in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, during which Father Robert Bourgon was ordained a bishop and entrusted with the pastoral care of the Dioceses of Hearst and Moosonee.

At the beginning of the liturgy, after the Gathering Hymn had been sung and all the people had been gathered, the Bishop-elect stood before the presiding Bishop, and was formally presented.  Most Reverend Father, the words rang out, the Church of Hearst asks you to ordain this priest, Robert Bourgon, for service as Bishop.  Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, SJ then asked: Have you a mandate from the Holy See?  This is a very important step in the ceremony because it demonstrates the unity of the Church.  The mandate is a letter that is written by the Holy Father and sent to each Bishop who is newly-named.  It provides instruction about the fact that this priest has been chosen and appointed by the Holy Father to act as Bishop - for only the Pope can name Bishops - and it also gives permission for the Episcopal Ordination to take place.

The practice of writing such letters has been a part of the life of the Church since its very inception.  In the first reading for today’s liturgy, we hear about another such letter which was written by the apostles and elders (Acts 15:22), explaining their decision to appoint Judas and Silas, leaders among the brothers to accompany Paul and Barnabas, and to help them to be witnesses and teachers of the faith.

Throughout the centuries, Bishops have been sent to various places throughout the world, and mandated to work along with local priests, deacons and religious to be witnesses of God’s love and mercy to all the people … but the only reason why we are able to do this is because we ourselves have first encountered the love that Jesus shares with us, personally.  As I said last week, God’s love transforms us, strengthens us and encourages us.  Because we first have been loved, we are able to love others.  So it is that we love Jesus because we have experienced Jesus’ love for us, and Jesus tells us that whoever loves him will keep his word, and his Father (who is also our Father) will love us, will come to us and will make his dwelling with us (Jn 14:23).

Bishop Bourgon began his work of proclaiming God’s love to the people of the Diocese of Hearst on Monday of this past week.  With the help of priests and other people of faith, he will continue to do so, building on the work that has been done by his predecessors.  It will take him a day or two, I’m sure, to come to know the people of his diocese, and it will take them some time as well to get to know him, but in the process, they will continue to share the joyful news of having encountered the risen Lord, of having experienced the infinite power of his mercy and forgiveness, and like all of God’s people, they will continue to build the city of God, one experience, one life, one moment at a time.

In order to help us never to lose sight of the goal of our efforts, Saint John describes the vision he had of the holy city in the words of the Book of Revelation (Rev 21:10-23).  It is a city of beauty beyond compare that is illuminated by faith in God.  This vision has come to life in the holy city that is now made up of people of faith who are living stones in all corners of the world, witnessed in the lives and devotion of people of faith who have come to know about God, about Jesus, about the Holy Spirit; people of faith who have experienced first-hand how God’s love has the power to transform us.  The people of the holy city live even today in places like Hearst, and North Bay, and every city in our world.  Enlightened by faith, it is up to us to share the gift of God’s love with others and to comfort them with the experience of His peace until the day of his return (Jn 14:27-28).
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