Installation Mass Homily of Bishop Michael F. Burbidge

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Upon receiving the call informing me that I had been appointed the Bishop of Arlington, I did two things that, most likely, most bishops do on receiving such news. First, I found a way to pick myself up off the floor! Second, I went to the website to learn more about my new diocese. Upon doing so, I was so happy to see that the cathedral is named Saint Thomas More, who is also the patron saint of the Diocese.

 

In my family, there was always a close bond with Saint Thomas More, the same name of the all-boys Catholic High School in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from which my father graduated. My father often said that in addition to receiving an excellent education, he and his fellow students were constantly challenged to imitate the courageous and faithful witness of Saint Thomas More, a lesson he passed on to my brother and me and his grandchildren. 

 

For prudent reasons, the high school eventually closed, but what remained until the present day is the steadfast spirit of the alumni. Their motto, which appears on license plates and other items, is respectful and dear to their hearts: “Saint Tommy More, forevermore!”

 

Dear friends in the Diocese of Arlington and brothers and sisters in Christ, more than ever in these unsettling times, we need to reflect Saint Thomas More’s courageous witness to the faith we profess. As “God’s Servants First,” we are to bring the truth and joy of the Gospel into the public arena with conviction and always, in love. We are called to do so especially as we: protect the unborn and the sacredness of life at every stage; defend the dignity of each and every person without exception; safeguard our religious freedom; promote the sacredness of marriage as Jesus taught; and speak and act on behalf of those who are poor, vulnerable and in most need. Faithfulness to that call will not always be easy and there can often be a price to pay for not compromising our faith, including being labeled and rejected. That is why Saint Paul tells us today not to rely on our own resources but on the strength that God supplies. Call upon that help daily so that all of us can say that within our lives and our diocese, here is what you will see: the spirit, witness and faithful example of Saint Thomas More, forevermore!

 

Now I know that right now in heaven my mother is saying to me that, “having spent time talking about your father, you’d better also have a story about me”— and I do — one that is true and most appropriate today as the Church honors Saint Nicholas, the one we so often associate with the gifts with which God has blessed us and whose spirit of giving we are called to imitate.

 

My mother spent the last year of her life in the nursing center compassionately operated by the Sisters of Saint Joseph, for whom I am ever grateful. While there, my mother made a new best friend named Ruth. Each day, they would help one another down the hall and make their way downstairs to the gift store. Daily, they would find another new gift (a trinket, an ornament or something else), only to give it away to another resident or family member (just ask my nieces and nephew). After seeing a constant flow of gifts, I finally had to check out the gift store — how big could it be in a facility like this? In fact, it was very small, not much larger than an average sitting room. Yet, each and every day, somehow, someway, my mother and her friend found a new gift in their midst.

 

To me, that is a beautiful image for all of us. In light of the trials and struggles in our world and very lives, God is always present, offering us gifts to behold and to share with one another. On this joyful day in the life of the Diocese, I am aware of so many gifts for which to be thankful:

 

I am most grateful to Pope Francis for entrusting me with the pastoral care of this faith-filled and vibrant diocese. We are also thankful to the Holy Father for his recent Apostolic Letter at the closing of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, in which he tells us that, like any other gift, the mercy we receive must be shared, especially with our suffering brothers and sisters so that they may be sustained by the Father’s compassionate and healing love.

 

Today, I am especially thankful for the presence of the Holy Father’s personal representative to the United States, the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre. Thank you, Cardinal McCarrick, Cardinal Rigali and Cardinal Wuerl and brother bishops, for your fraternal support. We are thankful for the faithful service of my predecessors, Bishop Welsh (whose crosier I carry today) and Bishop Keating. In a special way, we thank you, Bishop Loverde, for the gift you have been and remain to this diocese!

 

And to all who serve so well in this diocese: my brother priests, dear deacons, consecrated religious, seminarians, colleagues at the chancery, dear lay faithful including you, the wonderful young people in our diocese — thank you for the gifts you are to this local church.

 

And today at this Mass, I express deep thanks to God for having blessed me with such loving parents and a wonderful brother whose children and grandchildren mean the world to me. And thank you, dear friends in the Diocese of Raleigh and Archdiocese of Philadelphia. You are like family to me, and I will be ever grateful for your love and support.

 

And we are thankful for the most precious gift of all, the gift of God’s only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, the One who nourishes us and sustains us most especially in this Holy Eucharist.

 

It is He who teaches us how to move forward as a diocese, as He speaks to us in the Gospel. The Lord sends His disciples out in the company of one another to preach the Good News. He tells them to “travel lightly” and not to bring anything on the journey that would weigh them down. I do not believe Jesus was simply talking about material things but rather was telling His disciples and all of us to leave behind any anxiety, fear, doubt or a false independence and, thus, to rely on and trust in Him as we repeat daily: “Here I am Lord, I come to do your will.”

 

Dear friends in Christ, with the gift of the Holy Eucharist, the help of Mary our Mother, the intercession of Saint Thomas More and Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, may we go forth recognizing and sharing God’s gifts; imitating the courageous and faithful witness of Saint Thomas More, forevermore, always with the strength the Lord supplies so that we may walk humbly with our God and “travel lightly” today and always. Amen.

 

 

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016