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BISHOP’S HOMILY MARCH 16
Bishop Thomas J. Welsh: A living icon of the Good Shepherd and of hope
Given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde for the Memorial Mass for Bishop Thomas J. Welsh at St. Thomas More Cathedral in Arlington.
Images often speak to us so powerfully and so directly. In the Scriptures and Tradition of the Church, the image of shepherd depicts strongly and describes beautifully the life and ministry of the bishop: who he is for the Church and what he does within the Church. The Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops echoes this: “Among the different images, that of the shepherd illustrates with particular eloquence the breadth of the episcopal ministry, in that it expresses its meaning, purpose, style and evangelical missionary dynamism. The model of Christ the Good Shepherd suggests to the Bishop daily fidelity to his mission, total and serene dedication to the Church, joy in leading to the Lord the People of God entrusted to his care, and gladness in gathering into the unity of ecclesial communion the scattered children of God” (cf. Mt 15:24; 10:6), (no. 2).
Bishop Thomas Jerome Welsh truly imaged for us in Arlington and for God’s people in Philadelphia and Allentown the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ. As he contemplated the gospel icon of the Good Shepherd, Bishop Welsh made so real and evident through his episcopal life and ministry among us the hope which Jesus the Good Shepherd is and gives. Yes, Bishop Welsh, our Founding Father in Christ, truly imaged the Good Shepherd Who is Christ our Hope. He did so because he himself was a person of authentic Christian hope.
All three scripture readings reflect this authentic Christian hope. Our first reading from the Second Book of Maccabees records how Judas Maccabeus took up a collection to provide an expiatory sacrifice in Jerusalem in view of the resurrection of the dead. “For if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought.”
Yes, hope in eternal life and in the resurrection of the dead is clearly evident in this passage. That is why, I think, Bishop Welsh chose this passage for the Mass of Christian Burial in the Allentown Cathedral on February 28. Bishop Welsh truly hoped in Christ our Savior; he hoped that one day, he would inherit eternal life. This hope was the very reason why he repeatedly asked that he be remembered in prayer after his death. Indeed, as Monsignor Anthony Muntone, the homilist at the Funeral Mass in Allentown, reminded us, “Bishop Welsh asked us to pray for him.” He went on to recall the words of Saint Thomas More, the patron saint of our diocese and one of Bishop Welsh’s favorite saints: “Pray for me and I will pray for thee that one day we will meet merrily in heaven.”
The hope which enveloped Bishop Welsh’s entire being is probably no more eloquently expressed than in Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans, which we heard proclaimed in the second reading. Bishop Welsh also chose this passage for his Funeral Mass. “If God is for us, who can be against us? He did not spare His own Son but handed him over for us all, will he not also give us everything else along with him? ... Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? ... For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities nor present things, nor future things, … nor any other creature, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Bishop Welsh surely found the source of his hope in these words, and more precisely, in the very One Who was the object of Saint Paul’s exhortation: Jesus Christ our Hope!
Because he clung to Christ our Hope and sought to model his life and ministry after the Good Shepherd, Bishop Welsh exercised the episcopal office with enduring hope. Certainly, this was so evident in his life and ministry among us as our Founding Father, the first Bishop of Arlington.
On Ascension Thursday in 1974, Cardinal John Krol of Philadelphia informed his auxiliary bishop, who was also the Rector of Saint Charles Seminary in Overbrook, that the Holy Father had appointed him to be the shepherd of the newly-erected Diocese of Arlington. This was indeed a great honor for Bishop Welsh and a unique mission. A founding bishop does so much to set the tone and direction of a diocese, and Bishop Welsh’s impact on this diocese endures to this day.
Formally appointed on June 4, 1974, and installed on August 13, 1974, Bishop Welsh reflected in daily life and ministry that hope in Christ the Good Shepherd, which so permeated his entire being. He established six new parishes, dedicated eleven new churches and opened three new missions. Clearly one of his priorities was Catholic education. In 1983, student enrollment had increased almost twenty percent over the 1974 figure. Four new schools were opened and major renovations had been made at five other schools. As he was preparing to leave Arlington for Allentown, the building which would house the newly-announced Pope Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax was being purchased. Bishop Welsh strongly encouraged the foundation of Christendom College and likewise supported the formation of the Notre Dame Catechetical Institute, which later became the graduate school of Christendom College. Above all, in my estimation, the foundation of The Catholic Distance University, initially called the Catholic Home Study Institute, was and remains the most outstanding contribution made to Catholic education by our beloved Bishop Welsh. CDU was the “apple of his eye,” the “pearl of great price.” He gave endless hours of support and prayer for this instrument of Catholic formation and education, which has transformed the lives of thousands both here and throughout the world.
The list of Bishop Welsh’s accomplishments in Arlington is more than lengthy. I share a sampling. How he treasured those who are a bishop’s closest co-workers in providing pastoral care: the priests! He was to them, in good times and also in difficult times, what the Second Vatican Council urges every bishop to be: their father, brother and friend. Understanding how deacons could provide additional pastoral care through their three-fold ministry of the word, the altar and charity, Bishop Welsh promoted the permanent diaconate by instituting a formation program to train future deacons. The number of deacons grew from seven to fifty-one by the time of his transfer in 1983. Zealous for the formation of future priests, Bishop Welsh strongly encouraged vocations to the priesthood, and under his leadership, the number of seminarians increased from a few at the time of his arrival to fifty-one by 1983. He loved those living the consecrated life, both women and men. Besides supporting all those living the consecrated life in active communities, he also knew the essential need for cloistered religious. So, he invited the Poor Clares to make a foundation in Alexandria while also encouraging the Trappists in Berryville.
Bishop Welsh ardently proclaimed the truth about the sanctity of human life from its beginning at conception to its end at natural death. He supported every pro-life endeavor within this diocese and also beyond. He began the Office of Family Life and introduced Natural Family Planning to our diocesan family. Catholic Charities grew significantly under his watchful care and the Office of Refugee Resettlement was opened. One of the new parishes which he established was for the pastoral care of our Vietnamese sisters and brothers: the Parish of the Holy Martyrs of Vietnam in Arlington in 1979. Bishop Welsh also began the Diocesan Pastoral Council and our diocesan newspaper, The Arlington Catholic Herald.
When one considers all he has achieved, always in a spirit of humble service and with enduring hope, it is clear that Bishop Welsh exercised his ministry like the Good Shepherd Himself. His love for vocations and Catholic education; his steady leadership; his devout prayer, especially his palpable love for Christ present in the Eucharist; his understanding of the needs of the flock entrusted to him and his wonderful sense of humor; all this and more proclaims loud and clear that our beloved Bishop Welsh, the Founding Father of this diocesan Church, was a living reflection of the Good Shepherd and brought to his every encounter and endeavor true hope flowing from the heart of the Good Shepherd.
Bishop Welsh certainly kept his eyes fixed on Jesus and also on the Mother of Jesus Christ. His Episcopal motto: Maria Exemplari Omnia Instaurare (With Mary as model, make all things new), reminded him daily that looking to Mary as a model of hope, for she herself entrusted her entire life to God and to His Word and Will, he could restore all things in Christ.
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is our enduring hope. Bishop Welsh understood this and deeply believed this. On the nineteenth of February, when it was time to go home, to the dwelling place prepared for each of us, Jesus Christ kept the promise of hope which He makes to every follower of His, and so to this disciple, who was also chosen, called and consecrated to be His priest and bishop. That promise we heard in the gospel account: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house, there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.”
Yes, on the nineteenth of February, Jesus Christ came to take Bishop Welsh to his true and eternal home. Surely, Our Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph also came with the Lord Jesus. “Come,” they said, “your earthly pilgrimage marked by joy and sorrow, accomplishment and disappointment, acceptance and hurt, good health and failing health, is now ended. Come, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Master.”
Because we are a people of hope, we confidently entrust our Founding Father, Bishop Thomas Jerome Welsh, to the embrace of the Triune God. Recalling Saint Augustine’s words on the death of his brother, we too carry our beloved bishop with prayer to the House of the Lord. Yes, we ask our God: “Lord, forgive any sins he may have committed; give him peace and fullness of life in Your Presence.” But, precisely because we are a people of hope, we add: “Dear Bishop Welsh, continue to be a shepherd for us before God; remember us who form this diocesan Church first entrusted to you; pray for us who remain on pilgrimage, walking towards that home to which you have preceded us.”
Thomas Jerome Welsh, a faithful disciple, a true priest, a good shepherd, a person filled with authentic Christian hope, the First Bishop of Arlington: he has not gone away; rather, he has gone ahead. Amen.