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Walk into the future with hope

The following homily was given by Bishop Paul S. Loverde at the Abbatial Blessing of Abbot Joseph Wittstock, OCSO, at Our Lady of the Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville.

Abbot Joseph, in God’s loving providence and by His mercy, you have been elected Abbot of this Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Cross. To be elected is a sign of the confidence and esteem of your brother-monks. It is also, as you are aware, a weighty responsibility, an awesome call form the Lord. With you and all who are here, I thank Abbot Robert for his faithful and dedicated ministry as your predecessor during the past eighteen plus years.


I was inspired by the description of who an abbot is and what his responsibilities are as outlined in the Ceremonial for Bishops. “As the representative of Christ in the monastery, the abbot shall act as father, teacher and model of the Christian and monastic life. … he should be more concerned to serve than to rule. With moderation but with firmness, he should lead his community to follow Christ in such a way that the monks may be living examples of the Gospel in their prayer and in their fraternal service to one another,” (p.191).


Yes, I repeat: “Father, teacher and model … more concerned to serve than to rule … with moderation yet with firmness. … [to] lead the monks to follow Christ … that they may be living examples of the Gospel in prayer and in fraternal service to one another.”


No doubt, dear Abbot Joseph, as you reflect on these weighty responsibilities, you may well ask: “O Lord, why did you choose me for this office?” (I know I did twenty-eight years ago when I received the call to be a bishop!)


But, be not afraid. God’s Word this very day is consoling, encouraging and strengthening.


In today’s second reading, Saint Paul reminded the Christians at Corinth — and now us — that it is good to recall our own frailty and limitations, not to be discouraged but to see how God desires to choose the lowly and the imperfect to do what He calls them to do.


“Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth, but God chose the foolish of the world, the lowly, in order to show His power, His wisdom, His strength …” So, entrust yourself to the Lord, dear Abbot; let Him work through your humanity with its strengths and weaknesses, in order to reveal His strength working through you for the total well-being of your brothers.


“Father, teacher, model, more concerned to serve than to rule …” look to the Lord Jesus. Today’s gospel reveals the Lord showing the disciples then — and us now — that to be the greatest, we must be the least, to serve is to rule. “I am among you as one who serves.” That is who you must be here: “as one who serves.”


Finally, in order to grasp and understand even more how you are to be “father, teacher, and model,” with moderation that is both kind yet firm; pray for the gift of wisdom! The first reading reminds us how treasured a gift wisdom is. Wisdom is far more than intellectual knowledge; it is insight, seeing beneath, seeing with God’s eyes. “Get wisdom at the cost of all you have, hold fast to her and never let her go. Keep her, for she is your life.”


Dear Abbot Joseph, you have been called to a privileged yet weighty office. Be not afraid: The Lord will never abandon you because He has chosen you. With His strength and grace and the wisdom that comes from the Holy Spirit, as you reflect on His word and your rule, as you listen fatherly-like to your brothers, and as you strive to be like Christ, “as one who serves,” you will fulfill God’s will in choosing you. Be not afraid! Be at peace! Never lose hope in God’s mercy!


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016