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Welcoming our new shepherd

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I was pregnant with my seventh child the year my eldest was confirmed. Bishop Paul S. Loverde was the celebrant. This year, that seventh child will be confirmed. With my own children and with other children I love, I have been to more confirmation Masses than I can count since that one in 2002. At every one, I have been accompanied by a child of the incessant question age who will ask about the bishop’s hat and the shepherd’s crook.


In a family of athletes, little ones are always interested to know that the “flaps” that hang down behind the bishop’s miter (technically called infulae) may have originated with the sweatband headgear worn by Greek athletes. The tied sweatband would have been on the victorious athlete’s head when he was crowned with a laurel wreath, thereby making it part of the victory crown.


I told my little boys that the bishop is like the team captain; he leads them on to victory, much like St. Paul, who wrote to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on a merited crown awaits me." (2 Timothy 4:7-8). I admit that as they sat in a very long Mass and I honestly actively tried to distract them from a homily whose subject was not for little ears, I was glad to plant in their imaginations the image of Bishop Loverde leading the team of diocesan athletes on a mission to heaven.


My little girls were always more impressed with the crozier. Children in my family are well acquainted with the parable of the Good Shepherd. They’ve heard the story of the Shepherd who knows their names, who calls to each of them and tenderly cares for them. They play with wooden dolls painted to look like shepherds. Our wooden shepherd has little wooden sheep and frequently, he’ll move far from the play table to find a stray lamb and bring him back to the sheepfold. Shepherds, my children know. They know that the sheep trust the shepherd protect them and to discipline them. The crozier is crooked to catch them as they fall and pull them back into the fold.


I hold these two images in my mind this week as we look forward to celebrating the installation of a new bishop. Friends of mine from the Diocese of Raleigh tell me how sad they were to see their good shepherd leave when Bishop Michael F. Burbidge was assigned to Arlington. They speak with fondness of the holy man they have come to know for his kindness. Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl echoed the sentiment when he thanked Pope Francis for "once again show[ing] his love and care for the church in our country" with the appointment of Bishop Burbidge to the Arlington Diocese. "With joy we receive this news," the cardinal said, seeing "in Bishop Burbidge a shepherd of the flock who possesses great zeal and has long demonstrated his love for the people entrusted to his pastoral care."


On a day when we celebrate the Bishop of Myra, good and holy St. Nicholas, the faithful of Arlington are infused with expectant joy. It is with this joy that we welcome to Northern Virginia the new shepherd who will tend this flock.


Foss, whose website is elizabethfoss.com, is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016