I think it’s pretty safe to say that the last couple of months have been quite a ride for those of us who are Catholic or who follow closely events in the Catholic Church. At the end of January it was announced to the good people of the Archdiocese of Portland that they would soon receive a new shepherd, namely yours truly.
No sooner did that news begin to settle in among the Catholic faithful of Western Oregon than a far more stunning piece of news hit all of us. Our beloved Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, made the historically momentous decision to step aside from the Chair of St. Peter due to failing health and under the burden of his advanced years.
We lived through and witnessed the exciting process of electing a new Pope, and we all waited anxiously to see who would step out on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The Holy Spirit gave us Pope Francis! We now had a Pope from the Americas who impressed us all immediately with his humility and simplicity. He had barely accepted the election to be our Holy Father when he began to shake things up. His desire to live more simply and to pay special attention to the poor is already challenging all of us.
Shortly after that, and literally on the heels of Holy Week and Easter, we had a wonderful archdiocesan celebration of the installation of your new Archbishop. What a joyous and faith filled occasion that was for all of us, especially for me, your new shepherd!
Change, transitions, and new beginnings. These can be unsettling for many of us, especially when we have become very comfortable and even complacent with the status quo. I know for myself to leave a place that has been my home for 35 years and where I have served as a priest for nearly 23 years, the last seven as Bishop, has not been easy. And yet I know this is where God wants me, and that makes me very glad to be here!
I am sure that many of you are wondering what our new Pope is going to be like and what impact he will have on the life of the Church throughout the world. Perhaps some of you are wondering the same things about your new Archbishop and what his ministry will mean for the local church in the Archdiocese of Portland. I also ponder these things.
But in the end, all of this is not about Pope Benedict, Pope Francis, me or anyone else. It is about Jesus Christ. It is about his saving mission to all of humanity. It is about his chosen instrument in the world, commissioned to bring the Good News of God’s love and mercy to people everywhere. The Catholic Church has been around for nearly 2,000 years, living and proclaiming the Gospel. What we might consider to be unsettled and even tumultuous times in the Church are nothing compared to what she has experienced throughout all of her history.
We have just celebrated during Holy Week the Paschal mystery of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have celebrated that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. Through his saving death and resurrection he has conquered sin and death and opened up for us the way to eternal life.
This is what sustains us. It is in this that we place our faith and hope. No matter what might be going on all around us, even with changes in Church leadership, one thing remains always the same, and that is our Lord. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever!” (Hebrews 13:8)
During this beautiful season of Easter we continue to celebrate Christ’s victory over death —over our death — and we bask in the light of the Risen Christ. Let us keep our eyes fixed on him and not worry about changes and transitions. They have always happened and they always will. These are indeed days of new beginnings, but that should be for all of us a source of encouragement and inspiration to look to the future full of hope.
I want you to know how very happy I am to have been called here to Western Oregon to be your new Archbishop. On a human level it will certainly take me time to settle in and begin to feel like this is home. But I am here with joy in my heart and with enthusiasm for what we can do together to build up the Body of Christ, the Church, and to witness to others the love and mercy that we have come to know in Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.
A glorious and happy Easter to you all!