Wednesday, February 15, 2006

excerpt from the homily by George Niederauer, installed today as the 8th Archbishop of San Francisco

Especially in Jesus Christ God teaches us that the profoundest, richest love of all is about giving to, cherishing, and caring for others, not about getting for oneself. In Jesus Christ, the Pope tells us, God gives himself on the cross to raise us up and save us. Moreover, God calls those who would follow his Son to become free and fulfilled through self-giving, not through getting: “The one who saves his life will lose it, while he who loses his life for my sake and the Gospel’s will save it.”

That is why we gather here around this table today, and every day, week after week. Eucharist draws us into this all-important self-giving act of Christ on Calvary. We become one with Christ and with one another when we receive the Body and Blood he gave for us. What’s more, this sacramental experience of oneness with Christ in his dying and rising is social in character. We American Catholics, steeped in individualism from our cradles, need always to be reminded that the most important experiences in life cannot be attained alone, because they are relationships: you can’t have a friendship all by yourself, you can’t get married alone, and you can’t be a disciple of Jesus Christ in splendid isolation. Pope Benedict reminds us that worship, Eucharistic communion, includes the reality of being loved and loving in return. These are the Holy Father’s own words: “A Eucharist that does not cross over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically

Eucharist makes us one around the altar and one as a universal, Catholic Church. We are not called to factions, or even to congregationalism. We are to be Catholic in every parish, Catholic in every diocese, and Catholic throughout the world. The rich and challenging diversity of Catholics in this Archdiocese of San Francisco bears constant witness to his truth. Just last Friday evening, at my first public appearance after arriving in San Francisco, I had a wonderful experience of this diversity, at the annual Archdiocesan Chinese New Year Dinner. Many languages, customs and cultures are to be woven together into one fabric of worship, faith, service and love.

Who we are together as Church is centered right here. Christ the Prophet and Teacher lives and acts in us when we proclaim the good News of our salvation in him and pass it on from generation to generation. Christ the priest lives and acts in us when we offer this worship, when we celebrate the other sacraments, when we pray and let the Holy Spirit deepen God’s life within us. Christ the Shepherd lives and acts in us when we gather in faith and serve each other and the world around us. Jesus Christ teaches, offers and serves in all his members, but the special collaborators of the bishop in our church are the priests and deacons. I have seen how hardworking the priests and deacons of Utah are, and I am aware that there is the same witness here. The first person to describe a vocation shortage was Jesus himself, nearly 2000 years age: “The harvest is great but the laborers are few. Pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into the harvest.” The work of vocations is the task of all Catholics in every parish: prayer, encouragement, challenge and support.

At the Rite of Ordination for a bishop, the Church asks the candidate whether he promises to be “welcoming and merciful to the poor and to all those in need of consolation and assistance.” The church knows she is called constantly to carry out the service of charity, attending always to the suffering and needs of her neighbors.

Nor may those who serve consider themselves superior to those who are served, the Pope warns. This is especially true of the service of leadership in the Church. No one is to lord it over anyone else in Christ’s Church. This afternoon’s reading from Mark’s Gospel is the touchstone for those who would lead: “Whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all.” And what is the theological reason for that? Jesus tells us right away: “The Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve – to give his life in ransom for the many.” The proud minister is a countersign in the kingdom of God.

For the Church, the Holy Father goes on to explain, “Charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being.” While it is true that civil authorities bear a major responsibility for the welfare of the citizens, still Pope Benedict recognizes that no state can eliminate the need for a service of love, that there will always be suffering, loneliness and material need. Furthermore, Catholics are committed to justice as well as charity, called to advocacy as well as immediate relief of suffering. In the politically charged atmosphere in this country nowadays, what the Pope has to say about Catholic social doctrine is most significant: that social doctrine does not give the church power over the state, nor is it meant to impose faith and its practice on non-believers. It is principally the responsibility of the lay faithful to work directly for a just ordering of society. The Holy Father acknowledges that the Church cannot take on herself the political battle for a just society, that she cannot replace the state. On the other hand, neither can the Church remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.

Here is where misunderstandings and conflicts can arise. In the many moral dilemmas that face them today, Catholics look to their Church, to their faith, to be a compass, not a weathervane. The Church must point toward the true North of God’s loving will, and not merely track where the winds, or the polls, are blowing. This is not a new issue. About seventy years ago, the poet T. S. Eliot indicated why many people in our modern world aren’t’ particularly fond of the Church: “She is hard where they would be easy, and easy where they would be hard.” “Hard where they would be easy:” think of abortion and euthanasia; “Easy where they would be hard:” think of capital punishment and immigration law.

What then are citizens to do, when they disagree? Well, first of all, disagree without being disagreeable. Presume good faith until it is proven otherwise. At the end of one of his poems, Robert Frost famously suggested his own epitaph: “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.” I believe that is a richly helpful image. God often had a lover’s quarrel with his people, Israel, and the prophets were his spokespersons. Please presume that if the Church challenges an action, a policy or a program it is because she loves the world around her, and wants what is best for it. All around you here in the Cathedral today you can see evidence of the Church’s lifelong love for the arts: Architecture, painting, sculpture, and music. Always presume that it is love that led to a quarrel, and that love will endure when the quarrel has passed.

Some people have asked me what my priorities will be as Archbishop. My first priority is to get to know the people of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, especially in the setting of the parish, where Catholics most vitally live and celebrate their faith. The priests, deacons, religious and laywomen and men can help be get to know our local church and its needs. I want to visit out schools where the indispensable work of Catholic education goes on. Certainly I intend to continue Archbishop Levada ’s dedication to the healing of the victims of sexual abuse of minors and the strengthening of save environment programs throughout the Archdiocese. I look forward to close collaboration with my brother bishops in the dioceses that make up the Province of San Francisco. It is my hope to meet and work together with leaders of other faiths in ecumenical and interfaith settings.

The Psalmist says: “If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the builders labor.” I want to stress the importance of prayer for the fruitfulness of any work in the church. Together we need to call on our patron, St. Francis of Assisi, to intercede for us and to remind us constantly of his example of humility, single-hearted love for all, and unity with Christ in his suffering, dying and rising. We call on the patroness of this Cathedral, Mary, the Mother of our Savior and our Mother. In his letter Pope Benedict reminds us again why Mary is so greatly holy: because she wanted to magnify God, not herself. Let us pray: O Mary, our Mother and our Queen, seek for us the help of your Son, the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that we in this local church of San Francisco may remember your advice at Cana: “Do whatever he tells you.” May we prayerfully hear what your Son tells us and do it together, to the praise and magnifying of our loving Father forever.

Read the homily in its entirety here [pdf].

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