Episcopal Ordination of Most Rev. Bruce Lewandowski, C.Ss.R.
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
August 18, 2020
In 1744, Father Alphonsus Ligouri penned a monograph entitled, Useful Reflections for Bishops on How to Govern Their Churches Well.” An acclaimed theologian and founder of the Congregation of the Holy Redeemer, Fr. Alphonsus never expected to be a bishop, and more than that, he had vowed to avoid any kind of ecclesiastical honor or advancement. He was therefore surprised and distressed when, on a March morning in 1762 a courier from the papal nuncio arrived bearing the news that Pope Clement XIII had appointed him Bishop of St. Agatha of the Goths. Already beset by age and illness, the news struck Alphonsus like a thunderbolt and he consented to the appointment reluctantly, indeed, as a matter of obedience. Never did Alphonsus dream that his “Useful Reflections” for bishops would become personally useful to himself … but so indeed they did. Let me add that, whatever advice he had previously dispensed to bishops, he more than fulfilled in his own energetic and generous episcopal ministry.
Bishop-elect Bruce, I don’t know if you’ve written a similar monograph for us bishops, but I do know that you shared St. Alphonsus’ surprise and hesitancy on being named as Auxiliary Bishop of Baltimore by Pope Francis. I, however, had no hesitancy in recommending you to Pope Francis, for I have seen firsthand that you are a true son of St. Alphonsus Ligouri in your missionary zeal and your practical pastoral love for those you serve, qualities well known to your Redemptorist confrères, your co-workers lay and clerical, and your parishioners at Sagrado Corazón de Jesús y San Patricio Parish in Highlandtown, and indeed in the many ministries and parishes where you previously served.
Now, in these moments prior to your ordination as a bishop, let us reflect, in the spirit of St. Alphonsus Ligouri and St. John Neumann, on the Scriptures that have just been proclaimed, readings that speak of the bishop’s role of teaching, sanctifying, and shepherding, a ministry you will share with me and my brother bishops and priests.
These days to speak of the bishop’s role in teaching the faith almost sounds anemic. Today we speak more readily of the bishop’s role as an evangelizer, as a missionary who spreads the Gospel far and wide, thus preparing minds and hearts for the systematic teaching of the Faith. Surely, this accords with what we heard in today’s reading from the prophet Isaiah, words which Jesus would one day repeat in the synagogue at Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly . . .” Yes, the Holy Spirit did indeed anoint Jesus at his Baptism in the Jordan, an event that inaugurated the public ministry of the Most Holy Redeemer.
Today, Bishop-elect Bruce, in this Rite of Ordination, the Book of the Gospels will be placed over your head and once again you will be anointed with the “oil of gladness”, the Holy Spirit. Thus anointed, you will be sent as a witness and a teacher of the Faith to a wider mission field. Like St. Alphonsus or St. John Neumann, whose mission fields constantly expanded, you will bring the Gospel, not only to the spiritual family of Sacred Heart-St. Patrick Parish, but indeed to the highways and byways of the Archdiocese of Baltimore (and beyond). Yet the Gospel you will convey is the same one you have always preached: a message of glad tidings, a message of hope and healing, of liberty and vindication to the brokenhearted, to those held captive, and to those who mourn.
Your preaching will be addressed to everyone without exception, but will resonate in a special way among immigrants struggling to make their way, among those who mourn over their separation from family and loved ones, among those in economic distress and those who are especially susceptible to illness, among those who are victims of xenophobia and racism. As a Redemptorist, you will awaken in us a newfound love of Jesus, our Redeemer, and call us to a way of life that befits anyone who would be a true missionary disciple.
Let me now offer a word about the bishop’s role and responsibility for sanctifying, and do so by reflecting on St. Paul’s teaching on the Church as the Body of Christ. Like the body which is a single organism with many parts that function variously, so too, we the Church are one body in Christ, made up of many different members, endowed with spiritual gifts and functions that differ. Nonetheless, we are part of one another and work together for the common good of the Church and its mission. But our unity-in-diversity is not merely the result of our own efforts. St. Paul says we are “one body in Christ” and elsewhere, in 1 Corinthians, he specifies that we become living members of Christ’s Body through Baptism and the Eucharist. In the Church, we are sacramentally united to our Redeemer and thus to one another.
In this connection, I think of St. John Neumann’s great devotion to the Eucharist. Ordained to the episcopate at St. Alphonsus Church in Baltimore in 1852, Bishop Neumann zealously promoted devotion to the Holy Eucharist. An early biographer wrote that St. John Neumann’s “devotion to Jesus hidden under the Eucharistic veils was earnest and edifying … and intense was his desire to enkindle the same thing among his flock.” (Linck, p. 130). For John Neumann, the Eucharist bound together and gave life to his far-flung flock. So too the Eucharist is what fueled his energetic ministry. As Bishop of Philadelphia, John Neumann was described “a human dynamo” – a description that many would say applies no less to you, Bishop Bruce, than to him!
In preaching and in administering the sacraments, then, you will assist me in leading people to holiness, unlock in them their spiritual gifts, ensure that all work together in love, and thus build up the Body of Christ, the Church.
Finally, a bishop is to be a shepherd after the mind and heart of the Good Shepherd. As we heard in today’s Gospel, a passage especially dear to St. Alphonsus, Jesus says, “I AM the Good Shepherd”; He who is God (I AM) is our Good Shepherd! Jesus is that Shepherd who did not work for pay, but rather gave of himself, that Shepherd who did not flee from danger, but laid down his life for us, that Shepherd who knows us and loves us more than we could ever ask or imagine… and how blessed are we to know and love Jesus, the Shepherd and Lover of our souls.
St. Alphonsus was surely a good shepherd after the mind and heart of Christ, bringing the joy of the Gospel to many who had never heard of it and drawing many more back to the Church’s sacramental life. Flowing from his Eucharistic heart was a special love for the poor. When famine struck St. Agatha in 1763, St. Alphonsus opened up his residence and as many as five hundred people a day came, looking for food … and he gave them all that he had and all that he could obtain.
Of St. John Neumann it was said, “He spared himself nothing” as with a shepherd’s love, he served a burgeoning immigrant community. “He knew well that if the Faith of the immigrants was to be preserved, a bishop had to move, and John Neumann was a Shepherd who moved” (Linck, p. 113), constantly meeting people exactly where they were – spatially and spiritually.
It is this kind of shepherding, Bishop Bruce, which is so necessary in our times. That is why Pope Francis urges bishops and priests not to remain in our comfort zone but also to be on the move, encountering and accompanying the people we serve, uniting them to the Lord’s one flock and leading them to the Church’s Eucharistic heart. How blessed am I, how blessed are we all, to have you as a co-worker in the Order of Bishops to assist in the work of shepherding the flock of God in this local Church of Baltimore. V. Conclusion And so, my soon-to-be dear brother bishop, let us join in entrusting your episcopal ministry to the Blessed Virgin Mary under her wonderful title of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. She who is the Mother of the Good Shepherd will not fail you nor will she fail the people whom you shall serve. Rather, she will promptly come to our aid, interceding for us and leading us and our people closer to Christ. Through her intercession, may the Lord abundantly bless your episcopal ministry with the good fruit of the Gospel, that fruit which will last forever. And may God bless you and keep you always in his love!