Your Eminence, Cardinal Keeler, my brother bishops, priests and deacons, men and women in consecrated life, seminarians brothers and sisters in Christ, all —
We have fittingly begun our procession this evening at the tomb of Archbishop John Carroll. In doing so, we return to the graced source from which this Church of Baltimore, and so much of the Church in America, was born. I cannot imagine a better place to inaugurate my ministry among you than at his tomb and in this historic basilica, where so many of the decisions that shaped the lives of generations of Catholics were ratified. Nor can I imagine a more significant congregation to address on the eve of my Installation than you, the clergy and religious of this Archdiocese, gifts of God to the People of God. In addition, how providential that this is the eve of the feast of God’s Little Flower, St. Therese of Lisieux. She gives me the framework for my remarks tonight.
St. Thérèse died 110 years ago today. One of the most beloved of modern Catholic saints, the Little Flower’s vivid personality – her passion, her courage in the face of spiritual struggle and long darkness, her trust in the transforming power of Christ’s grace – contains lessons for us all. They are helpful to us as we begin, together, a new chapter in the story of the first Catholic diocese in the independent United States.
The Little Flower is a saint of great surprises, a woman of light-hearted intensity, just ten years ago proclaimed the 33rd Doctor of the Church by the Servant of God, John Paul II. She was twenty-four when she died , an age at which most theologians are beginning their graduate studies. Though a contemplative who never left her convent walls, she burned with missionary zeal. Though never having finished high school, she produced twice as many spiritual works as her great Carmelite brother, St. John of the Cross. At the time Thérèse was proclaimed Doctor of the Church, some wondered just how did the Little Flower “fit” in the company of Augustine and Aquinas, Leo the Great and Gregory the Great, Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila, and all the rest of that magnificent company of the Church’s greatest theologians.
Pope Benedict XVI suggests that the original contribution of St. Therese to the life of the Church is profound. It is “a new idea of heaven, of the relationship between eternity and time. To be present on earth and to do good on earth is my heaven [she taught us]. Through the presence of the Risen Christ among us and within us, heaven is not absent from earth, but a new and stronger presence there. By living a Christian life we are more present to earth, we are changing the earth…” The Holy Father also stressed that, in Thérèse’s simple yet radical theology of complete commitment to Christ, we discover a new and deeper freedom. As he put it, the Little Flower taught us that “…to give myself into the hands of Jesus is sufficient. We don’t have to do great things, we have to be confident, and in the freedom of that confidence we can also follow Jesus and realize a Christian life….The ‘little way’ [of the Little Flower] is a very deep rediscovering of the center of Christian life” said Benedict.
In her autobiography, St. Thérèse wrote with great emotion about the discovery of her true vocation. “At last I have found my calling: my call is love…In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love, and thus I will be all things.” If this saint of all-consuming love is a Doctor of the Church, then her life of love “in the heart of the Church” must have a deep meaning for theology. Thérèse’s burning desire – “My God, I desire to love you and make you loved by others” – is the desire that should animate every baptized Christian; but most especially those committed to the study of theology. Each one of us in this congregation tonight is challenged anew to see the world and to live in the world through the rich theological prism of Christ’s love, of Christ’s death, Resurrection and loving presence among us until the end. For the vision of theology, faith-seeking-understanding, is ordered to love: the love of God in Christ, the love of our neighbor in whom we see the image of God. Theology is most itself when it leads us into a deeper contemplation of the mystery of the Trinity which is the mystery of love exchanged, shared, always amplified, never extinguished.
Theology does its greatest service to the Church when it helps us understand how each piece of our rich Catholic tradition involves us more intimately and intensely in the Communion of Saints. Theology serves the world best when it reminds us that the story of the world and the Christian story do not run on parallel tracks. Rather, the Christian story – the story of God’s self-revelation to the People of Israel and his final revelation in his only-begotten Son – is the world’s story, read in its true depth. And it is a story which has life-transforming meaning for each one of us.
That is what it means to “think with the Church:” to do the intellectual work of theology in such a way that our theological labors bear fruit in love. And these I would address to those being formed for priestly ministry. I look forward in the near future to coming to know all of you seminarians of our two historic Catholic seminaries. What a rich resource our Church boasts in our seminaries as well as in Baltimore’s colleges, and graduate schools of theology, as they foster theology as a discipline ordered to the understanding and proclamation of God’s continuing and passionate love for us.
The life and teaching of the Little Flower also have a special resonance for you who live the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience in consecrated religious life. In your prayerful intimacy with Jesus Christ, I look to you to be the spiritual “reactor core” of Catholic life in this Archdiocese. I look forward, as well, in coming to meet each of you.
In describing your charism John Paul II once suggested that your consecrated life, like that of the Little Flower, should experience “the love of the divine beauty;” calling for constant reflection on the Transfiguration of Jesus. Like the apostles, you catch a glimpse of the transformed face of Christ, the “Holy Face,” so dear to St. Therese, of what we are to become. Pope Benedict speaks of being “so fascinated by the beauty of God and by his perfect truth as to be progressively transformed by it.” Your unconditional gift of self to Christ and the Church also gives unique witness to the Law of Gift that John Paul II insisted is written on every human heart. This law of self giving is key to all spiritual maturity and human growth. Your lives remind a world of power that it is in giving ourselves, not asserting ourselves, that we live the truth about ourselves, made in the image of a Trinity of self-giving love.
As I prepare to begin my ministry as the fifteenth archbishop of Baltimore, I pray to God for an outpouring of His grace so that this Archdiocese, which can claim so many religious communities as its sons and daughters, will experience a new birth of the Spirit in a renewal of consecrated life.
St. Thérèse as co-patron of the missions offers all of us another reminder of the task before us: the work of evangelization. What Paul said to Timothy – “Do the work of an evangelist” – is also an injunction to each one of us. So much of Catholic life today is spent on questions of institutional maintenance. Yet amidst the importance of those efforts and the busyness that ensues, during all those meetings and consultations, we dare not forget that maintenance is not our primary business.
Preaching the love of the Risen Christ is!
The Church exists to give itself away in witnessing to the power of God’s love in Christ: to witness to the truth, that the fullness of life comes only through friendship with Jesus Christ. The Church exists to call those who have never met Christ to experience the power of his love, to know the grace of conversion. I was once told of an evangelical congregation that posted a sign at the edge of its parking lot, a sign everyone had to pass on their way home after Sunday services. The sign read: “Mission Territory Begins Here.” May St. Thérèse, co-patron of the missions, inspire in every member of the Body of Christ in this archdiocese a missionary zeal—an evangelical passion — to introduce Christ to those who have never met Him, to invite home all those who once knew Him but know Him no more, or are lukewarm in the faith.
In that work of evangelization, those ordained to the priestly ministry of Word and Sacrament have a unique, and irreplaceable responsibility. You, my priests, are my closest co-workers. Please look to the Little Flower, who loved the priesthood and prayed passionately for vocations. Look to her to inspire in us a renewed love for the gift we were given with the laying on of hands and the words of priestly ordination. That radically configured us to Christ the High Priest and spouse of the Church. See in St. Thérèse’s love for the priesthood a fire that we must keep kindled in our own priestly hearts. For only when we love the gift of our priesthood will we be able crediblyto call other men to share in that gift. And as St. Therese had a special spot in her heart and in her prayer for seminarians, so will I, for each one of you studying for the priesthood.
And how blessed and enriched our Church continues to be since the Second Vatican Council renewed the order of the deacons “to help the bishop and his body of priests as ministers of the word, of the altar and of charity.” You are truly servants of all the people of God; you are so valuable in our mission of evangelization.
Brothers and sisters in Christ: each of us is called to be a saint. This is not a platitude. Indeed, only in striving for sainthood can we approach our fullest human and Christian potential. For a saint, as C.S. Lewis reminds us, is someone who can live comfortably with God forever. But sainthood, living with God, starts here as we recognize and serve Him in others. As the Church proclaims the sacredness of human life in preaching the Gospel of Life, we will be relentless, as well, in defending the gift and dignity of life from its earliest stages. The Church exists not only for the sanctification of life, but also for the defense of life.
This Archdiocese can take pride in so many historic accomplishments. Let me suggest some: this magnificent basilica, a living symbol of the American commitment to religious freedom, and a concrete reminder that only a virtuous people can be truly free; we point with pride to our Catholic school system and Catholic Charities both of which find historic roots here; the seven provincial and three plenary Councils of Baltimore; the Baltimore Catechism; the nation’s first seminary and its first Catholic college for women; our Nation’s first religious community for Afro-American women; the leadership of its bishops in work for civil rights; and our own Cardinal Keeler’s ecumenical and interfaith accomplishments as well as his defense of the right-to-life of the most vulnerable and poorest among us, including the unborn, the disabled, and the aged. The list of accomplishments is long; the roster of historic personalities is full.
Above all else, however, the Archdiocese of Baltimore should take pride in, and thank God for, its saints: those whom the Church has recognized in its calendar, and those whose names are known to God alone. This local church has been a cradle of holiness, and must continue to be, if we hope to live the Great Commandment of love of God and neighbor. And you who fill this Great Basilica are blessed assurances that this legacy of hope lives today in the Church of Baltimore. Thank you for your lives, thank you for your love, for your warm welcome to me, and thank you for your holiness.
And so, as we turn another page in a noble history begun at the tomb of John Carroll and we begin to write a new history we can only imagine this evening, we confidently call upon the aid of our special patrons. We pray:
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, who found a Catholic home in this cradle of American Catholicism, come to our aid in the renewal of consecrated life and in sustaining Catholic education.
St. John Neumann, once a pastor in this city, come to our aid in the work of vocations, evangelization and the renewal of priestly life.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux, as we remember you tomorrow on your special day, come to our aid so that we, too, may be love, in the heart of the Church.