A Homily for the Election of a Bishop
Sunday, September 10, 2023
Holy Ghost Church – 8:00 Mass
Isaiah 61:1-3a; Psalm 89:4-5, 21-22, 25 and 271; Ephesians 4:11-16; John 15:9-17
Today’s Mass is a special Mass offered for the Election of a Bishop, specifically a Bishop for the Diocese of Knoxville. You have just heard the special readings for this Mass proclaimed; readings which are different from the normal readings we would hear on the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time.
We are celebrating this Mass at the direction of our diocese’s Apostolic Administrator, Archbishop Shelton Fabre of Louisville, whose authority we are under until such time as Pope Francis appoints a new bishop for our diocese. All of the parishes in our diocese are celebrating this Mass today. The purpose of this Mass is to pray that the Holy Spirit will send us a bishop who is well-suited to lead the Diocese of Knoxville and that He will do so soon!
I thought it might be helpful for all of us today to reflect on why the role of the bishop is so important for any diocese and why we have a sense of urgency that a new bishop be appointed sooner than later.
In the Catholic Church, bishops are considered to be the successors of the apostles. The primary ministry of the local bishop is both sacramental and pastoral. His job is to build up communion within his diocese through his pastoral leadership. The local bishop also has liturgical presidency, if you will. He and he alone – regardless of what other bishops may do in their dioceses – determines how liturgy is celebrated in his diocese; what is permitted and what is not permitted. The bishop is also the authoritative teacher in matters of faith and morals within his local church. Above all, a bishop should stand in the midst of his people as one who serves.
The Second Vatican Council, also known by most of us as Vatican II, clarified that the fullness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders belongs to the office of bishop. Priests and deacons have sacramental and juridical authority only to the extent that a bishop shares it with them. Without this shared authority, a priest can not confect the Eucharist, absolve sins, administer confirmations or anoint the sick.
Without this shared authority from his bishop, no deacon or priest can baptize in the ordinary way or preside at a wedding. It is only by this shared authority from the bishop that the sacraments can be administered by priests and deacons. This is how critical it is for all of us that we have a bishop.
Having said this, the Church makes provision for the temporary absence of a bishop, as is our situation today. Archbishop Fabre has been granted the authority of bishop for our diocese by Pope Francis until such time as the Holy Father appoints a new bishop for us. As such, priests and deacons are able to continue to administer the sacraments under his authority.
Today’ readings speak to us of the role and character of a holy bishop, a man whose life is modeled after the life of Christ. The prophet Isaiah is not only speaking of the coming Messiah in today’s first reading, he is also speaking of the apostles and their successors…the bishops.
The bishop is to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to prisoners. He is to comfort all who mourn. The bishop stands in our midst as Christ’s representative in the world, and all of our priests and deacons share in his ministry.
In our second reading St. Paul specifically speaks to the role of the apostles and their successors, the bishops, as ministers who build up the Church. That they and those who serve under them are to use their gifts to build up the Body of Christ so that we might all mature in our faith and not be deceived by the scheming of those who oppose Christ and his Church.
Finally, today’s Gospel reading speaks to the character of the bishop and all of us who serve one another under his leadership and authority. This includes all the faithful, clergy and lay people alike. We hear today how much Jesus loves each of us…as much as the Father loves him! He loves us with a love so great that we can’t even begin to imagine its magnitude…it is truly an infinite and unconditional love.
We remain in this unimaginable love of Christ by keeping his commandments, just as he kept his Father’s commandments. And what is his commandment? That we love one another as he has loved us.
Everything we do must be rooted in this love of God and neighbor if we are to truly be Christ’s friends. If we are to bear fruit in our lives; fruit that remains. This is the fruit is we will offer Christ when we meet him face-to-face a the time of our death. It is the only thing we will have to offer him, the fruit of our love for on another.
We need God’s help to love others in this way. To produce the fruits of love, we must remain on the vine and be pruned by the Father. Put differently, if we are to love others as God does, we need to remain and grow in communion with Jesus, through such things as prayer, the sacraments, and works of penance.
Through these spiritual practices, we open ourselves to God’s action in us whereby we increasingly die to our own sinfulness and become conformed to the Father’s will. Thus we will come to joyfully experience the Father’ love so we can love others as he calls us to do.
Nothing other than keeping God’s commandments and remaining in his love matters in life; nothing else we do on this earth accompanies us from this life into the next.
So let’s all pray today and every day that the Lord will send us a holy bishop, one who has a heart of service for the people of this diocese, and who will lead us in service to all those who God places on our paths. It is only by developing a life of prayer and unselfish service that we will come to know Our Lord more intimately and come to experience his complete joy in our lives.
God bless you.
Prayers of the Faithful for this Mass
My sisters and brothers, as we await the appointment of our new Bishop, let us make these prayers with confidence and in joyful hope.
For the leaders of our Church, who, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, will select our new Bishop, may they be filled with wisdom and counsel in discerning the will of God. We pray to the Lord.
For the leaders of the world, may they always seek to serve the common good and uphold the dignity of all those entrusted to their care. We pray to the Lord.
For our Archbishop Fabre, may he be filled with grace and peace as he shepherds us and cares for our Diocese during this time of hope and anticipation. We pray to the Lord.
For the next Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Knoxville, may he have the loving heart of the Good Shepherd; zeal in preaching the Good News; humanity in ministering the sacraments; compassion in serving those most in need; and wisdom in teaching the doctrine of the Church. We pray to the Lord.
For the Catholic Diocese of Knoxville as we await the naming of our new Bishop, may we be patient in trust, steadfast in hope, fervent in prayer, unceasing in good works, and faithful in all things. We pray to the Lord.
Hear our prayers made by a people
Longing for a Bishop who is faithful to You
And who will be for us a worthy shepherd.
Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.