Editor’s note: The following is Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz’s Dec. 15 homily given at the ordination of Bishop Chad Zielinski as the head of the Fairbanks Diocese.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light: upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom, a light has shone.” (Is. 9:1)
These haunting words from the prophet Isaiah will greet and console us as we celebrate Mass at the start of our Christmas celebrations. Gathering together here in Fairbanks for this Mass of Episcopal Ordination and Installation, we find ourselves in the middle of the liturgical season of Advent. It is a time for getting in touch with that longing for the Savior: a longing which each of us feels in the depth of our being. Here in Alaska, especially up North, our very environment assists us in the sense of enveloping darkness into which our loving God sent His Son, the light of the world.
Here in our diocese of Fairbanks that sense of longing for the light has become tangible since the darkness has touched us in so many ways — ways that are personal, powerful and frightening. I could sense that longing, that deep desire for renewed hope as I traveled through the diocese during the past year. Yet, you have welcomed me with open arms, with genuine hospitality and Christian love that will remain in my heart always. I want to thank you with all my heart for that great welcome into this faith family and will forever be grateful for this privilege to serve you in ministry.
And now, our Good Lord has responded to your longing and prayers, and has sent you a shepherd to be with you, to care for you, and to lead you to the light. Our Holy Father Francis has heard you and in the grace of the Holy Spirit, chosen a man who is close to you and who already has a sense of the beauty and diversity of this faith community. He brings with him extensive experience in pastoral ministry and leadership and I am overjoyed to welcome this man with a big pastoral heart as a co-worker and partner in episcopal ministry here in Alaska.
Accept him as you have accepted me. Love him and pray for him for he has pledged to give his life to you. Let me share with you the exhortation to the people found in the liturgical text for the ordination for a bishop: “Gladly and gratefully, therefore, welcome our brother whom we, the bishops, now admit into our college by the laying on of hands. Revere him as a minister of Christ and a steward of the mysteries of God. He has been entrusted with the task of bearing witness to the truth of the Gospel, and with the ministry of the Spirit and of justice.”
And now, my dear brother, never mind about claiming you are too young as Jeremiah did. God has chosen you, and you have said yes, and for this we thank you. I pledge my prayers for you that, as Saint Paul says to the Ephesians, you might live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience bearing with one another through love. In this way you will be a real father to your people whom I find to be humble and gentle, with a genuine hunger for their faith. You have wonderful and dedicated deacons and religious as collaborators in the work of the ministry. They are anxious to get to know you and to share their experience and wisdom with you. In them you will find a dedication which is truly inspiring.
Above all, I would like to use the words of Pope Francis in a recent address to new bishops: “I am thinking of so many people to lead to (Christ), your priests in the first place … I exhort you to cultivate within you, fathers and pastors, a quiet time in which to allow space for your priests: receive them, welcome them, listen to them, guide them. I would like you bishops to be accessible not because of the media facilities you have, but because of the interior space that you offer to receive people and consider their actual needs…”
You have chosen as the Gospel for today, my dear brother, Christ’s dialogue with Peter. As Jesus commanded Peter, so he now commands you: feed my lambs, tend my sheep. I know in your heart that this is your deepest desire. May the power of the Holy Spirit, and our prayers, strengthen you in carrying out this task.
And so, as the church says in its liturgical exhortation: “Keep watch over the whole flock, in which the Holy Spirit appoints you to govern the Church of God: in the name of the Father whose image you represent in the church; in the name of the Son, Jesus Christ, whose office of teacher, priest and shepherd you will discharge; in the name of the Holy Spirit who gives life to the Church of Christ and by his power strengthens us in our weakness.” Amen.