Published March 17, 2005
Last Thursday I visited Arlington Cemetery in Sandy Springs. Arlington Cemetery is the final resting place of a number of our priests and bishops. I went there to pray for my brothers and to see where my mortal remains might await the return of Christ in Glory. Cemeteries are sacred vessels of a community’s heritage. As I drove into the cemetery, I asked a couple of workers, “Where is the Catholic section?” They said, “I don’t know.” Then I looked up and saw the knoll with the Crucifix and statue of the Blessed Mother. I no longer needed their direction to where I was going.
I was wearing casual day-off clothes and so I could stroll unnoticed among the graves without drawing a lot of attention to my presence. I saw the markers that bore the names of some of the priests of our Archdiocese. Most of them, I did not recognize; however, a small number of them have already become familiar to me in even these few weeks. I paused at the graves of Archbishop Hallinan, Archbishop Donnellan, and Archbishop Lyke situated among their brother priests. There is no ranking privilege when we must face Sister Death.
I prayed for those wonderful men who have served this local Church with such devotion and such generosity. I asked the Lord to share with me some of the many gifts of my predecessors – Hallinan’s pioneering courage, Donnellan’s fidelity to the Church’s teaching, Lyke’s exuberance for the Church’s mission. Time will tell if the Lord grants my prayer.
Two of our bishops are buried elsewhere, Bishop Hyland in Pennsylvania and Archbishop Marino in Mississippi, their home communities. I prayed for them as well and I gave thanks for the gifts that they brought to this local Church that strengthened us in the past.
We are still a young diocese – not even 50 years old, yet we already have a noble heritage. We have been served not only by many generous priests, religious, and laity, but we have grown because of the devotion of thousands of generous benefactors. Many Catholics are buried around this hilltop site and they too were in my prayers. Praying for the dead is a distinctly Catholic tradition. It is not that we are alone among people of Faith in asking God to be merciful to those who have preceded us, but our understanding of the very nature of the Church includes those who have completed their journey in Faith and now await the fulfillment of Christ’s promises. Our beloved dead belong to the heart of the Church as exemplars of fidelity and our brothers and sisters in Faith, Hope, and Love.
This next week, I will spend time with many of our priests on two separate occasions. On Thursday, we will celebrate the Feast of Saint Patrick with a Mass and then later that evening with a buffet dinner and reception at my home. I welcome all of my brothers to this festive remembrance of the holiness and faithfulness of Saint Patrick. The Archdiocese of Atlanta has been richly blessed through the ministry of many sons of Ireland who have served with great generosity and zeal the needs of the growing Church in North Georgia. We all owe these wonderful priests a word of thanks and gratitude.
Next Tuesday, I will concelebrate the Chrism Mass with the Presbyterate of the Archdiocese of Atlanta as we bless and consecrate the oils that we shall use to sanctify this local Church during the coming year. The Chrism Mass is an annual celebration that brings Priests and Bishops together to remind us of the unity of the Christ’s Priesthood and of our promises to be faithful ministers of the Gospel. The Chrism Mass invites Priests and Bishops everywhere to remember that we are called to sanctify God’s People through the Sacraments and by our holiness of life.
As I walked among the graves of the priests and bishops of the Archdiocese of Atlanta last Thursday, I gave thanks for all the good that they had accomplished and I prayed that with my brothers in the priesthood today, we might be as faithful and generous as were they. May they rest in Christ’s Peace!