Published February 9, 2017 | En Español
The Catholic Church in north and central Georgia just had a terrific Saturday. Along with all of our neighbors, we gloried in our NFC-champion Falcons competing in Super Bowl LI and enthusiastically cheered on our home team. The excitement was palpable! Our Chancery staff went to work last Friday attired in Falcon colors and symbols. As they successfully accomplished their tasks for the day, they also shared in the excitement that seemed to be contagious everywhere. They sent me photos that attested to their obvious anticipation of a victory. People throughout our area enjoyed a special moment in cheering on a team that we both love and support. It was a happy time for all of us—Monday, however, was quite a different issue!
On a more personal note, the Archdiocese of Atlanta welcomed 12 new deacons into ministry last Saturday. These men are eager to begin their service of word and charity in the parishes and communities where they will serve. Their wives and families basked in the excitement of their ordination and warmly embraced them at the conclusion of the Mass. As husbands and fathers, businessmen and neighbors, they represent the vibrancy of this local Church as we go about the mission of charity and service that is a responsibility for each one of us. More than 70 deacons from throughout the archdiocese came to the ceremony to welcome their new colleagues and brothers. We have an excellent diaconal community in this archdiocese.
One of the discreet gestures in the ordination ceremony is that of having the hands of the ordinandi placed within the hands of the ordaining bishop while promising respect and obedience. Just what does that gesture of putting one’s hands within the hands of the bishop signify? It is a medieval aristocratic gesture of trust on the part of the candidate. It indicates that the candidate trusts his bishop and pledges with that gesture “not to draw his weapon against the one who grasps his hands.” In short, the rite means that the candidate and the bishop will live together in mutual peace and harmony.
The same gesture is employed with the ordination of a priest. Clerics are supposed to work in collaboration and in harmony for the good of the Church. We are not supposed to be caught up in petty squabbles and arguments. It does not mean that we won’t disagree at times, but it does mean that we will not be a counter witness to the peace that is Christ’s legacy for His Church.
In a ceremony before I was ordained a bishop, I made a solemn promise that I would always live in union with the successor of Peter—that I would remain loyal and obedient to the one who cares for the Church as the Supreme Pontiff. I first made that promise to John Paul II who named me to the episcopacy, but it has extended to all of his successors. It was a promise that I have tried to live with integrity and fidelity for more than 33 years.
My promise to the Holy Father has never meant that I could not tell him the truth—as I might see it. This proved to be most important in the years when I served as president of the U.S. Conference of Bishops because it entailed my telling the Holy Father about the terrible things that I had witnessed or heard of during those heady years. I have never presumed that I had all the truth, but that what I knew, I would share without fear with the one who was entrusted with the care of the entire Church.
Pope Francis welcomes such candor, as did St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. I know because I spoke to them both about delicate issues and always with confidence. Popes are not afraid of what they may hear. However, they are occasionally saddened by what they hear that is only voiced indirectly and that is offered in a spirit of challenge and opposition to the Office of Peter. Clerics are supposed to build up the unity and peace of the Church. It comes with our job.