By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY, Commentary | Published February 9, 2018 | En Español
One of the first messages that I received from an Atlanta priest after the announcement of the appointment was, “He’s so well respected!” That’s not a bad beginning comment for any new bishop!
Bishop-elect Joel Konzen is indeed very well respected among educators, young people, parents and clergy throughout the Archdiocese of Atlanta. His appointment as our new auxiliary bishop will strengthen those bonds that unite him to so many of us. While his membership within the Marist community will continue to be a great source of spiritual and fraternal strength for him, with his appointment as auxiliary bishop, he now becomes a diocesan cleric as well.
I have already personally witnessed his effective ministry in many different settings—as he cared for students and faculty at Marist School, as he preached at the wedding ceremonies of Marist alumni and as he interacted with clergy and faithful throughout the Archdiocese. In each of those situations, he has demonstrated the gentle pastoral care of a faithful minister of the Gospel. He brings with him a wealth of good will that will serve him well now as a bishop. As a shepherd, he has what Pope Francis called the “smell of the sheep”—teenage sheep, parental sheep and faculty sheep. His administrative expertise will offer helpful gifts for all of us at the Chancery as well.
Like every other newly appointed bishop before him—in what may best be captured by the image of a “deer in the headlights”—he has many questions. How did this happen to me? What must I do to be a good bishop? How will this appointment now change my life?
I can recall asking those very same questions.
First of all, he needs to know the great spirit of support that he already enjoys is clearly present in this local Church. The people will help him to become the bishop that the church has called him to become. In his future encounters with priests, deacons, religious and the faithful, he will discover how to lead them in prayer, how to strengthen their faith, how to guide them toward the Lord. He must place himself in God’s hands, and as a Marist he must turn frequently to the one who said yes to becoming God’s Mother without knowing what that would mean or how it would change her life.
He will learn how to be a good bishop through his interactions with other bishops. We comprise a “college,” always in union with the Holy Father and subject to his guidance. He will learn from the bishops of the province of Atlanta when we meet to share our regional experiences and encourage one another. He will learn many things from the conference of bishops—the USCCB—where the bishops of our nation work together for the growth of the Church in the United States. In the fall of this year, he will go to Rome for a specially planned symposium for new bishops, which will introduce him to the universal fraternal mission of bishops throughout the world.
Bishop-elect Konzen depends upon our prayers. He will find these next few weeks both exhilarating and exhausting, as he grows familiar with this new ministry and allows himself to discover the Lord anew in his prayer and in the encounters with the people of north and central Georgia. Many of them he already knows while many others will introduce themselves to him for the first time in the warm and gracious ways that are so much the character of this local Church. He may feel overwhelmed at times as he attempts to remember all the names and multiple events that are now a part of his ministry.
Be patient with him (and me and Bishop Ned)—it takes a long time to learn how to be a good bishop—an entire lifetime!