By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published January 20, 2005
Archbishop Gregory’s Vespers Homily To The Priests Of The Archdiocese
The Archdiocese of Atlanta is still a young enough See that a few of you here present may have witnessed this night or a similar such event for each one of my predecessors. A few of you were here at the very beginning, when Bishop O’Hara saw Bishop Hyland leave Savannah, to become the first Shepherd to lead the independent Diocese of Atlanta. Not so old, but still, not so young, many more of you remember the coming of Paul Hallinan, and the establishment of Atlanta as an Archdiocese. Still others have witnessed this night of change before with one, two, or even three Archbishops. No matter how many times you may have welcomed a new bishop, there is an awkwardness about this moment—for you and for the man chosen to be Shepherd, Pastor, and Brother to you. It is an evening which is necessarily filled with hopes for tomorrow and a renewal of spirit for each one of us.
Many people, perhaps, would wonder how I feel at this moment. I am filled with an eager desire to begin this new mission and this moment in my life and in yours. I bring with me the great blessing of knowing, loving, and serving a splendid people in southern Illinois, and I anticipate God’s grace to be overflowing in this new chapter of my life. We are, for the most part, strangers to one another. You have read—and perhaps even believe some of what you have read about this new Archbishop of Atlanta. I have gazed at your photographs and read your brief biographical sketches, hoping to recognize a few of you from pictures that may date back to your Ordination—some perhaps earlier. We are all eager to know more about one another. Pictures and news stories, as you know so well, will never reveal what is most important about each one of us. We are priests of Jesus Christ, servant ministers of the Church, believers in the Gospel, disciples of the One who came to serve rather than to be served. We are priests and bishop about to begin a new chapter in our common life. There is reason for hope. There is reason for optimism.
If there is a virtue that the world and our Church needs more than others at this moment, I believe it is the virtue of hope. Hope is not pretend. Hope does not close its eyes to the past. Hope does not forget the lessons of yesterday. Hope does not disappoint (Romans 5:5). Priests and bishop of Atlanta bring our hopes together in prayer around this altar this evening. You hope for a compassionate, understanding, approachable, open, faithful, and collaborative bishop. I, in turn, hope for those same gifts in you—compassion for the needs of our people, strength and faith to help them meet the challenges of life, and fraternal loyalty and concern for one another and for your bishop, so that we may preserve one another’s service to the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. In today’s Church our people perhaps may simply hope that bishop and priests will work together for them in harmony and in joy. Hope runs high this evening and not just in this Cathedral Church. God’s People, in fact, throughout the Archdiocese of Atlanta have great hopes for us all. They want us to be holy men, to be men of fidelity to the Gospel and to the teachings of the Church. They want us to spend our lives in joyful service to them. We must not disappoint them. We cannot disappoint them.
The bond that unites us comes from the Holy Spirit and was proclaimed in the prayer of our priestly Ordination:
“Grant, we pray, Almighty Father, to these your servants
The dignity of the priesthood;
Renew deep within them the Spirit of holiness;
May they henceforth possess this office
Which comes from you, O God,
And is next in rank to the office of Bishop;
And by the example of their manner of life,
May they instill right conduct.
May they be worthy co-workers with our Order,
So that by their preaching
And through the grace of the Holy Spirit
The words of the Gospel may bear fruit in human hearts
And reach even to the ends of the earth.”
By the prayerful designation of the Church we are to be co-workers with each other for the ministry of the Church. It is the Church that declares us to be colleagues, friends, brothers, fellow workers with Christ Himself.
Priests everywhere, today probably more than ever before, need to know that they are loved by their bishop. I want you to feel it in your hearts and sense it whenever we are together most especially in the Eucharist. I promise to search each day to find ways to encourage you and always to try to treat you with the mature respect and dignity that comes from a genuine love that rests on a solid foundation of Faith. If that is the hope you have of me, then, from this night forward, I will depend upon your prayers that I meet those expectations and become for you truly a loving and a holy Bishop.
I, for my part, will strive not to disappoint you. However, just like all of you, I am an ordinary man. I have many faults, shortcomings, and weaknesses—which will soon become quite apparent. But from this night forth, I promise to try to serve and above all to love you with all the strength that is within me. Even when we disagree—and brothers do often disagree—it must be done conditioned by the love that we have for one another in Christ. Even when we must face difficult issues together, that too must be done in love.
Tonight we begin a journey of Faith together. We do not pretend that there will not be challenges to face tomorrow. We begin with a hope that is grounded in Faith—our Catholic Faith that has bound the Church together for nearly 2,000 years under some of the most trying circumstances imaginable. We begin a new chapter in the life of our local Church—new, but built upon the rich heritage of our Catholic Faith. Tonight we must all recall the zeal that we felt as we began as new priests—and as I stand in this Cathedral Church I cannot help but to recall the day of my Ordination as Bishop by one who once was pastor of this very Cathedral Parish. Joseph Louis Bernardin who shared with me the Apostolic Office by the laying on of hands and the prayer of the Church, would want me to come to Atlanta with the spirit of Hope and Joy that he so clearly lived throughout his ministry as bishop. I never personally knew Archbishop Hallinan, but I came to admire and respect him through the heart and eyes of Cardinal Bernardin. As I came to know about this wonderful Archdiocese through so many of his references to your goodness and to the depth of your Faith, I could not have envisioned such a night as this. I consider myself a truly fortunate man to take up the ministry of serving our local Church after Archbishop John Donoghue. He has given himself so completely to you in Faith, Hope, and Love that I will build on a sure foundation of excellence. And so it is with that joy and hope that I begin this new ministry in your midst. From this day forward, I promise to love you, to pray for each of you, to attempt to come to know you, and to work for your sanctification and joy. I ask that you in turn keep me in your prayer—not only at the Eucharist, but at those quiet and fruitful moments of prayer before the Lord so that we all might be all that the Lord Jesus would have us be.
Tonight we all begin a new journey together. But in truth, it is an ancient journey—and one that the poet reminds us:
“With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding” (No. 4 of “Four Quartets”)