By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published January 20, 2005
Archbishop Gregory’s Homily For The Installation Mass
Mis queridos hermanos y hermanas en Cristo, Quisiera dirigir mis saludos primeros a la Iglesia local de Atlanta, especialmente a los que se sienten mas cómodos hablarle a Dios en español. Ahora que estamos reunidos alrededor de la mesa del Señor, en esta misa de instalación, quiero hacerles saber que ustedes siempre están muy cerca del corazón de esta Iglesia local, y del corazón de su nuevo arzobispo.
Su presencia entre nosotros nos enriquece, por sus muchos dones, por el estilo de vida familiar, y por el don de sus hijos. Ustedes son una gran bendición para la communidad del norte de Georgia, y para los Estados Unidos del Norteamérica.
Damos gracias a Dios, porque ustedes, nos hacen partícipes de la riqueza de su fe católica, y de su especial amor de la Madre de Dios, La Santísima Virgen Maria.
Nos comprometimos a corresponder a la communidad hispana ahora y siempre: con amor fraternal, afecto, y lealtád.
English translation of Archbishop Gregory’s opening remarks
‘I address my first greeting to the Church in Atlanta to those who speak to God most comfortably in Spanish. As we gather around the Table of the Lord at this Installation Mass, I want you to know that you are always close to the heart of this local Church and to the heart of its new Archbishop. We are enriched by your presence, through your many gifts, by your family life and in the gift of your children. Your presence is a blessing for the entire community of North Georgia and indeed for the entire United States of America. We give thanks that you offer us your deep and rich Catholic Faith and your special reverence for the Mother of God. We in turn offer you our love and devotion – now and always.’
I welcome to this Installation Mass the many people of the Archdiocese of Atlanta who have come here from the 69 counties that comprise this local Church to pray with me and to pray for me as I begin my service as the new Shepherd of this community of Faith. Within our midst are many of my brother bishops whose presence is a special honor for the Archdiocese of Atlanta and a source of great spiritual comfort and fraternal support for me. Among the bishops are five of the Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church. Your Eminences, we are blessed to have you in prayer with us and your generous friendship to me and support of this local Church remind us of the precious bond the Archdiocese of Atlanta shares with the Church Universal.
Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, in your person, you make present the Holy Father and thus Atlanta today is very much aware of our oneness with His Holiness Pope John Paul II. When I first gazed upon the newly-elected Pontiff from Poland from the Piazza San Pietro on the night of October 16, 1978, never did I imagine that he would have such a personal and pivotal role to play in my life. He has called me from the Presbyterate in Chicago to the Episcopacy, then to service in the Diocese of Belleville, and now most recently to become the new Archbishop of Atlanta. I treasure the many occasions over the years that I have been in the presence of the one who is Peter in today’s Church and the confidence that the Holy Father repeatedly has placed in me. Archbishop Montalvo, please assure His Holiness that I shall work tirelessly with the Clergy, Religious and Faithful of the Archdiocese to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and so to strengthen the bonds of Faith that unite us to him and to the other Churches throughout the world. On a personal note, I have already expressed to our entire conference of Bishops last November and I repeat again today, that in my humble opinion, the Holy Father is very well served in you, his representative because of your devotion to the Church in our nation. I know first hand, through your fraternal kindness to me, that you have a deep love for our people and the Church in our country.
The civic officials from Atlanta and the State of Georgia who are present are a sign of the cordial friendship and the treasured collaboration that the Church in Atlanta enjoys with all the citizenry of this great community. I thank you from the heart for your presence and I renew my commitment to work with you as a loyal citizen of this wondrous city and state.
Our ecumenical, Jewish, Islamic and interfaith guests bring the dignity of local Christian communities and all other religious faiths to mind and heart. The work of ecumenism and interfaith dialogue are goals that the Catholic Church shares with you and as your newest colleague and with a sincere desire to enhance our local community, I pledge myself wholeheartedly to this indispensable and vital task.
Today which is a moment of historic importance for the Archdiocese of Atlanta and of personal joy for me, is also a day of great significance for all the peoples of our nation. We gather in prayer and festive joy on Dr. King’s Memorial Day and in a city that holds a special place among all American cities that reverence this great man’s legacy. He was born here. He was a pastor here. He called Atlanta his home. His mortal remains rest here. We are a city singularly blessed by his unshakeable Christian faith, and by his heritage of justice, peace, and righteousness that remain his bequest. As I begin my service as Archbishop of Atlanta, I know that I do so on ground made holy by many who have sanctified it by the nobility of their principles and faith. May all of the values of racial justice and harmony that he so powerfully articulated, struggled for, and ultimately gave his life for continue to be today and tomorrow an enduring legacy of honor to his great name.
My father, my sister Elaine, my nephew Henry, and other members of my extended family are here present from Chicago, California, and other locales. You loved me first and even now constantly continue to strengthen and support me with your love. This day before the watching world, I gladly acknowledge both my undying love for you and my deepest thanks. Nearest to those who are family to me by blood relationships are those who are family to me in Faith. I thank all of the members of the Diocese of Belleville and the Archdiocese of Chicago who have come to Atlanta to support me with their prayers. What I know about being a Catholic, about being a Priest or a Bishop, I first learned that from you and in your midst and it brings untold joy to my heart just to acknowledge that debt.
Dear friends, Christ’s Church has an almost insatiable longing to listen to God’s Word in the rhythmic pattern that she has followed from her earliest days. The Church prefers to hear the Word of the Lord proclaimed according to the seasons and festivals that mark out our faith journey without many interruptions. While there are provisions for special moments, for unexpected events, for funerals and weddings, baptisms and ordinations, for anniversaries and installations the favored pattern of listening to the sacred texts is the reverent, unhurried, and continual unfolding of God’s Word that follows the calendar of our Faith rather than the extraordinary events that mark our particular lives.
For that reason, I decided to follow the good judgment of the Church and to let the Word of God that most every Catholic at Mass today has listened to be the Scripture that we hear at this Mass marking the beginning of my ministry as Archbishop of Atlanta. If it serves the spiritual nourishment of all the rest of the Church today, then it is certainly appropriate even for this special moment in our lives.
The wisdom of the Church is never wanting. The famous passage from the Letter to the Hebrews proclaimed so often at the Ordination of bishops and priests at the beginning of our ministry fits like a glove the event we celebrate today. And Mark’s references to the relationships of new and old items, of how they are mended, of how they are maintained, could not be more appropriate. There is more than enough to reflect on in faith in these readings of the day on even this very special day in my life and in yours.
Without a doubt the Archdiocese of Atlanta is very much aware of the value of old and new persons and moments today. You have enjoyed exceptional good fortune in the generous ministry of Archbishop John Francis Donoghue. He has served you with zeal, compassion, and wisdom. As he passes on the Bishop’s Staff to me today, may I presume to thank him in your name and in mine for being such a faithful and loving Priest and Bishop. The Church in Atlanta and throughout North Georgia is robust, more vibrant, and spiritually stronger because of his service as Archbishop of Atlanta. Thank you Archbishop Donoghue, the new Archbishop and the Faithful people of God in this local Church thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
The passage from the Letter to the Hebrews is familiar to all of us who are privileged to be Priests of Jesus Christ. Yet the entire Letter to the Hebrews is not about any one of us as individual priests, but about the Perfect Priest, Jesus Christ Himself. He is the principal One who is Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek and in whose Priesthood we all share. Christ Jesus is the cornerstone of the Church and those of us who through no merit of our own are called to share in His ministerial Priesthood can do nothing more fitting than to follow His example of zealous service, patient endurance, and sacrificial love. Those of us called by God to share in the ministerial Priestly Office of Christ realize that we are beset by weaknesses and yet we are still chosen by God to be representatives before God in behalf of our sisters and brothers and to offer that perfect sacrifice of Christ for our sins and those of the entire Church.
The ordained ministry is a gift that none of us ever merits but that continues in the Church, through the Grace of the Holy Spirit, as a unique and irreplaceable expression of the Priestly Office of Christ Jesus. To the Presbyterate of Atlanta, I welcome the opportunity to serve with you the needs of the Faithful in this local Church and to carry on the rich heritage of pastoral dedication that those who preceded us have established as a hallmark and a goal. In the words of a bishop whom I deeply admire spoken to his priests on a similar situation I now utter to you: “You mean everything to me.”
Mark wisely reminds us that new wine should be poured into new wineskins. The newness of this moment for me is the rich opportunity to serve this growing, exciting, and youthful Church in Atlanta. I come as a new resident, but not without some faint claim to a heritage. Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, who ordained me a bishop, served you briefly as a young Auxiliary Bishop. He never lost one measure of his love for this community and he took every opportunity to speak warmly of the people of Atlanta and of his experience as a new bishop in the Archdiocese. While many things have no doubt changed since his arrival in 1966, some things remain the same, the Faith of the Church, the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the Sacramental Life that we share. It is that strange combination of a new moment and venerable old traditions that fills my heart with excitement this day. Together, laity, clergy, religious, we must work for the coming of the Kingdom of God here in North Georgia. The Church and her mission belong to all of us. We must be about our tasks and individual responsibilities with confidence in God’s Holy Spirit in our midst to enable us. We must do so with the zeal of those who are confident in God’s power always working within us.
We come from many different backgrounds. We represent many different ages, races, professions, and cultures, but we are all Christ’s people and we must work to proclaim with joy and conviction the treasures of our Catholic Faith and to respond to the challenges of tomorrow. The old and the new both have a place in our hearts today. And they both bring us joy.
Finally, the Church in Atlanta has flourished under the watchful eye of that Woman of Faith, Mary the Mother of God. She who gave flesh to God’s Word and provided a home for the Christ maintains a special love for all those who are disciples of Her Son. May Mary, Mother of the Church, continue to bless this local Church with her love and wisdom so that all of her sons and daughters will live in peace, hope, and love. Amen.