The baptism of Jesus in the Jordan by John ritualized the beginning of Jesus' public life and ministry. I say "ritualized" because this was not a sacrament for Jesus, but a ceremonial rite of initiation that provided the occasion for God the Father to reveal who Jesus was and is: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." The Father's voice and message, the appearance of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove and Jesus' act of humble, self-emptying were to make clear his Divine origin and his human mission for his contemporaries and the peoples of all generations.
What an appropriate context for the transition which we ritualize at this Eucharist today. The bishop of any diocese is called to fulfill the role of John the Baptist in relation to Christ. The Church wants their bishops to find every way possible to ensure that the divinity of Jesus Christ and his saving mission in this world are better known and heeded in this world. This has been the consistent focus of the magnificent pastoral effort of Archbishop Francis Bible Schulte. This has to be mine as well.
In the first reading today, Isaiah the prophet speaks in God's name and announces to a people still in exile that God will raise up someone from their midst who will be a special servant, beloved of God, in whom the Father will be pleased. He will bring God's justice, fulfill the covenant, reveal God's teaching and give sight to the blind, freedom to prisoners and light to those in darkness.
The Christian Church has always understood this mysterious figure, prophesied by Isaiah, to be Jesus Christ, in a special way made manifest to the world at his baptism in the River Jordan.
The bishop is to keep the focus of us all on Christ in the babe of Bethlehem, the growing boy of Nazareth, the itinerant preacher, the healer of infirmities, his raising of the dead to life, the calling of the apostles, in his forgiveness of sins, in his promise and then gift of the Holy Eucharist, in his weeping over Jerusalem, in his broken body with outstretched arms on the cross, in his risen body confirming the disciples and missioning the apostles. How important it is that we take the time to ponder the events of Christ's life in order to appreciate better the mysteries of faith they are and their implications for our own lives. The celebration of the ritual baptism of the Lord provides an opportunity for us to stir up the grace of our own sacramental baptism. This grace is not intended to be static, but rather alive and dynamic. We have been incorporated into the life of the Lord and all the mysteries of his life. In a certain sense we relive these mysteries in our own lives: birth, youth, call to adult responsibility, the need to forgive and be forgiven, the need for the Eucharist, sorrow, disappointment, suffering, death and the promise of resurrection.
When we recognize who we are, then we can appreciate better that we are also called to live a new moral life in Him, a life not always understood or supported by the society in which we live. Christ teaches us reverence for human life from the first moment of conception to the last natural breath while the world condones abortion on demand and physician-assisted suicide. Christ teaches us to be good stewards of this world's goods and to express concern for the poor while the world justifies huge concentrations of power and wealth. Christ teaches us the sacredness of human sexuality and the disciplined restriction of sexual expression to faithful and fruitful marital love, while the world exalts sexual pleasure as an end in itself, condones sexual promiscuity and even sexual perversions as a human right and subtly erodes appreciation for the great vocation that the parenting of children truly is. Christ teaches us to seek the truth and to speak the truth, while the world delights in the deceitful and manipulative use of half-truths. Christ teaches us that we are one race (the human race), one family (the human family), one people redeemed by his blood, while the world inflames violent racial, ethnic, even religious hatreds as well as an irrational fear of foreigners.
There comes a moment in the life of each of us when we have to make a fundamental choice: do we accept and worship Christ, no holds barred, with our whole minds, hearts, souls, lives or do we worship ourselves? The answer to that question gives shape to our entire life.
Archbishop Schulte, you have striven to keep Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary, at the center of our lives. You have consistently expounded his teaching in season and out of season. You have given of yourself tirelessly to strengthen our Catholic schools. You have refined and relied on the consultative bodies to seek wise counsel and to make prudent decisions. You have expanded and enhanced the ministry of Notre Dame Seminary through the appointment of good rectors and vocation directors. You have developed a pastoral plan for the parishes through the ambitious Catholic Life 2000 program. You have taken significant steps to promote fiscal responsibility through the retirement of debt, the promotion of stewardship, the raising of funds in support of Catholic education, seminary education, social service for the needy and the ministry of St. Louis Cathedral. Thank you for the witness you have given and for the legacy you have handed on. I look forward to your sharing the same home with me, your wise counsel and your future collaboration in ministry. By God's grace and the Church's call you now yield the bishop's chair to me. I pray that I will fulfill the ministry which this chair symbolizes by preaching the truth in love, worshiping in spirit and in truth and serving in the way the Lord wants.
There are few, if any, dioceses outside of Rome that can boast of three living archbishops. Archbishop Hannan, I am so grateful to you for the innumerable pastoral initiatives that marked your remarkable service as our Archbishop. Not least of these was your wonderful welcome to the Vietnamese community that has become such a vibrant source of Catholic life and a rich contribution of vocations to the priesthood and religious life. I look forward to your continued friendship and collaboration...and the growing participation of the Vietnamese in the life and mission of this church.
Ever since the announcement by our beloved Holy Father that he was missioning me to the Archdiocese of New Orleans, you who are bishops, priests, deacons, religious women and men, lay leaders, church workers, parishioners have expressed in word and deed your support and your desire to make room for me in your hearts and lives. For this, I am deeply grateful.
Bishop Carmon, your special fraternal love and pledge of collaboration signal to me both a personal friendship which I deeply treasure and the extraordinary significance of the Catholic African American community in our midst. The Catholic African American participation in the life of the Church in South Louisiana is the envy of every bishop in the United States. We are indeed one in Christ Jesus. Let nothing ever compromise the full and active participation of African American Catholics in the life and ministry of this local church.
Bishop Nick, you have moved into a new phase of your life and ministry. Your expression of friendship and your presence here today provide the graced opportunity for me to rejoice in the new religious vitality which the growing Hispanic community contributes to the life of this local Church. I thank God for the years of your service to them and their gift to us.
I now close with the words I uttered at the beginning of my remarks at the Mass of Welcome last May: "Praised be Jesus Christ, yesterday, today and forever. Jesus Christ is the principal focus of what we do today. Any other focus is misplaced. He is to be preached and adored and loved in Jefferson Parish, St. John, St. Charles, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Tammany and Washington Parishes, yes, in Orleans and the French Quarter" Jesus Christ is Lord!