July 28, 2009

Bishop Cistone: 'You and I are called to a life of service'

SAGINAW – Installed as the sixth Bishop of Saginaw today at St. Stephen Church, the Most Rev. Joseph R. Cistone, called upon the faithful of the 11-county Catholic Diocese of Saginaw to be joyful servants of Jesus Christ nourished by the Eucharist.

Following the proclamation of the Gospel account of the Wedding Feast at Cana (John 2:1-11), Bishop Cistone focused his homily on “those simple yet challenging, life-defining words of Mary to the servants: ‘Do whatever he tells you.’"

Bishop Cistone, 60, was appointed as the sixth Bishop of Saginaw by Pope Benedict XVI on May 20 to succeed the Most Rev. Robert J. Carlson, who was appointed as Archbishop of Saint Louis, Mo., in April after serving as the fifth Barhop of Saginaw since 2005.

Before his appointment to the Diocese of Saginaw, Bishop Cistone served as an Auxiliary Bishop since his episcopal ordination on July 28, 2004 and a priest (ordained in 1975) in his hometown Archdiocese of Philadelphia. (His installation comes on the fifth anniversary of his consecration as a bishop of the Church.)

The complete text of his homily is below:

Most Reverend Joseph R. Cistone
Installation Homily - Diocese of Saginaw
July 28, 2009

Good afternoon everyone. Once again, I express my gratitude to all of you for your presence at this installation liturgy.

I chose to celebrate today the Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Image and Mother of the Church: in part, because our Diocese and our Cathedral are dedicated to Our Lady, under the title of Mary of the Assumption; and because Our Lady of Consolation was the parish in which I grew up and discovered my own vocation. Most of all, because all graces flow to us from Jesus through His Mother Mary, I would do well to begin my ministry as your Bishop under her inspiration and guidance. She is our devoted Mother and the perfect image of how we should imitate her Son in our lives. Mary has shown us the way and where she has gone, we hope to follow.

We just listened to that wonderful account in Saint John’s Gospel known as the Wedding Feast of Cana. central to this story are those simple yet challenging, life-defining words of Mary to the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.”

Although there are a number of characters in this scene to reflect upon - Jesus, Mary, the apostles, the bridegroom - I would like to focus on the servants, since they are the ones with whom you and I can best identify.

The servants were hired by the bridegroom to carry out his directives. It was his event. He planned the wedding and reception. He ordered the food and wine. He hired the DJ. All these plans were placed in the care of the Headwaiter who, in turn, relied on the servants to follow his orders faithfully.

Like all good servants, they approached their task from three important perspectives: They were hired to serve the Guests, to serve the Meal and, of course, to serve the Master, in this case, the Bridegroom. Now, you would think that, since this is all one well-organized event, the service in all three areas would be of one single purpose. However, those who deal with the public on a daily basis know that this is not always the case. You can’t please everyone all the time.

First, the servants must serve the guests. It’s their job to ensure the guests are comfortably seated at the right place. No doubt, some guests would not be completely satisfied with the arrangements. They might request a different seat...maybe there’s a draft...maybe they are seated next to relatives they don’t get along with. Someone might even slip a twenty dollar bill into the servant’s hand to sit closer to the bride and groom!

In addition to serving the guests, they must also serve the food. This, too, can be challenging. Who doesn’t eat meat or fish? Who doesn’t like vegetables. Who wants a second helping of desert.

But, above all, they are hired to serve the Master, the bridegroom. After all, it’s his feast. He committed a great deal of personal time and energy organizing a banquet which he felt was appropriate. You could see how difficult it could be for a lowly servant to please everyone at the same time.

In a similar fashion, each one of us is called to a life of service... to be a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, according to our specific role and responsibilities within the Church. Jesus, of course, is the Master. He plans the feast. He chooses our places at the table. He selects the food which is to sustain us. And so, like the servants in the gospel narrative, we, too, are called to serve the guests, the food and the Master.

Obviously, the guests we serve are those people the Lord has entrusted to our particular care. To me as the Bishop. To our priests as pastors of souls. To teachers in a classroom. To parents responsible for raising their children in the ways of faith. These guests are all God’s children. He simply entrusts them to us so that we may lead and guide them according to His Will and plan.

Sometimes, we approach the guests as if we were the Masters, serving them according to our vision and plan; what we think is best for them. Other times we are tempted to approach the guests as if they were the Masters, serving them according to their wants and desires. Because of our own insecurities or need for validation, we may look to them for approval. It’s easy to forget that we are the servants of the Lord. It is His direction and His approval above all else that we must seek.

The second way of looking at servanthood through the prism of this gospel narrative is to see our responsibility to serve the food. To this end, the food we serve is the Word of God and the Will of God. This is impossible unless we first submit our own minds and Wills to God’s Will, which, for us, is not always a comfortable choice. We must serve people with different appetites, abilities and agenda, as well as some who have developed a strong allergic reaction to the truth. Someone may want you to change the menu altogether, something easier to swallow or digest, and a bit more acceptable to their taste. But, of course, you can’t do that. That would go against God’s plan and cause confusion.

Ultimately, you and I are called to serve the Lord...the Master...with all our hearts, all our souls, all our strength and all our minds. The Lord is the one who leads and direct us. As Catholics, we believe that He does so through the Word of Scripture and the authentic teaching of the Church. In this context, obedience and docility are very meaningful and life-giving words. The world worships “originality”and “creativity” as ideals. The concept of being someone else’s “personal servant” grates against our understanding of freedom and self-activation. We do not like being subservient to another.

Yet, this life of service, of obedience and docility, is precisely the way in which we are called to relationship with Jesus Christ. Saint Paul said of himself that he was a “bond slave of Jesus Christ.”...the property of Jesus...at the disposal of Jesus. Saint Peter referred to himself as a “slave of Jesus” and Saint James called himself a “servant of Jesus.” Our whole identity is wrapped up in being the personal servant of Jesus, for his honor and his glorification, and for our salvation.

Perhaps “being a servant” is distasteful to us because scripture teaches that the servant always ends up following the Master’s fate. In St. Mark’s gospel, Peter says he is ready to serve Jesus, the Messiah. But, Jesus rebukes Peter and explains that he must deny himself, take up his cross, and then follow Him. Set aside, Peter, your own aspirations, your own agenda and take up my fate. Peter was ready for the glory but not the suffering. In our life as servants, whatever shame comes to Jesus, comes to us. But, there is a great reward awaiting those who are faithful. Whatever glory comes to Jesus also comes to us. “If anyone serves me, my Father will honor him.”

You and I are called to a life of service: whether a diocesan bishop, priest, deacon, seminarian, religious or lay man or woman...young or old. We are all called to serve the Master, to preach and teach and live the truths of the gospel. In doing so, we can certainly be creative in our method but must be careful not to recreate a different message. By serving the Master, we serve the Lord, who knows what we do not know and sees what we can not see. And, the Lord has one singular agenda and goal in mind...our ultimate salvation. It is here, then, that the true, authentic teaching of the Church must guide us.

In one sentence, Mary teaches the servants and us as well the secret to life as servants of her Son, Jesus Christ: “Do whatever he tells you.”

Of course, the big question is: “How do we know what He is telling us? How can we know God’s will.” The answer can be found here, in the Eucharist.

Pope John Paul II, in preparation for the year of the Eucharist, wrote a beautiful encyclical which began with these words: “The Church draws her life from the Eucharist.” Without the Eucharist, we have no life. Not a new teaching but a reaffirmation of a core principle of our Faith: “Unless you eat my body and drink my blood you have no life in you.”

But, not only does the Church draw her life from the Eucharist; the Church, you and I, also draw our identity from the Eucharist. We come to know who Jesus is and who we are as his body through authentic Eucharist. We come to know what God wants of us by a better understanding and appreciation of the life of Jesus as proclaimed each time the Eucharist is celebrated. In the proclamation of the Word and the sacred prayers which envelop the Liturgy of the Eucharist, as well as our worthy reception of Holy Communion, we come to know the true Jesus, the Suffering Servant, the Lamb of God, our Lord and Master... and His will for us. That is why the Church shows such care for the elements of the Mass, how it is celebrated, the words spoken, the posture and attitude of the priests and people. That is why we priests and deacons must show special care for our preached words and daily lives. All our actions as servants of the Lord flow from and are enlivened by our understanding and faithful celebration and reception of the Eucharist.

Not only do we come to know Jesus through the celebration of Mass but also through contemplation and adoration of the Lord in the Eucharist. The Second Vatican Council teaches : “...the devotion which leads the faithful to visit the Blessed Sacrament draws them into an ever deeper participation in the Paschal Mystery...Dwelling with Christ our Lord, they enjoy His intimate friendship and pour out their hearts before Him for themselves and their dear ones, and pray for the peace and salvation of the world. They offer their entire lives with Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit, and receive in this wonderful exchange an increase of faith, hope and charity...The faithful should, therefore, strive to worship Christ our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, in harmony with their way of life.” At Cana, Jesus gave wine to the guests. In the Eucharist, He gives Himself to us. And through the Eucharist, we will come to know God’s will in our lives and find the strength to live it.

Perhaps one gift I do bring with me is my experience of growing up in an Archdiocese which was blessed with the leadership and inspiration of a canonized saint...Saint John Neumann, the fourth Bishop of Philadelphia. It was Bishop Neumann who instilled within us, through the celebration of Eucharistic devotion known as the Forty Hours, a love and appreciation for contemplation and adoration of our Lord and Master in the Blessed Sacrament.

People keep asking me: “What will your priorities be as Bishop?” Without question, my chief priority will be that of promoting a deeper love and appreciation for the Eucharist. Part of this is the urgent task of drawing Catholics who have drifted away, back to the Church, back to the Mass and Sacraments, in order to have life and to know what it is that the Lord is telling us to do.

Jesus asked Mary: “How does your concern affect me?’ Well, we know that every concern which Mary brings on our behalf to Jesus, He takes to Himself. The concerns and challenges which face us as a Church today are many and complex. While I do not have ready made answers, I firmly believe that, through the Eucharist...our joyful celebration, our worthy reception and our prayerful adoration...,we will find the direction and strength to respond to God’s will as we address the critical issues and challenges which we face as a Church.

Gathered together in prayer in greater numbers, the Eucharist will be our hope. The Eucharist will humbly lead us to repentance and forgiveness. The Eucharist will guide us in our efforts to strengthen Catholic education for our children, both in Catholic and non-Catholic schools, as well as our adults. The Eucharist will inspire us to find ways to cope with the mounting unemployment and instability in our communities. The Eucharist will open our hearts to reach out more generously to the poor and needy, the sick and elderly. The Eucharist will instill within us a deep compassion for those who are victimized in this world, especially those abused as children by servants in the Church. The Eucharist will help us better comprehend and be more sensitive to their pain, their suffering and their on-going needs. In all these areas and more, it will be essential for all of us, together around the table of the Lord, to come to know God’s will and what it is that Lord is telling us to do.

Coupled with all these priorities is the need to continue our efforts to foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life, particularly vocations to the diocesan priesthood. “Without the priesthood there is no Eucharist; and, without the Eucharist there is no Church.” My own vocation was inspired by my boyhood pastor’s daily celebration of Mass and active presence in the community. Father James Rosica was our Pastor. He was ordained in 1932, became our pastor in 1933, and died as our pastor in 1971. Both my parents worked outside the home. So, at the age of 5, my aunt, who cared for me, brought me to Mass with her every morning. I sat at the edge of the pew and watched Father Rosica’s every move. Later, I was honored to serve as his altar boy. As I grew older, he took a very special interest in my desire to be a priest. Regrettably, he died before I was ordained, but I truly owe my vocation to him, to his example and support.

Since I am using a lot of “borrowed” items today, I decided to borrow Father Rosica’s chalice to use at this Mass. Who would have ever guessed that his priestly influence and my vocation would bring me here to serve as your Bishop in Saginaw?

I share this story for the benefit of my brother priests. Never underestimate how your lives and actions can inspire others to follow in our footsteps. Fostering priestly vocations is both our privilege and responsibility. We do this best by our faithful service to the Church and a cheerful disposition. In my few days here in Saginaw, I have met many wonderful children, teenagers and young adults alive in their faith and generous in their service to the Church and our communities. Our future priestly and religious vocations are already planted in this rich garden.

In this Year of the Priesthood, I invite my brother priests in a special way to devote themselves to greater holiness, deeper prayer and generous service. I invite our deacons, seminarians, religious and laity to be one with me in serving the Lord and serving his Church. In a special way, I invite our young people to respond to the call of Jesus to serve the Church, generously, unselfishly, with undivided hearts.

I am humbled and grateful for this opportunity to serve as your Shepherd. I bear a deep love for God, our Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. I have a strong affection for Mary, our Mother, and for the Saints. I love the Church and her Sacraments. I am committed in fidelity to our Holy Father and pledge my obedience and docility to all that the Church teaches. From a human perspective, I bring a lot of enthusiasm, energy, good will, and a sense of humor. I admit that I also carry with me many faults and failings which are easy to point out by those interested in doing so.

And so, my dear friends of Saginaw, here we go!. Here we begin, together, a new chapter in the life of this wonderful diocese. Nourished by the Eucharist, and, through the intercession of our patroness, Mary of the Assumption, may we be faithful servants of the Master and have the courage and faith to “Do whatever he tells us!” God Love You!


hopingforheaven said...

Wow, things have sure changed in these past few years!

Welcome to Roman Catholicism!

Geegee said...

Awesome, awesome, awesome!!!! We love you Bishop Cistone.

JustJohn said...

A "Home Run" 1st homily IMHO.

"Most of all, because all graces flow to us from Jesus through His Mother Mary..."

maryc said...

What a fabulous homily! It sounds as though the people of Saginaw are getting a wonderful and orthodox bishop. Pope Benedict knows how to pick 'em.