(please see reference to our Patron Saint Luke)
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, welcome, and thank you for being here this evening for our Solemn Vespers.
I would like to take this opportunity to welcome—in a special way—Archbishop Christophe Pierre, who is the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, the personal representative of Our Holy Father, Pope Francis.
I also welcome his Eminence Cardinal McCarrick, who ordained me 12 years ago as an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Washington.
I welcome Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, Metropolitan Archbishop of our province, Bishop J. Terry Steib, Bishop-Emeritus of this great Diocese of Memphis, along with all my brother bishops from the province, and other bishops from across the United States, as well as my brother priests, deacons, men and women in the consecrated religious life, family, relatives, friends and faithful laity.
In his loving letter written to the Colossian Christians, which we have just heard this evening, the Apostle Paul sends the early Christians greetings from his friend, traveling companion, and co-worker in the Gospel: the “beloved physician” named Luke.
He writes these words: “Luke, the beloved physician sends greetings.” (Colossians 4:14).
Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI, offers the following catechesis on the canticle found in the first chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians:
“There Christ is presented as the ‘icon,’ the ‘image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.’ He is the one upon whom we all must model our own lives…
…St. Paul also speaks of the Lord Jesus as the one who is ‘before all things,’ and the one in whom ‘all things hold together…
…Thus, Christ is our principle of cohesion–our Mediator—and, all creation’s final destination. In the great family of God’s children, Christ is the Son par excellance…
…The canticle also reminds us that by means of his Incarnation, Christ is the head of the body, the Church. He is the ‘beginning, the firstborn from the dead.’ and in Him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell…
…That ‘fullness’ of divinity shines in all creation and in all humanity, and consequently is the font of all peace, unity and perfect harmony…
…We meditate today with joyful hope on this beautiful text of St. Paul, which is for us an opportunity to thank the Lord Jesus for freeing us from the darkness of sin. Let it also be for us an encouragement to strive to become true disciples of Christ, ‘the first born of all creation.”
This evening as we have gathered in this sacred place to pray solemn vespers, we celebrate the Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist and “Beloved Physician.”
St. Luke is not only the author of the Gospel which bears his name, but this companion of St. Paul is also the author of the Acts of the Apostles.
Because of his extraordinary writing skills, he was often pictured in the many artistic renditions which have been made of this beloved physician as a painter with a brush.
He was, as are all good writers, a painter with words. This “beloved physician” became an authentic paint brush used by the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Holy Spirit, to leave us with a Gospel and an account of the early missionary work of the Church which has informed our faith for over two millennia.
His inspired works have motivated millions throughout history to carry on the saving mission of the Lord.
The celebration of this Feast is extremely important for us in our present culture when many Catholic physicians can often find themselves on the front lines in their struggle to advocate and defend the dignity and sanctity of human life from the moment of conception to natural death.
On this day “White Masses” are offered for Physicians around the whole world. These Masses are offered throughout the United States each year for all of those in the medical profession in thanksgiving to God for the gift of their profession.
We are called to pray always for our Physicians, especially during this month of October, the Month of the Rosary, through the intercession of Our Blessed Mother Mary; that they may know and experience God’s mercy and love as physicians.
We are also called to pray for all those who assist them in the health care profession, as well as pray for their patients and clients.
I am particularly mindful of those who find themselves in difficult situations of unplanned pregnancies. We pray that they may always seek adoption as the only viable alternative to their difficulty rather than abortion.
We also pray for those who may have unfortunately had an abortion, that they may seek out and find God the Father’s most merciful love and forgiveness, so that they may be forever healed.
Christian physicians participate in the Lord’s healing work in an even more profound and special vocation which is rooted in their baptism.
They are incorporated into the very Body of Christ and have the capacity to continue His mission.
Historically, the Catholic Church is the fountain and source of the entire health care ministry as we have come to know it today.
The Body of Christ on earth continues the redemptive mission of her Head, Jesus Christ, until He returns.
This mission is lived out in a very special way by the Christian physicians who offer healing and compassion to all men and women, as they demonstrate a special preference and love for the poor.
This noble profession preceded the birth of the Christian Church and was properly esteemed throughout the world, especially in Greece where the original oath was derived from the Law of Hippocrates which stated:
“I will follow that system of regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous…
…I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and in like manner I will not give to a woman a pessary to produce abortion…
…With purity and with holiness I will pass my life and practice my Art.”
St. Luke still continues to send his greetings through his sons and daughters who carry on his noble profession today. They follow, as he did so well, in the footsteps of the great Physician–the Lord Jesus Christ.
To all Christian Physicians, who strive daily to live out the incredible witness of the respect for the dignity of every human life from conception until natural death, we offer our prayers and thanks, that you will always stand firm in the faith and know that “His Mercy endures.”
At this time, I would like to turn my attention to my dear brother priests here in the Diocese of Memphis.
I have been appointed by our Holy Father as the chief shepherd and a brother to you in the Lord Jesus Christ, as the Fifth Bishop of Memphis in Tennessee.
I, called to be an apostle of the Lord, am–like all of you–a sinner, who is always in need of God’s Mercy, Love, Forgiveness and Grace in order to sustain me in my priesthood and episcopal ministry because of my own human weaknesses.
I need your prayers, loyalty, love and support, as I promise my prayers, loyalty, love and support to you.
I promise this especially to those of you who have experienced your human weaknesses and brokenness and are in greater need of God’s mercy, love and grace to begin healing.
As you know, my episcopal motto is, “In Aeternum Misericordia Eius”–“His Mercy Endures.”
A month from now on the Feast of Christ the King; Sunday, November 20th we will close the Jubilee Year in which we have focused on the Mercy of God.
But we know that throughout the rest of our lives here on earth, “His Mercy Endures” in every Sacrament of the Church, but in particular in the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist wherein we are forgiven of our sins and are nourished at the sacrificial banquet of Christ’s love.
I am reminded of the words of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, given in one of his catechesis on mercy:
“The Lord is presented in Sacred Scripture as ‘Merciful God.’ And this is His name, through which He reveals to us, so to speak, His face and His heart…
…In the book of Exodus, on revealing Himself to Moses, He describes Himself thus: ‘The Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.’…
…The Lord is ‘merciful’: this word evokes an attitude of tenderness as that of a mother in dealing with her child. Therefore, the image suggested is that of a God who ‘is moved and becomes tender for us as a mother when she takes her child in her arms, desirous only of loving, protecting, and helping, ready to give everything, even herself…
…Written then is that the Lord is ‘gracious,’ in the sense that he gives grace, has compassion and, in His greatness, bends over one who is weak and poor, ‘always ready to receive, to understand, to forgive…
He is like the prodigal son’s father, ‘who does not shut out himself in resentment because of the younger son’s abandonment, but, on the contrary, continues to wait for him–he has generated him…
…Said also of this merciful God is that He is ‘slow to anger,’ that is wide-ranging in long suffering and the capacity to endure…
…God is able to wait, and His times are not the impatient ones of men. He is like the wise farmer that is able to wait, gives time for the good seed to grow, despite the darnel…
…And, finally, the Lord proclaims Himself ‘abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…
…The word ‘love’ indicates affection, grace, and goodness. It is love that takes the first step. It is the divine solicitude that nothing can stop, not even sin, because it is able to go beyond sin, to overcome evil and forgive it…
…The word ‘faithfulness’ is the last word of God’s revelation to Moses. God’s faithfulness never fails. Because the Lord is the Guardian that, as the Psalm 121 says, does not fall asleep, but watches constantly over us to lead us to life…
…And this merciful God is faithful in His mercy and St. Paul says a lovely thing:
‘If you are not faithful to Him, He will remain faithful because He cannot deny Himself.’
…Faithfulness in mercy is proper to God’s being. And therefore God is totally and always trustworthy…
The Holy Father concludes by saying, “And then, in this Jubilee of Mercy, we entrust ourselves totally to Him, and experience the joy being loved by this ‘God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.’”
This evening, I am reminded of the documents of Vatican II on the Decree on the Bishops’ Pastoral Office in the Church, when in chapter 2, it speaks of the Bishops and their particular Churches or Dioceses.
In summarizing article 16, it states, “In exercising his office of father and pastor, a bishop should stand in the midst of his people as one who serves…
…Let him be a true father who excels in the spirit of love and solicitude for all and to whose divinely conferred authority all gratefully submit themselves…
…A bishop should always welcome priests with a special love since they assume in part the bishop’s duties and cares and carry the weight of them day by day so zealously…
…He should regard his priests as sons and friends. Thus by his readiness to listen to them and by his trusting familiarity, a bishop can work to promote the whole pastoral work of the entire diocese….
…He should be concerned about the spiritual, intellectual, and material conditions of his priests, so that they can live holy and pious lives and fulfill their ministry faithfully and fruitfully….
…With active mercy a bishop should attend upon priests who are in any sort of danger or who have failed in some respect….
…He should manifest his concern for all, no matter what their age, condition, or nationality, be they natives, strangers, or foreigners.”
In the documents of Vatican II for the Decree on the Ministry and Life of the Priest, chapter 2, section 2 on the priest as related to others, it states:
“Keeping in mind the fullness of the sacrament of orders which a bishop enjoys, priests must respect in him the authority of Christ, the chief Shepherd….
…They must therefore stand by their own bishop in sincere charity and obedience. This priestly obedience animated with a spirit of cooperation is based on the very sharing in the episcopal ministry which is conferred on priests both through the sacrament of orders and the canonical mission….
…This union of priests with their bishops is all the more necessary today since in our present age, for various reasons, apostolic activities are required not only to take on many forms, but to extend beyond the boundaries of one parish or diocese….
…Hence, no priest can in isolation or singlehandedly accomplish his mission in a satisfactory way. He can do so only by joining forces with other priests under the direction of Church authorities….
…Finally, by reason of the same communion in the priesthood, priests should realize that they have special obligations toward priests who labor under certain difficulties. They should give them help and also, if necessary, admonish them prudently….
…Moreover, they should always treat with fraternal charity and magnanimity those who have failed in some way, offering urgent prayers to God for them and continually showing themselves to be true brothers and friends.”
And so, my dear brothers; sons in Christ, for the past two weeks, I have listened, learn and shared.
I will continue to do so in the months ahead as I will remind you that “His Mercy Endures.”
Lastly, I leave you with the words of the greatest saint in our times—Pope Saint John Paul the Great, Apostle of Mercy, on the 50th anniversary of his priesthood in 1996:
“I cannot end these reflections in the year of my Golden Jubilee as a priest, without expressing to the Lord of the harvest my deepest gratitude for the gift of a vocation, for the grace of priesthood, for priestly vocations throughout the world….
…I do this in union with all the Bishops, who share the same concern for vocations and experience the same joy when their number increases….
…Thanks be to God, a certain crisis of priestly vocations in the Church is gradually being overcome. Each new priest brings with him a special blessing….
…’Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ For in every priest it is Christ himself who comes….
…If, as Saint Cyprian said, The Christian is ‘another Christ’–Christianus alter Christus–with all the more reason it can be said: Sacerdos alter Christus…
…May God sustain in all priests a grateful awareness of the gift they have received; may He also awaken in many young men a ready and generous response to his call to give themselves completely to the cause of the Gospel….
…The men and women of our time, who have such need of meaning and hope, will greatly benefit from their witness…
…And the Christian community will rejoice, knowing that I can look forward with confidence to the challenge of the approaching Third Millennium…
…May the Virgin Mary accept this testimony of mine as a filial homage, for the glory of the Blessed Trinity…
…May she make it a leaven of fraternity also for the many people who, although they do not share the same faith, often listen to my words and engage me in sincere dialogue.”
My dear brothers…may God bless you and may Our Blessed Mother Mary protect you in the mantel of her maternal love and care.
I love each of you in Christ Jesus, and remember; “His Mercy Endures.” Amen.