Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton
Remarks at Episcopal Ordination
Saint Peter’s Cathedral
April 26, 2010
With deep humility, I offer thanks this day to Almighty God through whose providence and grace I’ve been called to serve as the tenth Bishop of the Diocese of Scranton. I continue to find great consolation in the words of Saint Paul as stated in his second letter to the Corinthians: “The Lord said to me, ‘My grace is enough for you.’ … So I willingly boast of my weakness, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
I offer my profound appreciation to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for this appointment. I pledge to him as Vicar of Christ and Successor of Saint Peter my loyalty and my resolve to exercise this office in the Church in union with him and with all of the Bishops in communion with him.
I am grateful as well to His Excellency Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the representative of our Holy Father. Thank you, Archbishop, for your presence and for your encouragement of me over the past several months.
I offer special thanks to His Eminence, Cardinal Justin Rigali, who has shepherded the Diocese of Scranton for the last eight months with wisdom, compassion and kindness. Your Eminence, if my record keeping is accurate, today marks your sixteenth visit to the Diocese during a time span that embraced one of the harshest winters on record for the northeast. On behalf of the clergy, religious and laity of the Diocese, know that we are most grateful for the care that you have extended to us during your time as Apostolic Administrator. Additionally, on behalf of the faithful of the Diocese of Scranton and of all of us present in this Cathedral today, we once again extend to you our prayers and best wishes on the 49th anniversary of your ordination to the priesthood that was commemorated yesterday.
On a personal note, it has been a privilege for me to have served as your delegate for the past eight months. You have taken the time to mentor me and have taught me not simply through your words but by your example. In that, I have been richly blessed and for that I will always be grateful.
Bishop James Timlin, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Scranton and Bishop John Dougherty, retired Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Scranton, have generously given of themselves during this time of transition. I thank you both for your hard work and efforts.
I wish to recognize Bishop Joseph Martino, my immediate predecessor, who is with us today. Bishop, during your tenure as leader of the Diocese of Scranton, you challenged all of us to strive for a deeper sense of holiness in our lives and to live out more authentically our mission as followers of Jesus. Your words will always challenge those of us who seek to live as faithful disciples of the Lord.
I thank all of the assembled bishops from throughout the Province of Philadelphia and beyond for your prayers, encouragement and kind wishes. Your presence here today honors me and especially the People of the Diocese of Scranton.
I am humbled by the presence of so many priests, both from within the Diocese of Scranton and from throughout the U.S. and Canada.
I am grateful to Msgr. George Demuth, who presented me for ordination this afternoon. He was my first pastor following my priestly ordination and at 91 years of age is one of our most senior priests in the Diocese of Scranton.
I particularly wish to recognize all those whom I have called my brother priests from this Diocese for almost 27 years. In God’s wisdom and providence, he’s given you one of your own as bishop. For you, God’s wisdom may be confounding, since you know me so well. For me, your example, your dedication to prayer and service and your support have been a source of inspiration and of great consolation. Thank you.
With appreciation, I acknowledge our permanent deacons and their wives; the many representatives of communities of religious women and men; our seminarians and all those discerning a vocation to the priesthood and religious life, and civic officials who join with us today.
I also wish to express my gratitude to those who are with us today from other Christian denominations and faith communities. Your presence here today reminds us that we are a part of something much bigger than ourselves and that all who seek the Truth walk together as brothers and sisters. I look forward to working with all of you in the days and years ahead.
I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to acknowledge all those who worked so hard to make the events surrounding my ordination and installation possible. From those involved with communications efforts, to those who coordinated invitations, planned receptions and provided the wonderful music that has filled this Cathedral – to mention just a few areas of great effort, I thank you most sincerely.
I am profoundly grateful to my friends and extended family and particularly to my immediate family: my niece and nephew, Elizabeth and Charles, my brother-in-law Chuck and my sister Karen. They have kept me grounded in reality for all of my 54 years and remind me that while we celebrate our faith during splendid moments like today’s liturgy, we live our faith wherever God has planted us and in whatever we have been given to do.
And then there are my parents. My dad passed away in 2004 but his presence is felt here today, especially by me. To understand my father, I share with you the observations of a good friend of mine, a Jesuit priest, who knew my dad and stated shortly after it was announced that I would be the 10th Bishop of Scranton: “Your dad must be a real pain in the neck to everybody in heaven these days, talking about you and your appointment.” I suspect that he is!
And my mother – many of you know her well. Four days before my appointment was to be announced, I went home to tell her the news in person. Many have speculated that she must have been ecstatic. I would have to say that initially she was not. She listened carefully to what I had to say, sat quietly and then asked with every motherly instinct on edge: “Are you OK with this appointment?” When I finally assured her that I was, for many reasons, she stated: “Well, you’ve got quite a job to do.” Then she asked when the appointment was to be announced publicly and I said: “This coming Tuesday at 10:00 a.m.” Her response: “That works out just fine. I have a hair appointment at noon.”
Perhaps more than anybody, my mother has instilled in our family the belief that in life, we accept what God has given to us with gratitude and we do the best we can to use his gifts well, generously and wisely. My mother and father taught us by their example powerful lessons of faith and hope, peppered with healthy doses of common sense. As parents go, I could not have asked for more.
Finally I am grateful to the faithful of this wonderful Diocese made up of the 11 counties of northeastern and north central Pennsylvania – both those of you who are present in this great Cathedral today and beyond. While this is my first opportunity to greet you as your new Bishop, your imprint has been upon me for years as you helped to nurture my faith, to encourage a vocation, and to sustain me in priestly ministry.
For those of you who don’t know me, you might ask how this is possible. Because of the witness of your unity in and through the Lord Jesus and because of the mission to serve that flows from this communion, the Gospel is proclaimed, faith grows and lives are changed. My life has been touched by your faith just as your life has been touched by another’s faith and theirs by yet another. In the mystery and wonder of God, our faith lives and grows and sustains us on the journey of life. Thank you for your support and prayers. I ask that you continue to pray for me as I shepherd the Diocese of Scranton.
The chalice that I used at today’s Mass was given to me by my great Aunt Marie. She died well into her 80s a few years after I was ordained. She was one of those amazing people who lived life to the fullest. She was never home. She was always out at lunch or visiting with friends or on a trip or doing something with her church. She seemed to have it all. Yet those of us who knew her understood the pain of her life. During the course of her 80-plus years, she buried all three of her children. One died as an infant and one at the age of seven in a tragic house fire. Her last remaining child died in his 50s of a heart attack on New Year’s Eve, right in front of her. She also buried her husband, her parents and numerous brothers and sisters.
One day my mother asked her: “How do you remain so upbeat given all of the loss that you’ve experienced in your life?” Here’s what she said: “No one knows the tears that I shed for those that I’ve lost. But I am convinced that there is nothing that we cannot bear in life if we have faith.”
There’s nothing that we can’t bear in life if we have faith in God; for us as Christians, faith in Jesus. So, so many of you understand that reality well, for you too have faced disappointments and loss in your lives. There’s nothing that we can’t bear in life if we have faith in Jesus. And that, my friends, is what this gathering is about today: faith in Jesus Christ.
Now I would surely be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that something of this day has been about me. How can you pretend that away with my picture in every book and on every prayer card that you see. But if this day is only about me, then we’ve missed the point.
This day is about Jesus – and the legacy that he left to the world following his death and resurrection. It’s about his pledge to give life, meaning and purpose to his followers through faith in his word and in sacraments of the Church, especially the Eucharist. It’s about his promise to guide his Church through the successors of his apostles. This day is about Jesus’ challenge to his Church, his people, to proclaim his Gospel boldly in word and in deed.
This celebration reminds us of who we are as Church and of what we are called to do and to be. Pope Benedict XVI has again and again urged that the Second Vatican Council be the measure and criterion for the Church’s thought and action. And at the heart of the Council is the challenge given to all to evangelize; to proclaim the Gospel message to all. This is the agenda for the Diocese of Scranton. This is our work together. Listen to how it translates into life.
In proclaiming his Gospel message, Jesus first of all calls us to create an environment in which all life is cherished and treasured from the vulnerable life developing in the womb of its mother to the frail life of the aged and infirm. Why? Because every life is created in the image and likeness of God and thus has value, dignity and purpose.
He challenges us to heal the wounds of the poor, those who are alienated from his Church, victims of sexual abuse, and all those who are exploited, burdened and broken.
Jesus reminds us time and again that forgiveness and reconciliation are the foundation blocks of his Church. As such, we must not only generously grant forgiveness but must seek it, even as a Church, for we ourselves are but his fragile and wounded followers.
He bids us to welcome new immigrants to our parishes and to make them feel at home just as my grandparents and yours were welcomed when they journeyed to this land a hundred years ago.
Many of you in this Diocese, along with your ancestors, helped to build our churches and kept them strong and vibrant. Some of you have lived to experience profound change in those same parish structures. Know that as Jesus grieved in the Gospel when he faced the loss of those he loved, we grieve with you in your loss. But we also call you to live in hope; a hope grounded in the mystery of Jesus’ own death and resurrection.
And to the young people of this Diocese to whom we have a responsibility to teach the good news of salvation, Jesus calls us to encourage and support you as you seek to embrace the Truth, to resist values that are alien to the Gospel and to follow his light in your lives.
What an incredible agenda and task that God has given to us! Pope John Paul II, in his apostolic exhortation on the ministry of Bishops in the Church, Pastores Gregis, noted that the sheer complexity of proclaiming the Gospel “brings to mind the scriptural account of the multiplication of the loaves. The disciples were worried, genuinely not knowing how to satisfy the hunger of so many.” And we can be burdened by the same concerns, can’t we? How can I as a Bishop, how can we as a Diocese respond to the many requests that come to us? Where can we find the resources that we need? Pope John Paul points to two fundamental answers.
Our first resource as we seek to proclaim the Gospel, the Holy Father says, is the very love that God has for us; a love that has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us; a love that is ours to claim, not because we deserve it but because we have been created, chosen and called by God; a love that has the power to give us meaning, purpose and peace.
Our second resource as we seek to proclaim the Gospel is the Church, the People of God, whose members we have become through Baptism.
Look within your hearts and discover through the gift of faith, through the blessings of the Eucharist and through your life itself, the God who loves you. Then look around this cathedral church today, look to your families, look to your parish communities. What do you see but the Church, the People of God, gifted for mission, willing and eager to serve.
What a treasure I’ve been given as your Shepherd! What a treasure we have all been given in order to do the work of Jesus and to proclaim his Gospel message! Together, may we work to generously give that treasure away and so continue to build up the Church, the body of Christ in our midst.