Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L
Bishop of Scranton
Rite of Election – February 18, 2018
This coming Friday, February 23rd, will be the eighth anniversary of my appointment by Pope Benedict to serve as the Bishop of Scranton. Permit me to reflect a bit upon my own journey of faith that I hope ultimately speaks to yours.
I was ordained for service to the Church of Scranton as a priest in 1983. While priestly ministry was not what I intended to do with my life from my earliest days, I eventually came to believe that I was being called by God to serve the Church in a unique way.
Following my ordination, I responded as best I could to that calling, relishing numerous assignments, first as an assistant pastor and then as pastor of several parishes. For as much as I felt called to parish ministry, on two different occasions, however, I was asked by the Bishop to serve in diocesan administration. Twice I fulfilled the responsibilities given to me – and twice, I eventually asked to return to parish ministry.
Perhaps, then, you can begin to imagine my reaction when I received the call to become the bishop of our local church. This wasn’t something that was in my game plan. Had it been, I would have never left the administrative jobs that had been entrusted to me. Besides, wasn’t it enough that I had already responded to one call from the Lord to serve as a priest? I was content to serve as the pastor of a wonderful parish community. I didn’t need – much less want – a challenge of this magnitude. Obviously, however, it soon became apparent to me that I was less in control of my life and its future than I had imagined.
For me – I’ve come to believe over the past eight years that for reasons still unknown to me, God’s fingerprints were all over that call. Despite my reluctance and my ongoing sense of wonder about how and why I would have been asked to assume such a role within the Church, I’ve come to believe that God’s plan for me was intimately woven into a very unexpected invitation – a call – to serve the People of God as a bishop.
My friends, in the same, unexpected and surprising way, God continues to call all of us to a deeper relationship with him. He continues to call us to set aside that which is known and comfortable to journey with him into the unknown – to forge with God a deeper and more intimate relationship of trust and love – and, in turn, to proclaim that relationship through the love and service of the lives that God entrusts to our care.
My sisters and brothers, and especially you, our catechumens and candidates, don’t discount for an instant the power of this moment in your lives. Jesus is speaking to you today, inviting you to a relationship with him – calling you by name to follow him. He is inviting you to walk a path that leads to a life of meaning, purpose and peace. He is saying, through his invitation, that your life – with all of its struggles and joys, with all of its blessings and challenges – has a unique place and role to play within his plan. … This day, as never before, hear the words of Jesus that come to us from Saint John’s Gospel on the very night before he died, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.”
It’s possible that you see logic in the events along your journey that have brought you to this place today. But it’s just as possible and perhaps even probable – like the personal experience that I shared a moment ago and like those that so many of us experience at various points along life’s journey – that you can’t quite understand why God called you to this moment. Yet, here you are! … And in the midst of such thoughts and questions, we hear the words of Jesus again: “You have not chosen me. I have chosen you.”
Indeed the scriptures are filled with reminders of how God has worked in creation, always engaging a people, working in and through the events of their lives, never giving up on his creation – always faithful, ever present. Before the world began, the scriptures tell us, God first chose the people of Israel to be his own. Then, through Jesus and in love, God chose us all to have a share in his life, death and resurrection and so to engage his mission for the sake of our world.
Today, my friends, you are called by God. Your name will be spoken. Your name will be heard. And your name will be written in the Book of the Elect. My dear catechumens and candidates, as he has done since the beginning of creation, God places his hand on your shoulders today and chooses you to participate in his Kingdom. Through the touch of your godparents and through the affirmation of the Church gathered around you in this sacred cathedral, God calls you forth to walk with him in faith. The initiative is God’s. The response is yours.
In today’s Gospel passage from Saint Mark, we hear of Jesus’ temptation by Satan in the desert. Implicit in this brief Gospel passage is the story of Jesus’ own life determining choices. Jesus confronts the temptations posed – says “Yes” to call by his Father in Heaven – and immediately goes forth to proclaim the Kingdom of God.
The journey that you begin today will likewise have its challenges. Jesus faced temptations and so will you. The cost of discipleship can be great. Yet, one thing is certain. The journey will lead you to discover meaning, hope and life if you remain rooted in the life of the God – if you are selfless in your love – and if you serve generously, making the pattern of Jesus’ life your own.
My sisters and brothers who desire baptism – who seek full communion – we, the Church, pray with and for you and, above all, thank God for your presence among us. … Your “yes” to the Lord’s call this day reminds us that we are all called to lead lives rooted in the life and mission of Jesus.
Your presence here today is also a powerful reminder to the members of the Church and hopefully to you as well, of just how much we need each other. Yes, God is calling you, just as he called me. But he is calling us not to walk this journey of faith alone. He is calling us into the Church – the community of believers – his body on earth.
May each of us, in whatever place along the journey of faith we find ourselves, give thanks to God this day for the gift of Jesus and his saving grace. … May you, our candidates for full communion in the Church, open your hearts to the Holy Spirit and to the power of Jesus who will fill your life through the Eucharist. … And may you, the Elect in our midst, boldly proclaim your faith in Jesus as you inscribe your names in the Book of the Elect and take you place with all of your sisters and brothers – young and old – rich and poor – saints and sinners … who have been called by God and chosen as his own this day.