Homily at Evening Prayer for the Rite of Welcoming Archbishop Tobin to the Cathedral
Your excellencies Archbishop Tobin and Archbishop Viganò, brother clergy, religious brothers and sisters, friends and guests: I am honored this evening to speak a few words of instruction and praise in thanksgiving to God as we welcome our new Archbishop, Joseph Tobin, to his cathedral with this celebration of Evening Prayer. It is certainly an occasion that is marked well by the theology of this First Sunday in Advent as we look for God to break into our lives and make something new. Certainly the words of the Scripture passage, which we have just heard proclaimed, redound well in this place tonight, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again, rejoice!”
You heard me say just now that I am honored to speak a few words of instruction and praise. By instruction I mean words that are intended to form us more deeply into life in Jesus Christ by opening up for us the mysteries we celebrate in the Church’s liturgy. Indeed, even apart from what I have to say in this homily, the Church’s liturgy by its very nature as an encounter with the real presence of Christ in His Sacraments and worship, draws us more closer to Him and His offer of salvation if we but allow ourselves to be lead by the Master. The liturgy does so not only by words but also by gesture and by ritual. And so we come to this evening and this evening prayer in which we welcome our new archbishop to his cathedral church.
At the beginning of this celebration, Archbishop Viganò and Fr. Noah Casey, the rector of the cathedral, welcomed Archbishop Tobin at the door the church. At a glance, we might consider this a nice tradition in which we simply welcome our new archbishop as he takes possession of his Cathedral, kind of like welcoming someone to your home for the first time. And that is sort of what is happening here. We are welcoming Archbishop Tobin to the cathedral for the first time. But, and here is an important point – it’s his house. From this point on, he is going to welcome us. Oh, by the way, Archbishop Tobin, here’s the keys and a couple of heating bills for the electricity and heat. I’ll give them to you later on.
But there is more than that going on here, especially if we consider how often the Church’s liturgy begins particular celebrations at the door of the church. In the “Rite of Infant Baptism,” the priest or deacon welcomes the family and their young child at the door the church and asks some questions, “What name do you give your child? And what do you ask of God’s Church for your child? In doing so, you are accepting the responsibility of raising your child in the practice of the faith by loving God and your neighbor. Do you clearly understand the responsibility you are taking on today.” And then to the Godparents, “Are you ready to help these parents fulfill their responsibility as Christian mother and father?” The priest then welcomes the family into the building for the celebration of the Sacrament.
In the “Rite of Becoming a Catechumen” the same elements take place: the priest or deacon greets the candidates at the door of the church, there is some form of interrogation, and the candidates are welcomed and recognized now as catechumens who seek further entrance into the life of the church. There is also the celebration of our funeral rites, when the family who is bearing the mortal remains of their loved one into the church is greeted at the door by the priest, the deceased is named once again, his or her baptism is recalled with water and gesture, and the pall is draped upon the coffin.
Notice something here. At each of these liturgical moments, something new is about to occur, not only for the persons celebrating but for the Church itself. In each of these moments when we ritually greet people at the door of the church, a new status, a new way of life in Christ is being initiated. In the case of the infant to be baptized or the catechumen, it is entrance into the life of the church via the sacraments of initiation. In the case of the Church’s funeral rites, the mortal remains of a Christian believer are brought to the church for the last time to then be laid to rest in the tomb, and entrance into a new and eternal life is prayed for as we say, “for those who believe life is changed not ended.” In the different ritual moments, the bonds of life in the Body of Christ are strengthened and renewed in the sacraments of initiation and the hope of eternal life is recognized once again in Church’s funeral rites as a son or daughter is laid to rest. Each moment is both personal and communal: the person being welcomed at the door of the church is entering a new existence and the church recognizes something new happening within Her life as well.
And so it is tonight. When we welcomed Archbishop Tobin at the door of the church this evening, we the local manifestation of the universal Church, recognized and acknowledged him as our new archbishop, our new shepherd, a successor of the apostles, named by the Holy Father to govern this local church to help us to manifest the living presence of Jesus Christ in this world. This is especially true in the celebration of the Church’s liturgy, most significantly in the celebration of the Mass, when gathered around our archbishop we encounter the Real Presence of Christ most completely. As our archbishop, Archbishop Tobin is called to govern, instruct and lead us more deeply into a personal and communal relationship with Jesus Christ. Notice something important here. It is that word “relationship.” Jesus Christ calls each of us to Himself. He calls us to a relationship with Him that invites us to come to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him. This call is manifested clearly in the Church’s announcement of the good news of salvation.
Archbishop Tobin, here in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis so many men and women of incredible Catholic faith are living that deep relationship with Jesus Christ. As someone who has been fortunate to be a part of this local church for almost two years, I can say to you, that there is a sure foundation of Catholic faith here that is yours to build upon. We are a people who are living the good news and are ready to spread the good news even more so “that God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, that who ever believed in Him might have eternal life” and that the promise of eternal life is most perfectly manifested in the Church. We all know there is work to do, personally and communally. We all know we are still works in progress but we stand with you ready to follow your lead as we hear in you, the voice of the Shepherd.
But it would be incomplete for me to simply just recognize the ritual meaning of our welcoming you to your cathedral – the communal – without mentioning what this means for you as one who stood on the other side of the door – the personal. Just outside of the door of my apartment, I have a welcome mat that reads, “ Welcome. When you’re here you’re family. Do you still want to come in?” If I were to be playful perhaps I could ask that question of you. “Welcome. When you’re here, you’re family. Still want to come in?” Certainly, being a bishop has never been any easy call of service to the Church. Just ask St. Athanasius or St. Augustine. Maybe, if you had given it any thought as you stood outside of the door of this cathedral tonight you might have been tempted to say to yourself, “Now what have I gotten myself into?” Perhaps you did, perhaps you didn’t, but Archbishop, you still entered this church and you still said “yes” to serving us as our bishop and we thank you for that.
From this, though, may I draw one more connection to the various moments of our life as a Church when the door of the church plays such an important role? It is the “Rite of Infant Baptism.” Do you recall the questions that the parents are asked just prior to entering the church? “What name do you give your child? What do you ask of God’s Church for your child? Are you ready to accept the responsibility of raising your child in the practice of the faith by loving God and your neighbor.” And then the Godparents are asked, “Are you ready to help these parents fulfill their responsibility as Christian mother and father?” My brothers and sisters with me here in this cathedral tonight, our brother Joseph, named by the Holy Father as Archbishop of Indianapolis has accepted the responsibility of proclaiming the good news of the Catholic faith by teaching us to love God and neighbor. Now I ask you and myself: Are we ready to help him fulfill his duty as our new archbishop? Can we answer with a resounding “Amen?” Welcome Archbishop Joseph Tobin to your cathedral and remember, “when you’re here, you’re family.”