Homily delivered by Most Rev Charles
H Dufour, Archbishop of Kingston.
February 8, 2012
Holy Family Cathedral, Antigua
Bishop-elect Richards, brother, I am
so happy for the Church St.
John's-Basseterre, and I am happy
for you, that you have been called
to serve in this way. I also wish to
congratulate your family. You may be
leaving Jamaica, and this saddens
us, but in your 'yes' to God's call,
the Church of Kingston, and the
other Churches in Jamaica deeply
feel their connection to the wider
Caribbean and the Churches of the
Antilles Episcopal Conference.
It is a great friendship and fraternal connection in Christ Jesus that we share, and I'm so happy that you are a an instrumental part of this connection among our Caribbean Churches. Brothers and sisters, it is wonderful to say, with Mary, "Be it done onto me according to your word."
Sisters and brothers, from today, our new Bishop becomes a Caribbean person. What must that mean? As it should be with all of us who recognise no difference between Jew and Gentile, Bishop-elect Ken, first Jamaican, now Antiguan and Kittian indeed belonging to every territory of this Diocese incarnates the reality and best hope of all our Caribbean people. Historically we have been separated by the vagary of where the slave boat stopped or where, in the warp of colonial experience, we came or went seeking a better life.
When we cross borders and embrace the life of the sister and brother from another isle, as Bishop-elect Richards now does, we are exhibiting inspiration and grace to become a new creation; to stretch our souls beyond insular confines; to enlarge our tents.
This event then has great significance for our Caricom region. The freedom of movement of Caribbean people, which has eluded our nation states, is being advanced today by a Bishop's powerful example of servant Ministry; a causes so irresistible that it knows no boundaries. We affirm today that the love of God, the recognition of his Lordship, transcend any national identity and is, in reality, the only true foundation of relations between people and nations.
The same Holy Spirit of unity which brings Bishop-elect Ken and which excites you to receive him into his new home in the Windwards, should show the way we must all bond in love, live together and struggle for justice.
Federation didn't work and Regional unity is a frail construct. But look at what an example the unity and universality of the Catholic Church offers us today as this man comes to blend his life with yours, with all the Antilles!
Bishop-elect Ken, with your appointment we experience our bond to Churches around the world, to the universal Church with its college of bishops in communion with the bishop of Rome, Pope Benedict the Sixteenth.
As Christians we feel and stand with each other both in our delights and in our sufferings. We also are summoned to stand with all human beings.” The joy, and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties,” especially of "those who are poor or in any way afflicted are the joy and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ."( Vatican II: Gaudium et spes,# 1)'
As Caribbean peoples we have known great joys and terrible suffering in our history. Even today, while many now do flourish and live well, there are still many who die before their time because they do not have access to good medical care. Their families endure the pain of untimely loss and feel neglected by friends, family and nation. The souls of many young mothers are still pierced with a sword as they find themselves unable to obtain a good education for their children. Farmers see the fruit of their labour languish and rot for lack of good transportation infrastructure. Our people continue to know suffering even amidst a world where there is growing abundance. But as Christians our sufferings are not our destruction. We know our joys and our sufferings have been embraced by the God who becomes our flesh and blood; the suffering servant of Israel.
We encounter this suffering servant of Israel in our first reading from Isaiah.
Jesus of Nazareth this the suffering servant and our redeemer. But we, the body of Christ, are also the suffering servant. We are his hands and feet! The bishop is the public face of the suffering servant "Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights." And we've been given a mission, "I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations."
We are anointed in Christ Jesus. The Spirit of God has come upon us to give us power, wonder working power to continue Christ's mission of justice to the nations, for as Jesus tells us in the Gospel,” Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also." What a wonderful thing, a very wonderful thing it is to participate in such a great mission!! Do we understand what an astonishing mission we've been given as Christians and as Church?
When we hear this call to justice, we may sigh deeply, "'We've heard this before." Many have gone before us in the effort for justice. Good people have spent their every breath to bring justice to the poor, to free those bound in shackles. Yet, when we look around, such efforts often seem in vain.
Freed from slavery we seem to enter back into slavery. Finally independent, we becomes shackled to policies and plans that are not of our own making.
Today young women are sold into slavery by human traffickers in the Caribbean. Countless continue to go hungry around the world, and billions never have a chance to contribute to their world because this world denies them the possibility of real dignified work. Can we really believe in this God given mission of the suffering servant?
Brothers and Sisters the Church is the servant of God, and the bishop is the public face of that service. Although many who have gone before us seeking justice seem to have failed, Isaiah tells us that God's servant "will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth."
We have the promise of God's word, and God's word does not fail! The Church has a mission, and that mission of justice to the nations will be accomplished. But, how does God redeem and transform our lives and our world?
It is accomplished in the ways of God which express the holiness of God, the source of all holiness.
Henry David Thoreau wrote, "The finest workers in stone are not copper or steel tools, but the gentle touches of air and water working at their leisure with a liberal allowance of time." God's word will accomplish what it has been sent to do. Many words have been spilled, and much blood has been shed, but God's servant "will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;" yet, "he will faithfully bring forth justice. These words express the profound wisdom and holiness of God, the source of all holiness. They speak of the path that will not fail to accomplish justice; they speak of the holy one among us, our servant and Saviour Christ Jesus. We the Church are to be a beacon of this holiness in the world that will bring justice, and its bishops, public signs of God's ways, both in how they shepherd the Church without breaking a bruised reed, and how they work for justice among the nations.
The dignity to which God calls us as Church is to be a beacon to all the nations, but not any beacon, a beacon of a different Kingdom; called to be a light that overcomes all barriers and brings joy and friendship to the poor of this world; called to be holy.
Brothers and sisters, as representatives of this Church, do we not want our bishops to be holy? Do we not want our shepherds to reflect the God they serve? Over the years I have come to realize that holiness is not so much about always being strong; it's not about always having the right answer, or knowing everything. In fact, I have learned from our saints that the holy
person is one who faces his weaknesses and admits his faults. The saints of our Church, as they progressed in years, became more and more conscious that they were sinners, frail and weak. They didn't hide it, they proclaimed this truth. 'God chose what is weak in the world to shame the wise'. The holy person knowing his frailty and limits, welcomes in his heart the advice and aid of brothers and sisters.
The letter from the Hebrews speaking of our Saviour and Lord tells us that Jesus was able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, because he himself was subject to weakness. This weakness filled him with compassion; so he did not break the bruised reed, or quench the dimly burning wick. The holiness of the saints was a holiness of compassion and love born in the fire of their own limits, weaknesses and trials. It was born in the crucible of their suffering redeemed in Christ, and their suffering was not their defeat.
The Letter to the Hebrews points to this truth: the strength of our Church and the power of our shepherding are rooted in the acknowledgement before God of our wounds and weaknesses. Wounds, weakness, hurts and limits can embitter us. But, in Christ Jesus, the honest acknowledgement of our wounds and shortcomings becomes power for compassion. ‘By his wounds we have been healed.' The holiness required to be a bishop is rooted in the compassion and gentleness born of weakness and suffering; it is born of the humble recognition of one's limits and the gracious acceptance of the help and support of the community called Church, the Body of Christ. This is the holiness that does justice.
In the celebration of the sacraments, we encounter not only our wounds and weaknesses but we encounter the God who fills our emptiness and makes us holy. In Baptism we encounter our death, and we rise with Christ. In the sacrament of Reconciliation, the compassion of God wipes away our tears, and heals our broken friendships. In the Eucharist, our wounded and weak bodies and souls encounter and receive the wounded one, the suffering servant. We encounter each other in our weakness, and we encounter the God who has loved us from before all time; we encounter our holiness.
Bishop-elect Richards, my dear brother, as shepherd, you are called to shepherd the people giving example of this holiness described in the letter to the Hebrews and the book of the prophet Isaiah - a holiness born where God reaches down and welcomes our human frailty into his redeeming love.
I think the following words the Second Vatican Council fathers wrote in Lumen Gentium express the spirit of these readings so well.
A bishop, since he is sent by the Father to govern his family, must keep before his eyes the example of the Good Shepherd, who came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to lay down his life for his sheep. Being taken from among men, and himself beset with weakness, he is able to have compassion on the ignorant and erring. Let him not refuse to listen to his subjects, whom he cherishes as his true sons and exhorts to cooperate readily with him. As having one day to render an account for their souls, he takes care of them by his prayer, preaching, and all the works of charity, and not only of them but also of those who are not yet of the one flock, who also are commended to him in the Lord. (Lumen Gentium, #27)
Brother, you are being ordained to the episcopate at an extraordinary hour. Now is an hour in which our Caribbean people are being swept up in rapid worldwide changes. Now is an hour in which people search or something much more than they can see and touch. Though they may not know it, like the Greeks who came to the festival in today's Gospel, they wish to see Jesus.
Our church is part of this world and
is also profoundly affected by these
worldwide changes and by the
suffering and longings of its
More than ever before, our Caribbean people and the world need the good news of Christ, need the hope that Jesus brings, they need to see Jesus.
Not just by word and shepherding but through the administration of the sacraments the community with its bishop is fed and strengthened to become that sign today's world so badly needs. As we receive together the Bread of Life and the Chalice of Salvation we express our unity with each other, with all bishops, with Churches around the world, and with all humanity. We receive Christ united to us and to our world. We become bread for the world, and become part of the suffering servant's mission of accomplishing justice.
You as a bishop are called to shepherd our local Church in word, action and sacrament. You do this together with your brother bishops and churches of the Antilles Episcopal Conference. You also do it together with the universal Church as part of the college of bishops, so that the Church indeed can profoundly speak to this changing world, releasing prisoners from the dungeon, and bringing the world to the freedom for which God created it. The world desperately needs the light of a different reign; it needs to see Jesus.
As broken as we are, this means we must find our way to stand with compassion with the broken and deprived; and though it may draw criticism and derision, it means we must be part of their cry for justice until God has established justice in the Earth. As bishop, this will mean having to live the words of the Gospel today and follow the example of the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep.
But bishop-elect you are not in this alone. Your local Church stands with you. Together with the Churches of the Antilles Episcopal Conference and their bishops we work to build up each other. And, we walk together with our sister Churches around the world. Together we are called to pray for each other and support each other that indeed the world may see Jesus. As the Second Vatican Council states in Lumen Gentium, each bishop “as a member of the Episcopal college and legitimate successor of the apostles is obliged by Christ's institution and command to be solicitous for the whole Church."
So, bishop-elect Ken, let us pray for each other. Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us support one another, and today, let us walk with our bishop-elect, that he may indeed be a part of building a Church that "will not grow faint or be crushed until God has established justice in the earth."