As your new Archbishop, I would like to share with you, in slightly edited form, the homily I gave at my installation in the cathedral on Dec. 16. It expresses very well what continues to be in my mind and heart as I begin my ministry. I look forward to getting to know this great archdiocese and all of you. Please keep me in your prayers. And may you be blessed with a happy and healthy New Year.
– Archbishop Blair
There are three words I would like to share with you – memory, mission and ministry.
As the 13th bishop and fifth archbishop of Hartford, I think of all the clergy who have served God’s people so generously over the years, and today, in particular, of Archbishop Henry Mansell, who, like Archbishop Cronin and my other predecessors, has given his all for the good of this local Church.
I think, too, of the men and women religious, and the generations of laity in Connecticut, who have lived their Catholic faith devotedly, even heroically, and have gone before us to God.
Today I become a fellow heir, with all of you, of this great, historic witness of faith, hope and love.
By any standard, being named the Archbishop of Hartford represents a monumental change in my life. It’s a summons to leave behind an established life and place, and many dear people, in order to embrace a new people and a new place, which I have no doubt will become equally dear to me.
It’s also a time for me to remember with thanksgiving all that God has done to bring me to this day. And so I remember first of all my deceased parents, grandparents and other family members, the neighborhood in Detroit where I grew up, the priests and sisters of my home parish, and the many people – clergy, religious and laity – who in the providence of God have graced my life. I want to acknowledge in particular my sister and niece who are with us today. I also thank the clergy, family and friends who have travelled some distance to be here.
When I think of the many wonderful blessings, opportunities and experiences that the Church has given to me in life, I recognize something of myself in the words of the author of our first reading from the Old Testament Book of Sirach, when he says:
“I have seen much in my travels, learned more than I could ever say … he who fears the Lord is never alarmed, never afraid; for the Lord is his hope … a shelter from the heat, a shade from the noonday sun, a guard against stumbling, a help against falling. He buoys up the spirits, brings a sparkle to the eyes, gives health and life and blessing.”
Memory is important, but always at the service of the second word I want to share with you, the word mission.
This installation is not just about a new archbishop, but about the mission entrusted to all of us as members of this local Church of Hartford, within the great communion of the Catholic Church and all the baptized.
Today’s liturgy is taken from the Mass for the New Evangelization.
What does that big word mean?
In the second reading, Saint Peter helps us understand when he says that by divine vocation, and by obedience to the faith, we Christians are a holy priesthood.
Every baptized person, Saint Peter says, is called to offer spiritual sacrifices and to announce to the world the praises of God, who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light.
In other words, what you have received as a gift, give as a gift; that’s the mission of evangelization in a nutshell.
We are not meant to hide the light of Christ under a bushel basket out of fatigue, disenchantment, compromise, disinterest, a lack of joy and hope, or what both Popes Benedict and Francis call “worldliness” – that is, a dour pragmatism that tries to keep the Church going using worldly methods and standards of survival and success.
Pope Francis is not afraid to speak of a faith that is militant – his word – and that bears witness to Christ with boldness and with joy. The Church, he says, is no place for sourpusses!
He tells us that it is better to be a foot soldier who keeps on fighting than the general of a defeated army; better a Church that is injured and dirtied in the street, he says, than one that retreats into self-absorption or mere institutional self-preservation.
To us and to the disciples of every age, Jesus says:
“You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world.”
Go out with the Gospel of repentance and faith, bring as many people as possible into the Kingdom of God. Devote yourselves to personal sacrifice and prayer for the salvation of the world.
This is the mission that we received at our baptism, so on this happy occasion, let’s renew our commitment, as an archdiocesan family of faith, to live it with boldness and joy.
And that leads me to a third and final word: ministry.
At the press conference at which my appointment to Hartford was announced, I mentioned the striking image employed by Pope Francis that the Church’s ministry is that of a field hospital for the wounded.
This reflects today’s Gospel in which Jesus applies to himself the words of the prophet Isaiah:
“The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me, to bring glad tidings to the poor … to proclaim liberty to captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free...”
So many people today, including our young people, are wounded in a great struggle between belief and unbelief, between good and evil.
There is a lot of spiritual darkness and emptiness, even if, outwardly, people appear to be doing well. Among the baptized, many are deeply disoriented and wounded by what Saint Augustine calls, by turns, the flattery of the world or its threats.
Pope Francis is getting to be known for his insistent call for material relief of the world’s poor and suffering, and rightly so.
But in his recent Apostolic Exhortation, he also says, “The worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care.”
In the face of these realities, the Holy Father says we have to apply not only words, but above all, a ministry – a ministry of “the Lord’s mercy and tenderness, which warms the heart, rekindles hope, and attracts people towards the good.”
The Catholic people of this archdiocese have a great record in this regard. I think of Catholic Charities at the diocesan and parish levels, of Catholic education and health care. I think, too, of the charitable work of organizations like the Knights of Columbus and so many others, both large and small.
In the United States, we have always been blessed with the religious freedom to carry out these ministries.
We serve people of all religions and no religion, but what we do is always a ministry of “the Lord’s mercy and tenderness, which warms the heart, rekindles hope, and attracts people towards the good.”
Being a field hospital for the wounded is part of the Church’s very nature, an expression of her very being, and something we need to rededicate ourselves to, every day at every level of Catholic life.
My brothers and sisters, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta was once asked what, in her opinion, was the first thing that should be changed in the Church. Her answer was, “You and me.”
During this Advent season of expectant hope, we all need to work at Mother Teresa’s wise answer…
For my episcopate to be fruitful, I very much count on the priests of this diocese, the deacons, men and women religious and, last but by no means least, the lay faithful of this great archdiocese, who by courageously and faithfully living the Gospel in everyday life, literally make all the difference in the world.
The archdiocese includes people of many ethnic backgrounds. I am grateful for my own Polish-American heritage, the years I lived in Italy, and the opportunities I have had in recent years to be able to celebrate Mass in Spanish.
I have come to appreciate the rich diversity of cultures, languages and traditions that are part of our Catholic Church and of our country.
And I look forward to getting to know the parishes that serve people from Asia, Africa, Europe and from Central and Latin America.
In October, when I was presented to Pope Francis at a papal audience, I was able to thank him in person for the confidence he has placed in me, and I asked for his blessing on the Church in both Hartford and Toledo.
The person of the Holy Father as the successor of Saint Peter has to loom large in the heart and mind of any bishop when, on a day like this, he reflects on memory, mission and ministry.
On behalf of all the clergy, religious and laity of the Archdiocese of Hartford, I ask our nuncio, Archbishop Viganò, to please convey to Pope Francis our love, support and prayers, and our willingness, with God’s help, to rise to the challenge the Holy Father is giving to us and to the whole Church, to the praise of Jesus Christ.