Homily: Episcopal Ordination of Bishop-elect Mario Dorsonville

Bishop Dorsonville

At this point in the liturgy, the ritual calls for the bishop to address the clergy, the people and the bishop-elect on the duties of a bishop.

In line with that ancient exhortation, I ask you, the faithful gathered in this cathedral church, to reflect on what we are about to do.

First, as the instruction tells us, we must consider the position in the Church to which our brother is being raised. Our Lord Jesus Christ, who was sent by the Father to redeem the human race, in turn sent twelve apostles into the world. These men were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel and gather every race and people into a single flock to be guided in the way of holiness.

Because this service was to continue to the end of time, the apostles selected others to help them. By the laying on of hands which confers the sacrament of orders in its fullness, the apostles passed on the gift of the Holy Spirit which they themselves had received from Christ. In that way, by a succession of bishops unbroken from one generation to the next, the spiritual powers conferred in the beginning were handed down, and the work of our Savior continues in our time.

The third century Christian writer Tertullian concisely expressed this ancient apostolic tradition: “The Church from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, Christ from God” (De Praescr. Haer. XXI, 4).

The second reading chosen for today is from the Second Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy, where we find already at the very beginning of the life of the Church, reference to what we are doing here today – the imposition of hands, the invoking of the Holy Spirit and the passing on of the responsibility of proclaiming the message that Jesus Christ has saved us and called us to a holy life.

Paul’s admonition to Timothy is equally appropriate for what is transpiring right now, “I remind you stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.”

The Rite of Ordination in the Roman Pontifical underscores the unique spiritual quality of the Bishop: “In the Bishop surrounded by his priests, our Lord Jesus Christ himself, having become High Priest for ever, is present among you. For, through the ministry of the Bishop, Christ himself never fails to proclaim the Gospel and to administer the sacraments of faith to those who believe. Through the Bishop’s exercise of his duty as father, Christ himself adds new members to his body. Through the Bishop’s wisdom and prudence, it is Christ himself who leads you in your earthy pilgrimage toward eternal happiness.”

The pectoral cross that Bishop Dorsonville receives and wears today depicts what the Rite of Ordination proclaims. It shows the bishop with all of the priests at the service of God’s people teaching, pastorally meeting their needs, and administering all the sacraments.

How is it that a man can take on this enormous responsibility? How is that we find the grace and strength to stand in the midst of the Church as the one who is to teach, to lead and to sanctify?

The first reading today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah confirms for us how this is possible. Just as the prophet announced that “the spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me and has sent me…” (Is 61:1), so can the bishop carry out his challenging ministry assured of a Pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The anointing with chrism and the imposition of hands in this sacred ritual are not only visible signs to the faithful of your consecration, they are the efficacious actions by which the Spirit is truly poured out in a transforming and energizing manner.

How appropriate is the responsorial Psalm for today that has been, for Bishop Dorsonville, not only a prayer but a working model, “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want. He guides me in right paths for his name’s sake.”

At this point, the ritual also instructs the ordaining bishop to address the one to be ordained. And so Bishop-elect Dorsonville, I offer these words for your consideration.

Scholars tell us that the pivotal point in Matthew’s Gospel is when Jesus asks of Peter a declaration of faith: “Who do you say I am?” Peter responds in a way that has become the model for every disciple of the Lord, every follower of Christ: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

Bishop-elect Dorsonville before your response to any other call from Christ or his Church there was your previous answer in faith. With Peter you, together with all of us, have responded to Jesus with the declaration: “You are the Christ…”

The Gospel we listen to today also tells us of a second challenge and question to Peter. This one also is directed now to you and all in apostolic ministry:  “Do you love me?”

It is not a question of faith, but a request for commitment: “Simon son of John do you love me?” Peter’s response is by every priest and bishop here, and certainly in your heart. Peter said directly and clearly: “Lord you know that I love you, Lord you know everything you know that I love you.”

To all of this Jesus simply replied: “Feed my sheep.”

What we celebrate today is your anointing as a successor to the apostles, that body of chosen disciples, charged to feed the sheep.

What we witness today is a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit on this Church in your consecration and through your ministry to the whole Church of Washington.

Shortly you shall receive as a sign of your office a ring. Tradition tells us that the Bishop’s ring manifests visibly that he is pledged in love to the particular Church entrusted to his care. We speak lovingly of Holy Mother Church when we think of the Church Universal and all of her manifestations. But for a bishop the local Church entrusted to his care is his bride. You are to wear the ring as a sign of fidelity to this holy Church. Love her totally, tirelessly and completely.

You will soon be anointed with the sacred chrism – the oil of mystical anointing that is intended to bring forth an abundance of spiritual blessings. May it always be for you as you exercise your episcopal ministry and stand in the midst of the faithful of this diocesan Church the oil of gladness. May it always renew in you a spirit of joyful hope.

Pope Francis speaks and writes of the Joy of the Gospel. He also gives us an example of how we live that joy of the Risen Lord and invite others to do the same. May that joy always fill your heart.

In a few moments the open Book of the Gospels will be placed over your head. This gesture on the one hand is to indicate that the word of God embraces and watches over the Bishop’s ministry. On the other hand, it indicates that “the Bishop’s life is to be completely submitted to the word of God in his daily commitment of preaching the Gospel in all patience and sound doctrine (cf. 2. Tim. 4)”.

The Church speaks of the bishop’s exercise of the munus regendi – the responsibility to lead his flock. “The Bishop is sent in Christ’s name as a pastor for the care of a particular portion of the People of God” (43). Pope Francis tells us we are to go out, encounter and accompany all those we hope to bring to the Lord.

May your ministry always be an echo of that pastoral challenge given to Peter by our Lord after his Resurrection. “Feed my sheep.” Strengthen them with my Gospel, nurture them with my Body and Blood.

Our prayers, the prayers of all of the clergy, religious and faithful of this diocesan Church, are, at this moment, for you and your ministry. As you face the challenges of episcopal service we pray that you will be constantly sustained by God’s grace. May we always see in your ministry the joy of the Lord and the face of the mercy of God.

In the light of this understanding of who you are and what we are doing, our faith prompts all of us to great joy as you are ordained a bishop of God’s holy Church.

I join my voice to that of your family, friends, the presbyterate, and all the faithful of this local Church in praise to God for this wonderful moment that promises so much good.

May God bring to fruitful completion what today is so wondrously begun in you.

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