(The following is Msgr. John Enzler's Faith in Action column for the Nov. 12, 2020 Catholic Standard newspaper.)
I’m happy to share with you that my recovery from heart surgery is almost complete. I am about 90 percent of the way there and able to do more all the time. I’m grateful for the prayers and good wishes and thrilled to get back to doing what I love – being a priest and serving the poor.
During my recovery, I had a chance to reflect upon many different things going on in our world and our archdiocese. Two major things have happened that reminded me of the gift of the priesthood.
First, a priest I have known since he was a seminarian was named a bishop. Father Bill Byrne was ordained at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in 1994 and is now Bishop-Elect Byrne, soon to be bishop of Springfield, Massachusetts. I was privileged to preach at Father Byrne’s first Mass at Our Lady of Mercy, where I was pastor at the time and he was my deacon for a year. I was so impressed with his gift for preaching that I asked him to give the homily at Christmas Eve Masses while he was still a deacon, and he of course did a great job.
The other surprise announcement was that our own Archbishop Wilton Gregory will soon be one of the newest cardinals of the Church. He was ordained in Chicago in 1973, also the year of my own ordination, and will be elevated as a cardinal on November 28. I first met him years ago at a workshop at St. Joseph’s in Beltsville, which was led by Msgr. Ron Jameson, now rector of St. Matthew’s Cathedral. The workshop was about how we celebrate liturgy, and Bishop Gregory was the lead person on that subject at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Father Gregory became a bishop 10 years after his ordination, starting as an auxiliary bishop in his home diocese of Chicago with Cardinal Joseph Bernardin before moving on to head the Belleville diocese in Illinois. He later spent 14 years in Atlanta before coming to us. We have been blessed with his leadership and gifts, and we are proud that he is the first African American archbishop of our archdiocese and will soon be the first African American cardinal from our country.
Both elevations are well deserved, but they are much more than an honor. They are calls to even greater service of the Church and the faithful, and they also come with greater responsibilities. I have worked with many bishops through the years, and frankly, it’s not easy. I imagine that is true of being a cardinal as well.
A bishop takes on responsibility for countless aspects of the Church, especially when he is head of a diocese as Father Byrne will be in Springfield and as Archbishop Gregory is here. They must manage finances, all priests and personnel, and in our current time deal with past crises that hurt their flock and often created serious financial problems as well.
It’s not easy to manage all those responsibilities under any circumstances, but priests aren’t automatically trained to become bishops. We’re trained to be pastors and shepherds, to be close to our people. All the business, legal and administrative skills needed to be a good CEO of a diocese or large organization are not taught in seminary. Priests must learn these skills the best we can as we take on greater responsibilities.
In Archbishop Gregory’s case, he will be one of 120 cardinals under 80 years old, so his primary new responsibility is to be part of the conclave that will choose a new pope whenever the time comes. That is a huge responsibility. In addition, he will become part of the Roman Curia, making decisions that affect the Church worldwide. It takes special gifts of wisdom and knowledge of the Church that very few people in our world have.
There is celebration and joy when priests we respect are elevated to bishop or cardinal. At the same time, the symbols of these new roles – like the skull cap, crosier, and miter – also come with burdens, heartache, and a struggle that is not easy to bear.
I know both of these great priests are up to the challenges ahead of them and will be superb in their new roles. While I don’t envy the responsibilities they take on and the struggles they will endure, I know they will be the best bishop and cardinal they can be, faithfully leading and guiding the Church in the years to come.
Both Bishop-elect Byrne and Cardinal-designate Gregory have superior skills. Father Bill is known as a great communicator, whether it be through social media, homilies, videos, or in writing. You may be familiar with his column here in the Catholic Standard called “5 Things” that has now become his brand-new book, 5 Things with Father Bill. He is truly a gifted communicator of the Church’s goals, mission, and the walk of faith.
Cardinal Gregory is also a gifted communicator, and he possesses the wisdom, kindness, and gravitas to handle difficult decisions in a way that allows others to feel respected and cared for. He seeks to do what is right and to build consensus among those who are part of his team.
Let us pray in a special way for both these men as they take on their new roles and responsibilities in the coming weeks. They need our prayers, support, and love as they follow in the footsteps of the early apostles, particularly Peter, in leading and guiding our Church.
Let us also celebrate that two great men from our archdiocese are being raised up to bigger roles in our Church. The Church has seen their gifts and talents among us, and now challenges them to be even more influential in their calling.
These are two more big changes in a year of change, which will continue to be all around us as we celebrate the upcoming holidays in different ways during a pandemic. As we go through these turbulent times, I think we can all be comforted by the theme of Archbishop Gregory’s homily in May 2019 when he was installed here in Washington.
The Gospel at the Mass was Mark 4:35-41, which is the story of Jesus in the boat with his disciples. He was asleep when a storm hit, and his disciples asked him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He replied, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” He then calmed the storm.
Archbishop Gregory’s resounding message was that Jesus is right there in the boat with us in our storms. He was speaking more of the abuse crisis at that point, but the message is just as powerful today during a pandemic.
As we go through struggles in our own lives, it’s comforting to know that Jesus is in the boat with us and will guide us through any storms. It’s comforting to know that Cardinal Gregory and Bishop Byrne are also in the boat with us as we journey to heaven together.
(Msgr. Enzler serves as the president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.)