BUFFALO, N.Y. (CNS) — It was not as if St. Peter had run out of choices when he asked, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” said Bishop Michael W. Fisher of Buffalo in the homily at his Jan. 15 installation Mass.
“Simon Peter offers both the essential question and the definitive answer for all of us who confront daunting circumstances and the prospect of uncertain outcomes,” Bishop Fisher said.
“This flawed yet faithful disciple recognizes and affirms that there is really only one viable choice, one undeniable truth: ‘You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.'”
This can serve as solace, Bishop Fisher said, since “we are able to reason and arrive at very different paths that will take us in very different directions, leading to very different conclusions about our life’s course and purpose.”
“It is also the case that what the mind may dictate as the safer, more prudent course, the heart knows better, and is more likely than not to be the truer compass,” he added.
Formerly an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, Bishop Fisher lauded those in catechetics and Catholic education, “supporting them as they sort out the often conflicting demands and influences of our present age.”
“‘To whom shall they go?'” the bishop asked, again quoting Scripture.
He continued, “They seek understanding and to understand; they look to us in determining the choices they should make and the direction they should pursue. We need to be there for them; always to listen first and to provide them everything they need to feel safe, cared for, respected and cherished.”
The Buffalo Diocese has been scarred by the local church’s response to clergy sex abuse allegations, which he referenced in his homily.
“We know all too well that there are those among us who have turned back and away — and admittedly for what we must accept as valid, or at the very least, understandable reasons,” Bishop Fisher said. “Those of us who remain know and assert in the depths of our hearts that it is Jesus Christ who calls us, and in whom we ultimately trust and follow.”
He added, “We must be ever mindful of those who have turned away — not because of any failing on their part — but because they have been deeply harmed by the sin and failing of those they trusted most.”
Bishop Fisher also acknowledged the toll COVID-19 has taken on people, noting that he said funeral Masses for four Washington archdiocesan priests who died of the virus over the past year.
“We must be mindful of the many lives that have been lost and affected, and offer up in prayer the aching sorrow experienced by husbands and wives, sons and daughters, grandchildren — friends and loved ones,” he said.
Despite these obstacles, “I now join the good and faithful people of the Diocese of Buffalo on the journey you’ve begun toward renewal, toward healing and in what must be our relentless work to make possible a new, more promising era for this family of faith,” Bishop Fisher said.
He thanked Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany, New York, who had doubled as Buffalo’s apostolic administrator for a year following the retirement of Bishop Richard J. Malone.
Running one diocese is a formidable task, and Bishop Scharfenberger ran two, but “considerable work has already begun in paving the path toward renewal” during Bishop Scharfenberger’s time in Buffalo, Bishop Fisher said.
At the Mass, Bishop Scharfenberger said the Buffalo Diocese has been “blessed with a devoted and devout pastor who is eager to continue the work of renewal and define a new era of vitality and increased impact of Catholic faith and ministry throughout western New York.”
The installation was rich in ritual, but without such key persons as Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, and Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington, who were unable to attend due to coronavirus travel restrictions in New York state.
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York presided over the installation.
A year after being named a monsignor in 2005, Bishop Fisher was appointed vicar for clergy and secretary for ministerial leadership in the Washington Archdiocese, with responsibility for vocations, formation and care of the clergy.
Much of his ministry has involved the continuing education of priests, particularly in aiding new pastors in their roles and the planning and implementation of ongoing clergy training via convocations and retreats.
As evidence that the Baltimore-born and Washington-trained bishop’s transition to Buffalo is complete, he said, “As now an official Buffalonian, I join your resounding chorus: Go Bills!”