Looking ahead to retirement
"A diocesan bishop who has completed his 75th year of age is requested to present his resignation from office to the Supreme Pontiff, who will make provisions after he has examined all the circumstances."
These words from Canon 401 of our church’s Code of Canon Law are particularly meaningful for me, and for all the people of the Diocese of Rochester, as my 75th birthday is July 15, 2012. On that date, I will submit my letter of resignation to the Holy See after 33 years as your bishop.
On the personal side, I will do so with all the emotions you might expect: sadness that the privilege of serving you as bishop of this wonderful diocese must come to an end; hope that Christ will smile on the work we have done together; wonderment and anticipation about the journey God will take me on in the years to come; and the ways my ministry will continue. Yet I also will willingly submit my resignation and embrace this new phase of my life with a happy spirit. I am comfortable with the church’s wisdom that the bishop’s office is a demanding one in this day and age, that at age 75 our energies are not what they once were, and that more time for rest, prayer and contemplation is a blessing indeed.
I hope I also will be mindful then, as I am now, that this is not just about me by any means. This will be a significant time of transition for our diocese -- for all of us. Quite naturally, we will all have questions, curiosity and interest in what the future will bring.
Already, as I travel around the diocese, people are asking me how the process of naming a replacement unfolds and speculating about the changes or adjustments we may be asked to make under new leadership.
Such questions and interests are the most natural thing in the world and emerge in every diocese at times like this. Reactions vary, of course. Some love change, finding it challenging and exciting; others find it onerous.
Then there is the more personal element. For people who have been pleased with my tenure, this time of transition means one thing; for those who will welcome a new approach in pastoral leadership, it means something quite different.
But no matter our general dispositions or personal opinions, change is coming. How we move through this time of transition as individuals and as a community of faith is, I believe, of great importance. If we approach it with lively and open faith in God and with prayer for all involved in the process, I am sure we will all be richly blessed. I do believe deeply that it will be a time of special grace and renewal for all of us. With that in mind, I thought it might be helpful to offer a few of my own thoughts about this process and touch on some questions people have asked me about it.
First of all, I must tell you that I do not know who our new bishop will be, or precisely when he will be named. As indicated, my letter of resignation begins a process through which a successor is chosen. Recently, that process typically takes 10 months, although it is not unheard of that it can take 15 months or longer. Once the letter of resignation is sent, the process and its timing are solely in the hands of the Holy See, which, I can assure you, works prayerfully and carefully to provide good leadership for a given diocese.
Secondly, I pray that this period of transition will be a time of renewal for our diocese. It will be a privileged time for us to remember our story, to name our blessings, to consider how God calls us to further conversion, and to put in good order any matters that aren’t where they should be or where we’d like to have them.
Thirdly, it can be a time in which we can convert our questions, worries, hopes, longings and fears into constructive thought, prayer and dialogue about important themes of common interest that give rise to the questions: How do we understand the office of bishop? What can we legitimately expect from him, and he from us? What is the bishop’s relationship to his priests? To parish communities? How does he link communities together? Are there ways in which we can prepare ourselves so that when he arrives the new bishop will come to know a diocese actively engaged and not passively marking time until his arrival?
Next month I hope to delve into some of these areas in more depth. Let it suffice for the moment to say that I think we will be well-served if we make this a time of peaceful and prayerful examination of ourselves, our parishes and other places of ministry. How are we doing? What ought to change? What is God asking of us?
To that end I have set some priorities to which I want to devote time and energy in the time remaining:
* To leave our diocese in as stable and positive financial condition as we can manage. Just now I have been quietly raising funds working to strengthen our financial resources for the education of our seminarians and the support of our senior priests.
* To continue to work together daily in our common quest for a deeper spiritual life. One common goal here, I hope, will be our very best effort to receive and celebrate the new Roman Missal this coming Advent.
* To be responsible in meeting the challenges of the day and not leave to my successor difficult problems because they are too hard or too unpopular to take on.
* To keep working at the interfaith and ecumenical work we have undertaken and to encourage others to join us in this work.
* To maintain our tradition of supporting our sisters and brothers in need, through direct human service and advocacy.
* To work toward creating as honest, warm and hospitable an environment as we possibly can manage, as we welcome our new bishop.
A bishop is a successor to the apostles whether retired or not. Under the church’s traditions and laws, leaving office removes from an individual bishop his power and jurisdiction over a diocesan church, but he remains a bishop forever with bonds to the universal church and College of Bishops, and certainly with a special bond to the diocese of which he was shepherd and to those faithful who were once entrusted to his care. It is not retirement in the usual sense of the term.
So, as "bishop emeritus" -- the title given bishops after leaving office -- I intend to be as helpful as I possibly can to the church of Rochester and to the new bishop, in ways still to be discussed and determined.
I will relinquish the bishop’s quarters at Sacred Heart Cathedral to make it ready for the new bishop when that time comes, but it is my hope and intention to remain in the Greater Rochester area. I have not as yet settled on where that might be. Personally, I am hoping to continue ministering in the Diocese of Rochester visiting parishes, supporting our pastors and sharing in the Eucharist with our people. I would welcome opportunities such as confirming our young people; helping our ministry in our nursing homes and health-care facilities; and offering whatever spiritual counsel I can in retreats and spiritual-growth projects, a role I have come to enjoy every much.
One important task I already know that I can and will fulfill is to pray constantly for the concerns of each of you individually and of this wonderful diocese as a whole. It has been said that one of the most cherished activities of a bishop emeritus is a "ministry of intercession," that the closest bond and most important responsibility before God that a bishop emeritus has toward those who were once entrusted to him and to whom he has devoted his life is that of prayer. I could not agree more.
I will write more about this theme over the next months as July 2012 approaches, and I will try to keep you as informed as I can about this transition time.
This will be an interesting and unsettling time, but I pray you will remember that we are guided in every journey by the Holy Spirit. As we enter this new journey together, pilgrims on a new venture for Christ, let us be radically open to the Spirit and to each other’s dreams for the future.
Peace to all.