Diocese of Charleston
Vespers Homily ~ July 13, 1999
Bishop Robert J. Baker
Thank you again, Bishop Thompson, for your warm and friendly greetings and great hospitality since my arrival here. And greetings to you, my brother priests, of the Presbyterate of the Diocese of Charleston, my new priestly fraternity. A special welcome also to our seminarians preparing to join one day this great Presbyterate. I welcome and thank the Lord for the Pastoral Administrators and members of our curial staff here present with us tonight who support our priestly fraternity in sharing the Good News.
I am the third priest from the Diocese of St. Augustine to transfer to Charleston this past year, following Father John Dux and Father Ray Carlo.
If anyone else attempts to follow me here, I fear Bishop Snyder will never speak to me again!
This is not my first contact with Charleston or South Carolina. As I mentioned at the press conference today, several years ago one of my parishioners from Cathedral Parish in St. Augustine organized a relief convoy to help victims of Hurricane Hugo in Charleston.
I have a sister who lived in the Beaufort area while her husband, a doctor, was working at the hospital on the Marine base at Parris Island. And one of my nieces was a student at Clemson University. So I have family ties to this beautiful state as well.
My brother priests, I want you to know of my great admiration for you as shepherds of parishes and as laborers in the apostolate. I have spent most of my priesthood like you, laboring in the trenches; and I would not trade that experience for any other.
I intend to follow Bishop Thompson’s lead in fostering a spirit of close collaboration and friendship with you. He has told me how his concern was to see his priests and staff members succeed. That is my goal as well. Your success is my success. Your success is the Church’s success. Your success is God’s success.
The responsibilities of a bishop are many and varied, but you, my brother priests, and your well-being, are my first and most important concern. And all those who collaborate with us as pastoral administrators and curial staff are intimately related to our mission.
As I have seen in my 29 years of priesthood, when the priests are working together, the people are working with them. Such is true also with pastoral administrators and curial staff members. Collaboration and a close working relationship of the bishop with the presbyterate, pastoral administrators and curial staff is a first priority in our service of the Lord.
Challenge me to these words in the days ahead, and remind me of my promise today to work closely with each one of you.
I had such a benefit in my relationship with my bishops in St. Augustine. You had that benefit in your relationship with Bishop Thompson. You have that right from me.
The tasks before us today are immense.
But the resources are there, my friends, especially in the model of unity and fraternity you and I show to the people by our priestly and pastoral community.
St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans points out a way for us that is foolproof. We heard it in the reading tonight.
He tells us our love should be sincere. Love means being straightforward, open and honest. It does not skirt issues. It faces them honestly and works through them patiently to discover the truth.
Love also is respectful. St. Paul says we should love one another with the affection of brothers … and of course sisters … and anticipate each other in showing respect.
And finally, our priestly and pastoral fraternity should be characterized by hope, patience, and perseverance in prayer.
“Rejoice in hope,” St. Paul says, ” be patient under trial and persevering in prayer.”
We are people of hope, and we show that hope by being people of joy. How amazed and edified I am by people facing terrible illnesses or suffering serious setbacks who have joy in their hearts and a hopeful spirit. We, as a priestly and pastoral fraternity, should be numbered among those people.
Persevering in prayer — Tonight, we are doing just that in a beautiful way with Evening Prayer with the Liturgy of the Hours. How powerful is this prayer of the universal Church that we are called to persevere in! How rewarding for those who are faithful to this prayer of the Church!
Praying the Liturgy of the Hours faithfully, I have found, helps me realize that my priesthood is not really mine. It is God’s. My daily labors for the kingdom are not really mine. They are God’s. My successes are not really mine. They are God’s. And my failures become overshadowed by God’s reconciliation and peace. God, in Jesus, even takes on His shoulders my failures through my prayers to Him.
Praying the Liturgy of the Hours enables me to give my priesthood back to God in a total kind of way.
The great spiritual writer, Jean-Pierre De Caussade, says that “for those who surrender themselves completely to God, all they are and do have power. Their lives are sermons. They are apostles. God gives them a special force to all they say and do, even to their silence, their tranquility, and their detachment, which quite unknown to them, profoundly influence other people.”
In prayer, through this great prayer of the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours, we gradually begin to completely surrender ourselves to God so that He can take over our lives and make them a power for good.
Let us not abandon this great gift of the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours, but pray it faithfully each day and as often as possible, together as a priestly and pastoral fraternity, in our rectories and in our diocesan gatherings, as we do tonight.
Thank you, Bishop Thompson, for introducing me to my brother priests and seminarians, pastoral administrators and curial staff through this great prayer of the Church.
Finally, I direct these words specifically to my brother priests. I ask you to thank God each day for your priesthood, for it is an amazing gift God has given to you and to the Church. Thank him every day for that priesthood. Thank him this evening before you go to bed.
Tonight, I thank him for giving that priesthood to you and to the Church in the Diocese of Charleston and to me, to help me carry out my responsibilities as Bishop so that together we can spread the Good News of Jesus Christ and remind everyone we meet that the kingdom of God is here!
Thanks to you, our seminarians, our pastoral administrators, and our curial staff, that kingdom is present in the Church of Charleston. Thanks to you, that kingdom is in the State of South Carolina. It is in the great fraternity of priests, the presbyterate of the Diocese of Charleston, as we labor closely with our pastoral administrators and curial staff.
Please, my brothers and sisters, pray for me as I assume the mantle of service to you as your new bishop, as your brother, and as your friend!