Say ‘yes’ to God as Mary did, bishop says at vespers

CHARLESTON — Bishop-designate Robert E. Guglielmone stepped up to the lectern at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist on March 24 and gestured at the crowded pews, the rows of his fellow priests and the visiting bishop seated near him.

“Do you believe this?” he asked with a smile. The congregation responded with spontaneous applause.

The First Solemn Vespers for the Annunciation, held at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist March 24, were offered in advance of Bishop Guglielmone’s ordination and installation on March 25. Bishop Robert J. Baker of the Diocese of Birmingham, Ala., was the celebrant. He served as bishop of the Diocese of Charleston from 1999-2007.

The Feast of the Annunciation on March 25 celebrates the Angel Gabriel’s revelation to Mary that she would bear the Son of God.

Priests from the Diocese of Charles ton attended, plus members of the new bishop’s family and many friends from New York and elsewhere who came to Charleston for the occasion. The service was open to the public.

The Cathedral choir, led by Mark Thomas, provided music, with a prelude of sung prayers that included “Ubi Caritas” and “Salve Mater Misericordiae.” Hymns included the moving “Hail Queen of Heaven, The Ocean Star” and “Salve Regina.”

Bishop Guglielmone’s homily focused on the message of the Annunciation. He mentioned the evening’s reading from 1 John 1:1-2, which focused on the reality of Jesus fulfilling God’s promise by coming into the world and revealing the truth of the Gospel. He said the reading described the fulfillment of the promise first presented at the Annunciation.

“As I reflected on the reading, I was terribly distracted. I couldn’t seem to focus on the reading,” he said. “All I could think about was Mary’s response. Mary opens her heart to God and is invited to participate in the greatest event the world has ever seen. She trusts and allows the Spirit to lead her on despite all the questions she might have.”

He said Mary’s commitment to obey God makes it more imperative for Catholics to carry on her work by spreading the Gospel message in their daily lives.

“We’re called to be proclaimers … it’s the universal call to evangelization,” he said. “Every single one of us is given that call. We are to hand on the wonderful gift of faith, to pass it on to another generation … a generation that needs it desperately, especially in the times in which we live.”

Bishop Guglielmone said saying “yes” to God is often one of the toughest decisions a person can make, and that responding to God’s call means a serious commitment to marriage and family, a religious vocation or another calling.

“Saying ‘yes’ takes sacrifice, it takes courage and it means commitment in an age when commitment, to many people, seems impossible,” he said.

Bishop Guglielmone reflected on the sacrifices made by parents, husbands and wives, and used his recent call to Charleston after a life spent in New York as an example of the sudden changes God can ask followers to make.

“Religious men and women, deacons and priests are asked to respond by committing our lives to the church, and to participate in the building up of the kingdom of God wherever we happen to be,” he said.

“Like Mary, who of us could realize what our commitment would entail?” he continued. “It seems at times the church makes strange requests … how could this be? Me? A bishop in Charleston, South Carolina? The appropriate response God wants to hear from all of us are Mary’s words: ‘Let it be done to me according to your will.’ ”

Bishop Guglielmone then made the profession of faith and took the oath of fidelity to the church and its teachings.

During the service, Bishop Baker blessed the pontificial insignia that represent aspects of the new bishop’s office: the ring, which symbolizes his fidelity to the Catholic Church; the miter, which stands for his resolve to pursue the crown of holiness; and the crosier, symbolizing the shepherd’s staff and the bishop’s duty to guide and govern the flock entrusted to him.

Bishop Baker welcomed Bishop Guglielmone to the diocese, and prayed that he would guide his new parishioners in their efforts to live out the Gospel.

“Thank you for accepting the call,” Bishop Baker said. “You have a wonderful, faithful group of people here to work with you through the years.”

After the service, Bishop Guglielmone stood on the Cathedral steps and greeted a long stream of well-wishers and posed for pictures with many of them.

Three priests from the Diocese of Rockville Centre in New York, where Bishop Guglielmone served for 30 years, attended the vespers. They all said the service was a moving reminder of the work their friend and colleague did in New York.

“The Diocese of Charleston is going to realize that in him, they have a bishop who will love them, pray for them and be among them,” said Msgr. Emmet Fagan, mentor in residence at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington.