Ad Limina – Farewell to arms (Jn 15: 9-17)

Bishop Emeritus David B. Thompson gave the following homily at the conclusion of the “ad limina” visit in the Immaculado Chapel at the Pontifical College of North American College. The Mass was concelebrated by all of the bishops of the Atlanta Province, together with their priest aides.

For the past week we bishops and our noble priest and seminarian associates have been living on the edge. We have been stretched to the limits, “ad liminina apostolorum,” to the thresholds, the permanent campuses of the Apostles Sts. Peter and Paul, and the temporary campus of Pope Benedict XVI.

Now we end our “ad limina” where we began it, here at one of the altars of the Pontifical North American College, where, for one week, our names were inscribed on napkin rings and every “pranzo” began with a tossed salad.

The Gospel we just heard bids us a fond farewell, a farewell to the arms of our Holy Father and to the two perfect semicircles of Bernini columns, which represent the maternal arms of the Mystical Body of Christ. Most of all, this is Jesus’s loving farewell to us, his giving us a holy enthusiasm as we say, “arrivederci, Roma.” It is a Gospel replete with one-liners for our parting, these so “ad rem,” so “ad limina.” With your “permesso,” I shall echo just three.

First, every bishop’s and priest’s favorite: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you.” And for what has Jesus chosen us? To be his privileged friends and partners, his intimates, his ambassadors to carry his message and to show his way. Jesus has given us unbelievable status. Our teenagers have the right word for this: “Awesome!”

Second, Jesus gives us our job description: to bear fruit, fruit that will remain. With this “ad limina,” that means “fresh fruit,” fortified with the vitamins we have taken in during our days here. In many areas our Church needs a new look, a new appearance a lá the “reformanda” and the “aggiornamento” brought about by the Second Vatican Council. The appearance of the Church is telling. The Mystical Body of Christ is old, yet ever new. It needs the attention a spiritual director gave to clerics about their appearance: “When you are young, tone it down; when you are old, tone it up.” Just think how true and holy we can make the Church appear through an effective use of the modern means of communication at our hands.

Third, the most loving of Jesus’s commands: “Remain in my love.” Not once, but twice Jesus tells us how to do this: “Love one another,” giving us the measure of that love: “As I have loved you.” We bishops and priests are a band of brothers. We must respect one another; support, protect, defend and rescue one another. We bishops are a college, and loving one another in this way is our school spirit. To remain in Christ the Priest’s love, we must remain together. It helps to remember the banana: once it gets loose from the bunch, it’s sure to be skinned!

For a whole week, visiting eleven dicasteries, we listened, tried to understand, often napped as the cardinal prefects gave us their messages and advice. Without a doubt Jesus has just given us the best message and advice, the Gospel we just heard. He wants us to be happy bishops and priests, giving us these holy thoughts “that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.”

My brother bishops and priests, this week I received two fill-ups of the Lord’s joy at this “ad limina” station: the “Joy of Arrival” and the “Joy of Survival.” My own Bishop, Bishop Robert Guglielmone, included me in this gathering of the fraternity. He didn’t have to do it. How this has pumped me up to play with new vigor the extra innings of my episcopacy and priesthood! My Bishop has the spirit of today’s Gospel. Then, on survival, this is my 38th visit to the Holy City, beginning with my first one in 1963, when my bishop then, Joseph McShea, the bishop of Allentown, had me join him at the Second Vatican Council for 17 days. Some might consider these days in 2012 are, what we used to call in theology, “De Novissimis,” about the last things, the end times. I rather translate the phrase quite literally, “the latest things,” the newest things, a loving brush with Jesus, with his Vicar, and, by the grace of God, with y’all. Amen. Alleluia!