On Friday, February 2, I have the privilege of ordaining one of our own from the archdiocese, J. Mark Spalding, as the 12th Bishop of Nashville. It will be a glorious day! Earlier this month, on January 11, we gathered at the Cathedral for a Mass of farewell, a bittersweet occasion to thank God for the gift of Father Spalding and to bid him farewell.
Bishop-elect Spalding preached with a strong voice and message on that occasion. His theme was “the call.” He spoke of Christ’s urging that began when he was 17 years old, a call that grew over time and became clearer and clearer – but began with listening, a courageous “yes” and faithful adventure. Adding a touch of humor to the Mass, a cell phone chimed just as he was about to preach on “the call.” (He made good use of this blessed coincidence!)
For his episcopal motto, he chose “God has lifted up the lowly,” which comes from the beautiful Magnificat, recited during evening prayer in the liturgy of the hours each day. These are the words of our blessed mother Mary when she, in the presence of her cousin Elizabeth, humbly gave glory to God. (Bishop Medley also chose his episcopal motto from the same prayer: “Holy is God’s name.”)
It was fitting that the November 21 press conference announcing Bishop-elect Spalding’s appointment as Bishop of Nashville occurred on the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Mother. On this feast, the Church recalls the time when the parents of Mary, Anna and Joachim, took her to the temple to dedicate her to service of God. The conviction of her Magnificat and of Bishop Spalding’s motto is that it is God’s grace that touched the lowly through the instrument of another human being. Asking the intercession of our Blessed Mother, he asked our prayers that God might touch the lowly through him as He did through Mary, our Mother.
This conviction is worth pausing to consider. Though God has blessed Bishop Spalding with many natural talents and with a wealth of pastoral experiences, God’s grace will win the day. All the gifts and experiences that he brings as bishop will be put to the service of our God, who continues to “lift up the lowly.” (To learn more about the new bishop of Nashville, see my interview with him on archlou.org/conversations —
the second segment of Conversations with Archbishop Kurtz.)
Significantly, I ordain Bishop Spalding in Nashville on the feast of another Presentation — the presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple in Jerusalem. We pray that he will present his experiences and gifts to God that day so that God’s grace will flow through his pastoral service for many years to come.
January is an especially timely occasion to speak of the lowly, since the archdiocesan “Days of Human Dignity” deal with those considered lowly. These “days of human dignity” highlight the voiceless and vulnerable whom Christ calls us to protect, defend and cherish.
On January 6, we held a prayer service for refugees and immigrants, and on that occasion, I spoke of these persons on the move, whose dignity will never be seen until we look into the face of one who must travel for safety. Recalling the first Christmas, we contrast the dignity shown the Christ Child by the Magi who travel afar to look into the face of their savior to the disdain demonstrated by King Herod. King Herod slaughtered the innocent babies, known as the Holy Innocents, out of the jealous fear that one of them might be that Savior who would compete with his earthly power. The ones killed had no face, no dignity and so were discarded.
The Days of Human Dignity during January and February also include a focus on racism, abortion, and international relief efforts. On January 15, we recall the life and legacy of Dr. M L King, Jr. Dr. King yearned for that day in which people would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character — by the dignity that is theirs. Then last week in Washington, D.C. and at home on Friday, January 19, we marched for life, recalling the faces of the voiceless and vulnerable innocent children in the womb whose faces can now be seen through sonograms and who deserve that we stand for them. In February through our annual Rice Bowl luncheon, we will stand with millions in undeveloped countries throughout the globe, served by Catholic Relief Services.
Learn more about these Days of Human Dignity by going to archlou.org/days-of-human-dignity. There are many resources to educate and inform you about these and many other important issues of human dignity.