By Father Steven Henriksen
On Feb. 2, a son of the Archdiocese of Louisville, the Most Reverend J. Mark Spalding was raised to the Order of the Episcopacy as the 12th Bishop of Nashville. Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz served as the principal consecrator for this sacred and joyful installation. The archbishop was joined by two other sons of the archdiocese, Archbishop Charles Thompson of Indianapolis and Bishop William Medley of Owensboro.
Several hundred folks from the archdiocese — clergy, consecrated religious, lay faithful and so many others — celebrated this event, which took place in Nashville (yes, Music City USA!).
Along with my brother priest, Father Jeffrey Shooner, I was privileged to serve in a ceremonial role as an assistant to Bishop Spalding. To have the opportunity to be even be a small part of this celebration was a humbling and profound experience.
I suppose some may wonder why the installation of a bishop is important — all of these folks gathering together in robes, fancy hats and performing ancient rituals. What does that have to do with Catholicism and my own faith journey?
A great deal, I would say!
At its core, the church is more than simply a loose collection of faith communities, no matter how vibrant or healthy they may be. We are one Body in Christ, a people of God being led by the Spirit of the Lord who fills the whole world (Gaudium et Spes, 1965, #11).
It is from that one Body that individuals are called to shepherd local communities. Together, we are a unified church seeking to faithfully proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. We are proudly a hierarchical church and from that structure comes strength and a solid doctrinal foundation.
The installation of a bishop is a sacred sign of the church’s connection to Jesus and his original apostles. I will leave it to theologians far more learned than I to expound upon that connection. It is enough for me to know this: To be a part of a local parish means being connected with over one billion individuals across the world.
It is in and through that universal tie that we as church remain a force for hope and reconciliation in our world. In our local archdiocese, a period called the “Days of Human Dignity” has been proclaimed in which the interwoven commitments to protect life, combat racism and work for justice for immigrants is being highlighted. The center of that commitment is found in the church’s social teaching, a body of thought and action that brings us all together as one Body in Christ.
An episcopal ordination reminds us of our unity and obligation to being heralds of the Good News. Such an event is also a witness to the beautiful diversity which is our church.
Unity and diversity are not polar opposites. They are complementary notions in the great tradition of a church which recognizes “both/and” theology as well as the complexity of human affairs.
Statistics tell us that there are approximately 75,000 Catholics in the Diocese of Nashville. And yet there is considerable evidence that this number is dramatically underreported. Indeed, it has been suggested that Catholics in Nashville are likely more than double that total.
In our own archdiocese, the officially reported number is 215,000 Catholics. And yet we also know that this number is less than the actual given the same factors: residential transitions as well as the migration of our Latino sisters and brothers to towns and cities in the Archdiocese of Louisville.
All of us, whether in Derby or Music City, are a diverse lot. And, from that diversity there is strength, as evidenced in our celebration of liturgy and music; the eagerness to receive sacraments; and in our partnership with the “lowly” among us.
The ordination of a bishop is a reminder of our own call to continuous conversion and holiness. My dear brother priest and mentor, now Bishop J. Mark Spalding, would be the last to suggest that he is perfect. Nor are any of us!
The spirit of God has worked through many imperfect “vehicles” over time, including St. Peter upon whom our church was founded.
It may well be that Bishop Spalding’s example of service, joy and humility offers me and all who celebrated his installation an important reminder. Namely, that our Lord came to lift up the lowly — and to ensure our salvation!
Father Steven Henriksen is the pastor of the Church of the Ascension.