Your Excellency, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Cardinal Justin Rigali, brother Bishops of the Ecclesiastical Province of Newark and beyond, Beloved priests, Deacons, Religious and faithful of this great Archdiocese, Dear Friends,
Before I ask God’s blessing and we conclude this lovely celebration, I would like to offer a few words on the meaning of the vestment I received today from the hands of the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States. Pope John XXIII once called cardinals and bishops the “appendiabiti” or “coat hangers” of the Church, pegs of all shapes and sizes on which the Church drapes her tradition. It is always nice to be useful.
I confess that, among all the “stuff” episcopal ministry requires that I wear, the item I appreciate most is what I received today. The pallium appeared in our Church as early as the fourth century. Originally worn by the bishop of Rome, its use eventually extended to metropolitan archbishops. It represents the close union between an archbishop and the Holy Father. Made of pure lamb’s wool and draped over the shoulders, the symbolism of the pallium is even more concrete: the lamb's wool is meant to represent the lost, sick or weak sheep, which the shepherd places on his shoulders and carries to the waters of life.
Therefore, the bishop should look for the lost and make every effort to bring them home. When he blessed this pallium last June 29th, Pope Francis told the archbishops present with him in St. Peter’s Square what that mission should cost. He asked the archbishops whether we were in fact “armchair” Christians, who love to chat about how things are going in the Church and the world, or apostles on the go, who confess Jesus with their lives because they hold him in their hearts. Pope Francis explained the difference. Those who confess Jesus know that they are not simply to offer opinions but to offer their very lives. After all, good and bad shepherds look the same on a pleasant day like today. It is only when the wolf nears, or the journey passes through the valley of darkness, that one can identify the good shepherd. He is the one who does not run away. He is ready to lay down his life for those entrusted to him.
Early last spring, the Bishops of Camden, Trenton, Patterson, Metuchen and I fixed this date, the Feast of the Holy Cross, for the imposition of the pallium. Several months later, on the day he blessed this pallium, Pope Francis unconsciously affirmed the appropriateness of that choice. He said, “Apart from the cross, there is no Christ, but apart from the cross, there can be no Christian either.” What is more, accepting the pallium and the mission it represents means, “accepting the cross, pressing on in the confident knowledge that we are not alone: the crucified and risen Lord is at our side. So, with Paul, we can say that 'we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken'” (2 Cor 4:8-9).
Brothers and sisters of the five diocesan Churches that form the Province of New Jersey, in accepting this pallium I intend to spend my life for the flock, imitating the Good Shepherd who bears all of us on his shoulders. I am aware that Peter once promised something similar to Jesus, and then ran away, so I ask that you pray for me. I am grateful for all the signs of God’s Providence present here today: my brother bishops, the presbyterate of the Archdiocese of Newark, consecrated women and men, especially my Redemptorist confreres, the dedicated colleagues of the chancery, lay leaders, and beloved friends.
From my heart, I thank my mother, siblings, nieces, nephews and all the members of our noisy yet charming clan: your presence is a vivid reminder to me of the incredible generosity of your love. Because of the hope we have in Jesus, I believe that my Dad, grandparents, aunts and uncles, departed teachers and friends are united with us in the communion of saints. To all of you, I repeat the grateful words of St. Paul, “I give thanks to my God at every remembrance of you, praying always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, because of your partnership for the gospel from the first day until now" (Phil. 1, 3-5).
May the Good Shepherd, who longs to see his flock gathered together, continue to lead us in peace and joy. May the Mother of God, given as a mother ready at every moment to help us, guide us to a deeper love for her Son, the Redeemer of the world!