The following is the homily given by Rev. Msgr. Ronald J. Rozniak during the Mass of Thanksgiving for Archbishop Myers at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart on October 12, 2016.
Your Grace, Archbishop Myers,
Brothers and Sisters,
With Peter, we say “Lord, it is good for us to be here” to share in these milestone moments in the life of Archbishop John Joseph Myers, although I confess that if I were sending out the announcement about this celebration, I would have left out the 75th birthday, because not many of us, myself included, care to be reminded of that particular anniversary. So, may I just say archbishop, on behalf of the entire assembly, happy belated birthday. And I promise not to make any reference to it again.
But the real moments of celebration for which it is truly “good for us to be here” are the moments of your installation as our archbishop, fifteen years ago just this past Sunday and, of course the 50th anniversary of your ordination to the priesthood of Jesus Christ.
The archbishop was ordained at St. Peter’s basilica, and, with the archbishop’s permission, I would like to tell a story from that time. The new North American college seminarian arrived in Rome in the late summer of 1963, just weeks before the opening of the 2nd session of the Second Vatican Council. What new seminarian, especially from across the Atlantic and from the heartland of America, would not want to be part of this special moment in the life of the church? So he and some friends devised a clever scheme to gain admittance to the council in a category known as “invited listeners.” They collected old color-coded tickets, which allowed admittance according to the color of the day. It proved very successful until one day they apparently lost track of the correct color and were escorted out. Archbishop, I am sure there are some gathered here today who have been escorted into St. Peter’s but I doubt there is a single other person, cleric or not, who has ever been escorted out.
Let’s return to that ordination day, December 17, 1966. I cannot help but wonder what thoughts were on the mind of John Joseph Myers as he lay prostrate on the floor of St. Peter’s basilica on that day, 50 years ago. Perhaps it was the echoes of the voices of those 2,400 bishops who had only so recently filled the halls of that magnificent basilica. Perhaps it was the image of the most famous priest-son of your Diocese of Peoria, Bishop Fulton j. Sheen, of his intellect, of his holiness, of his eloquence and dynamism that captivated not only a church, but a nation. Perhaps it was of your family, your parents whose faith nurtured the environment in which your vocation would grow, and siblings that supported you along the way. Perhaps it was the words of the ordination rite itself, the call to holiness, to be a pattern of justice, constancy, mercy and fortitude, to be a leader by example, to inspire strength and to accept the yoke of the lord. But most probably, your thoughts must have been of Jesus Christ, the great high priest who called you to share in his own mission and in the cross he bore to inaugurate it. Jesus Christ, the great high priest, who, as Pope St. John Paul II reflected in the homily celebrating his own golden jubilee, “the great high priest who alone can speak to god in the ineffable language of his own sacrifice.” The priest, about to be ordained, knowing in is heart that he was called to be configured to Christ’s sacrifice in the sacrifice he was about to offer of his own life. As the wise author of today’s first reading reminds us: “My son, when you come to serve the lord, prepare yourself for trials. Be sincere of heart and steadfast, undisturbed in time of adversity. Accept whatever befalls you; in crushing misfortune be patient. Trust God and he will help you; make straight your ways and hope in him. You who fear the Lord, trust him and your reward will not be lost. Study the generations long past and understand; has anyone hoped in the Lord and been disappointed?”
Surely one of those sacrifices must have been the call to leave the familiar to move out into the unknown. As you wrote in your second pastoral in Newark, “On the word of the Holy Father, I left what had always been my Peoria home and traveled – like St. Peter – in a new direction.” When you walked into this cathedral with the bishops who had gathered for their semi-annual meeting at Seton Hall, could you have ever imagined that a decade later you would walk down this same aisle as the ordinary of this archdiocese. Yet it is here we especially remember these last fifteen years as shepherd of this Archdiocese of Newark.
May I share for a moment some personal observations of these last fifteen years? In the rite of ordination of a bishop, the ordaining prelate speaks to the one about to be ordained. He says: “As a father and a brother, love all those whom God has placed in your care. Love the priests and deacons who share with you the ministry of Christ. Love the poor and infirm, strangers and the homeless. Encourage the faithful to work with you in your apostolic task; listen willingly to what they have to say.”
In the archbishop’s time with us, he has never ceased to follow those words. His concern for a dedicated presbyterate to serve the Church of Newark has led to the ordination of almost 200 priests during his tenure as archbishop. His kindness and concern for individual priests has been without measure. His commitment to a dedicated, well-educated and well-formed permanent diaconate is evident in the reforms he brought to their preparation program.
But it is in his love for the poor and the infirm, strangers and the homeless that the archbishop has truly shone us the loving arms of Jesus himself. Having been associated with Catholic Charities for over twenty-five years, I have personally seen his love for those whom Catholic Charities serves, from the initiative on behalf of victims of human trafficking, to serving in a soup kitchen himself, to visiting the shelters and continuing to support the shelter ministry that houses 300 people a night and makes Catholic Charities the largest single provider of shelter beds in the state, to the four-fold increase in archdiocesan support for Catholic Charities, to the support of Domus Corporation, the housing sister agency of Catholic Charities, raising the number of senior housing units from under 200 to over 500. Since his arrival, Catholic Charities has always found in the archbishop a rock-solid foundation and ardent supporter.
As a member of both the presbyteral council and the archdiocesan finance council, I have witnessed the encouragement he gives to clergy and lay advisory groups to speak their minds and I have seen his willingness to seriously weigh and follow sound advice that is consistent with the faith of the church.
In that same instruction, the Rite of Ordination adds: “Never forget that in the Catholic Church, made one by the bond of Christian love, you are incorporated into the College of Bishops. You should therefore have a constant concern for all the churches and gladly come to the aid and support of churches in heed.” The archbishop has demonstrated that concern time and again for the ecclesiastical mission of the Turks and Caicos Island of which he is the superior. Concern for their spiritual welfare, in the building of a larger church on the major island to accommodate the growing Catholic community and a first-ever chapel on one of the out-islands and concern for their material welfare as well, especially after the devastation caused by Hurricane Ike in 2008 and even the call I received just last week asking about conditions after Hurricane Matthew skirted the islands.
And these have not been easy times. As Sirach reminded us: “When you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourselves for trials.” Catholic Charities was in disarray and chaos, the hospitals were floundering and between the time of the announcement of the archbishop’s appointment until the day of his installation, 9/11 destroyed the peace, contentment and the complacency of all of society. Since then there have been the scandals that have rocked the church, significant and serious health issues, and the day-to-day burdens of caring for 1.3 million souls.
Whatever the trial that arose, how did the archbishop face it and lead us through it? The answer resides in what I believe is his greatest gift to the Church of Newark. It is in the hope by which he lives his life. It is in living the reality of Peter’s words in today’s 2nd reading, “Even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you… always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” On his coat of arms, you will find an eagle’s head. In addition to being the traditional symbol of St. John the Evangelist, the official interpretation tells us that it “represents the higher vision which faith brings to life and the hope we should have in the face of difficulties.”
As early as that second pastoral letter to which I have already referred, written less than three months after 9/11, the archbishop shows us the signpost by which we are to find our way and the hallmark of his own ministry as a bishop, if not of his whole priesthood. And the title of that pastoral captures it in one line – “a reason for the hope that lies within us.” In the conclusion of the pastoral, the archbishop writes: “In this season of hope, I remain convinced with the mother of the savior that all that the Lord has promised us will be fulfilled. May this season of Advent be for all of us in the Archdiocese of Newark a time of renewal, an opportunity for reflection, and an experience of greater communion in the life of the God who has called us from darkness into his wonderful light.”
St. James tells us: “Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only.” And we might add, be doers of hope and not just preachers. Archbishop Myers has been a doer of hope, not just a preacher. We have seen the concrete evidence of that in the initiatives that he has created - New Energies, Lighting the Way, We Are Living Stones, even in the face of the skepticism of many, myself included. And yet the fruits of his hope are now taking root in our parishes. Our school in Glen Rock/Ridgewood has seen an increase in enrollment by 25 students, reversing the downward trend of several years. My parish has been able to add a pastoral associate for the sick, the elderly and the homebound and to tackle other projects because of the success of Living Stones. These results throughout the archdiocese validate the hope the archbishop challenges us to embrace with full trust and confidence. Once again, as Sirach invites: “Trust God and he will help you.”
The Gospel of Matthew ends with Jesus’ promise to us, “And behold, I am with you always until the end of the age.” It is a promise in which Archbishop John Myers walks. It is a promise by which Archbishop John Myers lives. It is the reason for the hope that sustains him. In his last pastoral, “To Whom Shall We Go,” the archbishop writes, “At some point in the Christian journey we meet the Lord anew. We move from knowing about Jesus to putting our faith in him. Faith in Jesus provides us with the trust and confidence to allow mere facts to become a lived belief, the touchstone for every aspect of our daily living.”
With this promise in hand, and the example of his own life lighting the way, the archbishop gives an on-going challenge in the closing sentence of his second pastoral: “Throughout our celebration of this Holy Season, let us look toward that day when the Church commemorates the wonder of Christ with God’s love born into our world, knowing that through our experience of this love, we in the Archdiocese of Newark can be signs of hope and lights shining in the darkness …”
In the violence we see around us, in the anger and animosity and discord of a society that has lost so much hope:
Shall we be that hope? Shall we be that light? Shall we walk the path the archbishop has pointed out for us?
That’s for you and me to answer.
The Most Reverend John J. Myers gave the following remarks at the conclusion of the Mass.
Your Eminence and other brother bishops and priests, women and men in consecrated life, seminarians and other friends in the Lord. Thank you for being here for this Mass of Thanksgiving. Thanks to Monsignor Rozniak for his reflections and words. My gratitude to Monsignor Andreano, Father Mancini, Joan Conroy, John Miller and all the ministers of this Liturgy which, as always, is superbly prepared for and executed. And to all from our staff who have made the upcoming reception and dinner possible.
My heart is filled with gratitude for all of the blessings God has granted me, from a wonderful family, the opportunity to serve in the Church in which all of us together are the Body of Christ. The opportunities to serve people in various capacities by proclaiming the Gospel and celebrating the Sacraments while loving them and learning from them and join in caring for them, especially those in need and with special situations are great gifts.
For the times I failed, I apologize. For the times we were successful, I thank the Lord.
Please know of my continued prayers and best wishes for you and your loved ones even as I seek yours in return.