And So It All Begins - Again

June 1, 2004
Some may recall that on February 28, 1978, the day I was ordained the sixth Bishop of Paterson, I used the words St. Thomas More was quoted as speaking in Robert Bolt's A Man For All Seasons: "And so it all begins."  Actually, Thomas More was said to have spoken those words, as he was about to take the final steps in his legal battle with Henry VIII and undergo his own inevitable martyrdom.

It was in no such context that I used the great saint's poignant words twenty-six years ago.  I wanted to express my openness to God's will, to be sure, but I did so in the context of hope for the Church of Paterson, of joy in beginning a new chapter in the ongoing story of this fascinating three-county diocese, and of my desire to make whatever contribution I could as Jesus' and the people's "unworthy servant."  That is what I have confessed myself to be in every Mass I've offered within the diocese as principal celebrant since that day.  And I've said those words out of conviction and not just because the words are included in the Sacramentary's Eucharistic Prayers.
I recall thinking that it was important to begin with an optimism based on the conviction that the Lord is in charge, that the Holy Spirit dwells within a very human Church and within each of its very human members, and that when we work together with Christ, he will bless our efforts and often work wonders even when those efforts are not all they should be.

I also recall saying or at least thinking that there was no point back then in predicting precisely what those efforts would produce.  It became obvious soon enough, however, that goal setting along with long range and short range planning were needed, and I must say that many priests and people in our parishes and our diocesan offices are especially gifted in this area.

Some people are more visionary - they dream of things and say let's go for it.  Others are more practical - they weigh the options and figure out the ways to get things done.  Some are dauntless; others are cautious.  I have been blessed with the input of priests and people who have many varied gifts and ideas, and if I didn't come across as appreciating them all - even if there was no way I could fulfill them all - the fault is mine, not theirs. 
Now that my time as Bishop of Paterson has come to an end, I can joyfully and hopefully repeat what I said at the start: "And so it all begins!"  This time, however, I say it with my successor foremost in mind: Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli, the seventh Bishop of Paterson.  I am most grateful to Almighty God for inspiring our Holy Father Pope John Paul II and everyone who had anything to do with bringing Bishop Arthur's name to the Holy Father's attention.  No matter who they were, it was the Successor of Saint Peter who gave the nod and at the same time gave the Church of Paterson an outstanding shepherd.

It's pro forma, I suppose, to speak positively about one's successor, but I mean it when I say that "our Bishop Arthur" as I along with all the priests in the diocese will refer to him within Mass once he is officially installed, is a good priest, a brilliant scholar, a humble down-to-earth bishop who will be right at home in Paterson in no time.  In fact, he has been "right at home" here for some time.  He has assisted in one of our parishes for many years.  Imagine that!, a bishop from outside the diocese, though, of course, from a diocese right next door, who has helped out in one of our Passaic parishes.  Such things don't happen very often.

Bishop Serratelli has had an influence on the lives and spirituality of more people in the Diocese of Paterson than even he knows through the priests of our diocese whom he has directed and has taught in his Scripture and Theology courses in the seminary.  Now he is to be the teacher in Jesus' name of all the Church of Paterson's members.
Archbishop Montalvo in confirming the Holy Father's acceptance of my "resignation from the pastoral care of the Diocese of Paterson" and the appointment of Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli to the same See, assured me of his "prayers for many years of good health for continued service in the Church."  I hope for that, too, and I'm open to what the Lord has in mind for me.  It will be different.  For one thing, I've been going to the office for 50 years, but I've also had a multitude of opportunities to make pastoral visits and to celebrate many Liturgies and special events in our Cathedral and all the other parishes, in schools and religious houses, and in such places as chapels, camps and cemeteries, hospitals and homes, sacred shrines and blocked off streets.

Will I miss all this?  Not, I think, if I have "good health for continued service in the Church," in whatever way the Lord plans.  Most retired people I know say the one thing they don't miss is the pressure such as I feel every week when I know my article for the Beacon is about due.
Perhaps I've said more about myself than I should have.  What I want more than anything else is for Bishop Serratelli to feel welcome, and to know that I am happy not only for him as he takes over as the Pastor of a wonderful Diocese, but also for the faithful members of the diocese including people with all kinds of backgrounds and gifts - religious men and women, priests, deacons and seminarians.

We have been given a good bishop who knows and loves Jesus and his Gospel message.  He also knows and loves the call he has received to proclaim it. 

And so it all begins - again!



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