The Diocese of Lincoln celebrated the 10th anniversary of Bishop Conley’s episcopal ordination May 30 at Mass in the Cathedral of the Risen Christ in Lincoln. Concelebrating the Mass were (from left) Bishop Robert Finn, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, Archbishop Elden Curtiss, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, Bishop James Wall of Gallup, N.M., who delivered the homily (below), Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha and Bishop Joseph Hanefeldt of Grand Island. Also see the the album of photos from this event.
The text of Bishop Wall's homily:
I first met Bishop Conley 15 years ago, while I was a pastor in the Diocese of Phoenix and he was serving in the Congregation for Bishops. Periodically he would come to Phoenix, and I was blessed to meet him on one of visits. I am grateful that we became friends over time.
It wasn’t until celebrating a wedding Mass together when I first came to understand the man who sits before us today. It was at a wedding of University of Dallas alumnus, to whom he had ministered during his time in Rome. Following the Mass we attended the reception. I saw Bishop Conley in the middle of a crowd with people all around him. To me it looked like he needed help to escape. But this was not the case at all, for this was the Shepherd with his sheep. I came to learn he usually the last to leave a party because he has a Christ-like gift for engaging people.
In 2012, Bishop Conley, Archbishop Coakley, two priest friends and I walked the last 100 miles of the Camino de Santiago “The Pilgrimage of St. James”, which begins in France and ends at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compestela in northwestern Spain, recently made popular through the movie “The Way”. (Editor's note: Catholic News Agency covered this trip) The walk spans 100 miles over 7 days. It was a “magical pilgrimage” even to the point of Bishop Conley referring it to as "the Shire."
Like good hobbits, we made sure we stopped for first and second breakfast, and even sometimes, if it were a solemnity, we would have third breakfast! It was a time, spent walking with brothers, one that I will never forget. As we approached Compostela where Saint James the Greater is buried in the Cathedral Church, Archbishop Coakley asked Bishop Conley and me who would like to be the celebrant for the Mass in the Cathedral and who would like to offer the Mass at the tomb of Saint James the Greater. Immediately, Bishop Conley told me to take the Mass at the tomb, as he had chosen Saint James the Lesser when he became Catholic.
This gave me another insight as to what is important to my friend, and that is humility. Humility is foundational to our good Bishop’s life. This is what makes him so approachable, it makes him a great listener and it allows him to selflessly serve the people entrusted to him by the Lord. It makes him the selfless shepherd, who loves the flock entrusted to his care. Such a Christ-like.
Saint Bernard of Clarveaux, when asked about the three most important virtues in spiritual growth he simply replied “humility, humility, humility”. Speaking of this virtue, C.S. Lewis said “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thing of yourself, less”. It is the virtue that allows one to have a healthy understanding in relationship to God and one’s neighbor.
Your Bishop, our brother and friend, models this virtue to his people in a most beautiful way. He encourages his people to encounter the Living Christ and His Church, and as any good spiritual Father would do, he is concerned about all his children, that they experience the ultimate good, which is union with our loving God for all eternity.
I would say if I were to ask to sum up Bishop Conley’s 10 years as a Successor of the Apostles, I would use Saint John Bosco’s unofficial motto “Give me souls; take away the rest”. This is precisely the invitation our Lord gives to each one of us in the Gospel- “Come to me, all you who are labored and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Mt 11:28)
It is the fallen nature, this propensity to sin, that is our downfall. But Our Lord in His eternal love and mercy, comes to us, invites us, and saves us. Each one of us. As Saint John Bosco understood so well, especially in the youth he served, the bottom line is the “salvation of souls”.
To those Our Lord calls to the clerical life, especially as a successor of the Apostles, he charges with this duty of the “Cura Animarum”, the care of souls: to feed them, watch over them. And just like any good shepherd, to protect them from the attack of the enemy, to have a heart after the Heart of the Good Shepherd. This is the heart of Bishop James Douglas Conley. To shepherd the faithful by protecting and tending to their needs, by strengthening and lifting up the weak, by encouraging those who are discouraged, by feeding the flock with the Bread of Life, and leading by the example of holiness to move the people to the pursuit of holiness. People of the Diocese of Lincoln, this is your shepherd. Please pray for him and follow him, as he only desires the good for you, which is eternal life made possible by Our Lord’s Paschal Mystery.
I could not preach a homily on this anniversary of Bishop Conley’s episcopal ordination and not quote his hero, Blessed John Henry Newman. Bishop Conley’s episcopal motto is the same as that of the Blessed Cardinal, “Cor ad Cor Loquitur" ("Heart speaks to heart"). I remember when I first read his motto, I immediately experienced what one might call “motto envy”. It’s a brilliant motto, and one that goes to the heart of Bishop Conley’s ministry as a bishop. This is such a beautiful motto, one which expresses the heart a Shepherd of the Church is to have. The motto Blessed John Henry Newman chose to express his episcopacy, and his union with Christ, fits perfectly with the man we honor today.
Blessed Cardinal Newman took it from Saint Frances de Sales, who believed it to be the chief exercise in mystical theology, to speak to God and hear God speak in the bottom of the heart as when “Eyes speak to eyes, and heart to heart, and none understand what passes save the sacred lovers who speak”. One who speaks heart to heart, speaks with the Heart of our Lord. So that one might mirror in his life, the love of Christ, the Good Shepherd. This deep and intimate encounter with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is an expression of the totality of our Lord’s love, expands the heart of the one in union with Jesus, so that he might love on a much deeper level, love Jesus and love the people the Lord has entrusted, in this case, to Bishop Conley’s care. This union with Christ serves to increase the love of the beloved, the shepherd, so that he might love the flock with the love of the Good Shepherd.
Bishop Conley, you do this very well, and you are an inspiration to us all. May the Good Shepherd bless you for your fidelity, may He continue to speak to your heart, and may your witness of your faith continue to inspire the flock Jesus has commended to your care.
“Come to me all you who are labored and burdened.” The Lord makes this invitation to not a few, but to everyone he has created. He wants us to remain “childlike” so that we rely upon him in all matters. St. Therese of Lisieux, taught us this in a beautiful way as she said, “We are like small children at the bottom of a staircase, and although we could ascend the steps, our loving Father, who’s love for us is unfathomable, sees our ‘littleness’ and comes down to us, to whisk us off of our feet, take us into his loving arms and carry us to the top of the stairs”. This is image of total reliance upon God to which we are called.
We labor under the burden of sin. God, in His infinite love for us, gave us His Son, the Son, who selflessly poured out his live on the Cross, lifting the burden of sin. He sets us free from the bondage of sin, and offers to each of us the gift of eternal life. He has a heart for sinners. This is the type of heart we are called to have as well, but especially those who have been called to the serve as Successors of the Apostles.
At the heart of the Episcopal vocation is to have the Heart of Jesus the Good Shepherd. The one who goes in search of the lost sheep, the one who sweeps the house in search of the soul that is lost, and the one who throws His arms around the repentant sinner who has wasted his life by not living or remembering who he or she is: an adopted son and daughter of God, beloved of the Father, who is to remain deeply rooted in the Father’s house.
Friends in Christ, let us never forget that we are beloved of the Father, whose Son invites each to come Him so that he might lift our burden. As we approach our Eucharistic Lord, may do so with humility and confidence, and speak from the recesses of our hearts. “Cor ad Cor Loquitur”, “Heart speaks to heart.” Amen.