By Greg Erlandson
It was an audio malfunction that perhaps best illustrated the transition that took place in Philadelphia yesterday.
At the start of the Installation Mass in the beautiful downtown Cathedral of Ss. Peter and Paul, retiring Cardinal Justin Rigali sought to greet and welcome the hundreds of attendees. His microphone failed him, however, and in that crowded cathedral, only those closest to him were able to hear his words.
His successor, Archbishop Charles Chaput, had no such technical problem when it was his turn to speak. He delivered a clear and impassioned homily leavened by humor and typical of his self-confident style.
And so the crozier of episcopal leadership in this historic, populous, but troubled Church was handed on. A new voice was heard, and it was neither boastful nor apologetic, but direct:
This Church in Philadelphia faces very serious challenges these days. There’s no quick fix to problems that are so difficult, and none of us here today, except the Lord Himself, is a miracle worker. But the Church is not defined by her failures. And you and I are not defined by critics or by those who dislike us. What we do in the coming months and years to respond to these challenges – that will define who we really are. And in engaging that work, we need to be Catholics first. Jesus Christ is the center of our lives, and the Church is our mother and teacher. Everything we do should flow from that.
Here are the marching orders Archbishop Chaput has given himself, and given his auxiliary bishops and priests.
He also laid down a gentle but pointed challenge to the numerous bishops, archbishops and cardinals in attendance and in the sanctuary. Turning toward them, with his back to the priests and laity in the pews, he said:
It’s crucial for those of us who are bishops not simply to look like bishops but to truly be bishops. Otherwise, we’re just empty husks — the kind of men Augustine meant when he said, “You say, ‘He must be a bishop for he sits upon the cathedra.’ True – and a scarecrow might also be called a watchman in the vineyard.”
Archbishop Chaput is taking over the helm of a dispirited Church hurt by late revelations of scandals, yet worried that some innocent priests are being accused as well. It is an archdiocese where striking Catholic school teachers showed up outside the cathedral under threatening skies in a rather inept effort to garner attention. It is an archdiocese with a serious clergy morale problem, in a city whose major newspaper is relentlessly hostile to the Church.
Yet it was apparent to most everyone in that cathedral that their new archbishop did not seem to be intimidated by these challenges, and this seemed most heartening of all.
Greg Erlandson is OSV president and publisher, and was one of the invited guests at Archbishop Chaput's installation in Philadelphia.