Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Five years ago, in June 2015, the United States bishops held their spring meeting in St. Louis. We gathered for Mass in the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. It was my first time visiting here and I was awestruck at the beauty of the basilica, mesmerized by the inspiring mosaics and the history of their installation over the span of eighty years. Little did I know then that in the not too distant future, St. Louis would become home.
Firstly, I express my thanks to Archbishop Robert Carlson for his welcome to me, his counsel and his graciousness in making this transition go so smoothly. He is respected nationwide for his commitment to youth and young adult ministry, fostering vocations to the priesthood and religious life and his love for Sacred Scripture, the Word of God. For eleven years, God has blessed the Church in St. Louis with his leadership. Bishops Mark Rivituso and Robert Hermann have been so willing to help me navigate these first weeks of ministry here.
Even before I visited for the meeting, I knew that the nickname of St. Louis was “Rome of the West.” In my short time here already, I have discovered that it is a well-deserved title with the number of men and women’s religious communities, beautiful churches and a deeply rooted Catholic culture. On the Saturday after the installation, I had the privilege of ordaining 22 permanent deacons, the largest class of deacons I had ever ordained. It has been a joy to be able to meet our dedicated priests of the archdiocese, who have shared with me their joy in ministering to the people of their parishes. Hearing them share their stories of faith has been particularly edifying.
Arriving at this time in the history of our nation has also brought its challenges. One of the greatest frustrations has been the restrictions we have experienced due to the COVID-19 virus. I regret that it is almost impossible to greet anyone personally after Mass with the social distancing restrictions and other precautions that are put into place for the safety of all of us. As we seek to defeat this pandemic, along with you, I pray for that day when we can gather as we were normally accustomed. In the meantime, out of concern for each other, let us be faithful to the safeguards that will prevent the virus’ further spread.
In my homily at the installation Mass, I spoke of the other concerning challenges that we face with hope as followers of the Lord Jesus. The continuing effects of systemic racism that divide us in such a devastating way, the need for a respectful civil discourse especially in this time of elections, and the loneliness that is rooted in secularism and radical individualism present great challenges to preaching and living the Gospel in today’s world. The Good News is that Jesus has shown us the way to surmounting these roadblocks to living joy-filled and peaceful lives by His teaching and example. As a Catholic community, committed to living out the message of our Savior, let us cling to the grace Jesus gives us to us as we seek to be His presence in the archdiocese of St. Louis.