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BEFORE THE CROSS | Thank you for 11 years of blessing

As I prepare for retirement, I consider the people of the Archdiocese of St. Louis as one of God’s gifts to me

Many years ago, when I left the Diocese of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and I was reflecting on all the things we had done in my 10 years there, God spoke to my heart: “Every good thing you accomplished here was not your doing — it was my gift to you.”

Now, after 11 years in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, I make those words my own: Every good thing we have done together these years has been God’s gift to us and, in a special way, you have been God’s gift to me. I thank God, and I thank you, for these gifts.

To my fellow priests: God called me to be your archbishop, and I came to you as an outsider. But you accepted me as one of your own and allowed me to be a priest among priests. That has been one of my greatest joys. Thank you.

To the laity: Your fidelity and generosity have been a tremendous grace. Yes, your financial generosity — the generosity that can be easily measured — has been extraordinary. But deeper than that has been your vocational generosity which, while not easily measured, is even more important! Priests consecrate bread and wine to feed you with the Body and Blood of Christ. Your fidelity, generosity, creativity and leadership consecrate every nook and cranny of the world to God. Your leadership is no small reason they call this the Rome of the West. Thank you.

The abundant presence of consecrated religious women and men is another reason they call this the Rome of the West. To the religious I say: You have been a lifeline to me, and a witness to so many. In perpetual adoration, in our schools and hospitals, in our parishes and retreat centers, and in so many other ways, the love of Jesus is made practical and visible through your lives of service. Thank you.

To my brothers in the diaconate: Thank you for teaching me about the service of charity and faithfulness to the Word. You brought me closer to one of the great patron saints of the archdiocese, St. Vincent de Paul.

People never cease to be amazed by the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. That’s no surprise — it is beautiful! But greater than its physical beauty is the fact that it’s an apt symbol of all of you, the living stones in the living Church. Some days, like a mosaic tile, you may feel like your life and role are small. But 41 million acts of fidelity, put together every day, show the good news of Jesus Christ to the world in spectacular fashion. For 11 years you have been, for me, a living cathedral basilica. That has never ceased to amaze me.

If you will allow it, I want to give one last piece of fatherly advice. History is one of the strengths of the archdiocese. Don’t let it be your weakness, too. You’re strongly grounded in the history and traditions of the faith, so you aren’t easily swayed by passing theological or cultural trends. That gave the archdiocese a graced stability in the post-Vatican II era. But the Holy Spirit gives creativity as well as fidelity. When it comes to schools, parishes and evangelization, this is a time when we have to be open to new things. Let history strengthen you to face new challenges with confidence, rather than bind you to old ways of doing things. Our patroness, St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, can be a model here. Because she was faithful to Jesus she was not afraid to try new missions, even to the last decade of her life. Don’t be afraid to follow her lead.

We have done tremendous things together! There are also things we weren’t able to do. It doesn’t diminish the love between us to admit that. In the end we’re forced — as ever — to commend ourselves to the mercy of God. But that’s a blessed place to be!

Speaking of what still lies ahead, I have one final request. It is never helpful to compare one archbishop with another. Trust that God, in His providence, has chosen Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski for what lies ahead. Let him be himself, and don’t compare him with anyone else. I’ve made many requests over the years, and you’ve always responded generously. I hope you’ll be equally generous with this one.

Thank you for everything. God bless you, now and forever.

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