I am in Baltimore at my first Bishop's Meeting and even though I have not been ordained yet all of the bishops have been very welcoming. I wanted to share what a great experience it has been to join them as I prepare to enter into this new role. I suppose I presumed that since I have not been ordained I would more or less take a back seat at this meeting but the opposite has really been true. Kindness is the word that I have to use to describe the way I have been welcomed by each bishop that I have encountered as we have been arriving and preparing for the official opening of the meeting tomorrow.
I know that I am still in awe of this call from God and Pope Benedict XVI and I suppose that awe continues to color my experiences. I see bishops, archbishops and cardinals in the hall and all of them are so kind and seem so genuinely happy that I am joining their college. I've reflected on that word a bit these past few days. The College of Bishops is really a good way of describing this group of men who all have the same purpose of fostering and promoting the message of Jesus Christ. It is so much more than a club or organization. These men are called to be "collegial" in doing their best to share the burdens and celebrate the joys of shepherding God's people. I have felt that collegial spirit since the moment I arrived here, literally in the shuttle van from the airport to the hotel. I met one of the bishops from a diocese in the midwest and we visited a bit and compared notes on our dioceses etc. He was kind enough to invite me to dinner when I'm sure he had several other opportunities that he could have accepted. As we visited at dinner I commented how nice it is for priests and bishops to be able to meet as total strangers and have so much in common immediately. I have already been blessed to experience the goodness of these men with whom I will be working for the rest of my life.
It is also good to see that these bishops with all their responsibilities and important positions are ultimately just men. They have all the human issues that any other group of men from their late forties to their late seventies would have but it is truly inspiring to see their goodness and dignity. Too often even in Catholic circles bishops are seen as distant authorities and maybe occasionally that perception is accurate but I have to say that does not describe my experience of them at all. I have to believe that the "grace of office" truly does bring out the best in these men. I hope you will pray with me that this grace will strengthen and bless me as well.
Let us pray for the Church and for these men who are called to be apostles today. May The Lord guide us in His Ways and strengthen us in His Spirit.