Just a few words on yesterday’s ordination and installation of Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany. It was a spectacular Mass, even from the distant and somewhat obstructed view of the spiritual equivalent of the cheap seats. We were in the farthest reaches of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, but that didn’t dampen the joyful spirit. The folks around us were a fun and chatty bunch, and we got to know them a bit seeing as we arrived 90 minutes early with our coveted tickets in order to get even one of those cheap seats. This was the place to be in Albany yesterday afternoon, and for good reason. The beautiful two and a half hour Mass was so filled with ancient ritual and uplifting words, song, and ceremony that it was impossible even for this sometimes-jaded 30-year veteran of the Catholic press not to be moved to tears.
It happened when Cardinal Timothy Dolan was presenting Bishop Scharfenberger with the symbols of his office. He placed the miter on his head and presented him with the book of the Gospels and his episcopal ring. Finally, he handed him his crosier, the pastoral staff he will carry with him at liturgical services, and as the cardinal reminded the new bishop of his main role as shepherd, I got all teary-eyed. I love that shepherd image — complete with shepherd’s crook — and, of course, it reminds me of Pope Francis and his challenge to priests and bishops to “smell like their sheep.”
From everything I seen of and heard from Bishop Scharfenberger so far, he seems like exactly that kind of shepherd — warm and welcoming, open and joyful. (You can see him in the photo on the right stopping during the recessional procession to talk to an older woman who reached up and patted his cheek.) We are so blessed in the Albany Diocese to have this man sent to lead us after the record-breaking tenure and compassionate leadership of Bishop Howard Hubbard, who looked equally joyful as we met him on the way to the reception after Mass.
Here are some highlights from Bishop Scharfenberger’s address at the end of his ordination Mass:
“That’s one of the things they do in heaven, they celebrate! And I think the joy that we feel in our hearts today as Cardinal (Timothy) Dolan said so well is it’s not about me, it’s not about a bishop, it’s not about any one of us, it’s about our Lord, Jesus Christ. Who gives us peace and happiness and joy and mercy and forgiveness and causes each and every one of us to bring that to the world.
“Each and every one of us has the power to change that world just by simply being true to who we are and as I said when I first came to the diocese, all I ask of you is that you bring the best out of me and I will bring the best out of you.
“…I am so grateful to all of the young people here, who show by your faith and your presence that the church is young and that we have a future. And that the future is in strong hands.
“Never be afraid of God’s call. Never be afraid of being holy. Jesus is the one who will lead you. Carry that message wherever you go. I am so thankful for the people in my life in Brooklyn. You know one of the wonderful things that has been written about me has really been about my neighborhood, of Ridgewood in Brooklyn where I grew up. But my parents were the first ones to say yes, just to having me, and I have to tell you that if you want to know how a vocation gets nourished, how a vocation gets started, it starts right there at home. My earliest memories of my family in Ridgewood, we went to church every Sunday, regardless of what the neighbors did, we just went. That was my recollection of what it meant to be Catholic, to go to church every Sunday, to say the rosary, maybe not every day, but almost every day, we were taught our prayers.
“My family always supported me throughout my life and when I said I was thinking about becoming a priest instead of becoming an airline pilot, didn’t say I should have gone the other way, but supported me all the way. You know, I think being a pilot and being a priest is about lifting people up, right? So it’s kind of connected, you know? But that’s what all of us are here for, to lift one another up in the Lord, to let the Lord be a part of our life and to let his joy just come out of us.”