“Christ — he must be our first word. But he is the Word. Christ calls us, Christ empowers us and Christ sends us.”
That is how Bishop Stephen Lowe started his homily at the Mass, celebrated at St Patrick’s Cathedral on February 19, during which he was installed as the twelfth Bishop of Auckland.
Bishop Lowe finished his homily similarly, saying “And I end where we began, with Christ. He must not only be our first word, he must be our last word, as the diocese of Auckland. For Christ calls us all. Christ empowers us all, and Christ sends us out to be the one body of Christ”.
In between, Bishop Lowe preached on several topics, including the fact that the office of bishop is filled by men with human limitations, the call to go out beyond our comfort zones, the diversity of Auckland diocese, the abuse scandal, and divisions in the Church.
“I will tell you a little secret about bishops,” Bishop Lowe told the congregation, which was limited in size under the red Covid-19 protection framework setting.
“We have limitations. We have our blindnesses, shortcomings and our sins,” Bishop Lowe said. “We are often overwhelmed before the office that the Lord calls us to, and by the challenges that we have to face every day, and by the decisions that we have to make. We are not perfect, and not everything that we say or do is going to suit everyone.”
But he added that the office of bishop must be grounded in humility.
“[A]nd . . . our exercising of our office of bishop is going to be shaped by our relationship with our God, with you, the holy people of God.”
Bishop Lowe reflected upon the fact that bishops, with all their imperfections, carry out their office today in an age of perfectionism.
But Christ is the one who works with imperfections.
“I have discovered this in my life. I have discovered how the Lord is patient with me, how he shapes me and changes me, as he calls me beyond myself to be more the person he calls me to be. I am a work in progress. I am on the journey, as we
all are,“ Bishop Lowe said.
“I hope the Lord will grace you to be patient with me, and give you the right words to challenge and critique me so that I don’t become enclosed in
myself, but rather I become the person God calls me to be.”
Bishop Lowe pointed to the post-Resurrection encounter between Christ and Peter, which was described in the Gospel reading at the Mass. Peter had denied Jesus three times, but Jesus did not point fingers and make accusations. Rather, he
called Peter and challenged him — Do you love me? Feed my sheep.
In biblical times, Bishop Lowe said, the shepherd looked after his sheep in difficult places, not the lush pastures that we have in New Zealand.
“And that is what Pope Francis reminds us is the place of the Church, the place of the peripheries. We are called out of the comfort of our bishops’ palaces, of our presbyteries, our comfortable parishes, and our everyday, normal way of doing things, and we are called to go out to uncomfortable places.”
Bishop Lowe noted how diverse the post-Pentecost church was in the reading from Acts.
“Isn’t that a reflection of this diocese of Auckland? We are called to be, together, the Spirit-filled diocese of Auckland, where each of us, the whole people of God, are actively speaking about the marvels of God, the way his Spirit is working in us.”
The Spirit animates the Body of Christ, which is called to unity. But this is a body that, at times, is wounded and hurting, Bishop Lowe said.
“St Paul writes that, if one part is hurt, all parts are hurt with it.
“And I want to acknowledge, with deep shame, those who have suffered abuse from members of the Church, particularly from clergy or religious. For those people who experienced that, and live with the ongoing trauma of that abuse. Abuse in any form is not of God. It has no place in the Church, it has no place in our world. If there is to be any hope of healing, the Church must confront its past
with guilt and shame, and be committed to work with survivors to facilitate justice, healing and, please God, peace.
“We must be committed to creating a safe church. And we must be commit hearing into Marylands School (and related institutions in Christchurch) at the Royal Commission into Abuse in Care. There were multiple accounts of terrible
abuse committed against vulnerable children at these institutions.
In his homily, Bishop Lowe also reflected on divisions in the Church and in the world.
“But Christ prays that we be one, and that must always be our work. But in this moment of time, this providential moment of time, of challenge and difficulties, the Holy Father, Pope Francis, invites us to become a synodal Church, a church that listens to each other, and that reflects together, as the whole people of God. A Church that, as it listens and reflects, with each other, senses the guidance of the
Holy Spirit, who takes us to new places and to new solutions, as we face the challenges of our time.
“As your new bishop, I ask you to be a synodal church.”
“I need and want to listen to you, so that you may assist me, in being the shepherd of the diocese, that I am called to be.”
Bishop Lowe also paid tribute to his predecessor as Bishop of Auckland, Bishop Patrick Dunn.
“You have been a tireless worker of the Lord who called you to priesthood and who called you to be the Bishop of Auckland. And he now calls you to new possibilities as a bishop,” Bishop Lowe said.
“The diocese of Auckland has seen how the Lord empowered you. May the seeds that you have sown in your 27 years as Bishop of Auckland, and the new seeds you will undoubtedly sow, bear a rich harvest for the coming of the Kingdom.”
Earlier, the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Novatus Rugambwa, read out the letter of appointment from Pope Francis. This was also read in Te Reo Māori by Deacon Ben Pomare from Hamilton diocese, and was shown to the congregation and clergy. Archbishop Rugambwa also read out a message of the Holy See from Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation
of Peoples. Cardinal Tagle warmly praised Bishop Dunn.
“ . . . [M]any thanks from the Holy See for your strenuous episcopal ministry to the people of God in this diocese of Auckland for 27 years. You have
proved to be a tireless and vigorous shepherd of this portion of the people of God. Your solicitude for the Church and your zeal for the salvation of souls have not been confined in the territory of this diocese. They have rather extended their effects to the rest of Aotearoa and in the whole region of Oceania, particularly in the numerous dioceses in the Pacific Islands.”
The Holy See thanked all people of Auckland diocese for having collaborated with Bishop Dunn in exercising his duties.
“The Holy See and the Church in this region will continually ask, not only for your prayers, but also for your advice in many issues.”
At one point during the installation ceremony, the congregation and clergy gave Bishop Dunn a standing ovation. Bishop Dunn had given his pectoral cross to Bishop Lowe and also guided him to his new cathedra. Both the cross and the cathedra came from the first Bishop of Auckland, Bishop Jean-Baptiste Pompallier.
Thanks were also given by several speakers, including Bishop Lowe, to the people of the diocese of Hamilton, for the way they had worked with their bishop and for their generosity in letting him go north.
At the end of the Mass, Bishop Lowe thanked Archbishop Rugambwa for his presence, saying that, when the nuncio is here, Pope Francis is here.
Bishop Lowe also said to Archbishop Rugambwa, “Can I please ask you to work hard to find a great bishop for Hamilton. I think Palmerston North and
Christchurch are looking for one too.”
Among the concelebrants at the Mass, which was livestreamed for those unable to be present, were also Cardinal John Dew, Archbishop Paul Martin, SM, Bishop Michael Gielen, and Bishop Denis Browne.
Bishop Lowe also acknowledged the presence of Rev. Anne Mills, Dean of Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral in Auckland, and the Anglican Bishop of Auckland, Bishop Ross Bay.
“I am looking forward to coming to your cathedral, and I am looking forward to you coming back to our cathedral, as we continue to work together on the journey of unity,” Bishop Lowe said.
The installation included a Māori welcome by Manuel Beazley, Auckland diocese vicar for Māori, and the response was given by Deacon Pomare from Hamilton.