Last Saturday, February 23, I celebrated the 10th anniversary of my appointment as your archbishop by Pope Benedict XVI.
When the papal nuncio at the time, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, called to tell me that the Holy Father had nominated me to be your pastor, I shared with him that I was very happy being the Archbishop of Milwaukee. The nuncio replied, “The Holy Father knows that.”
Then I added, “And, Eccellenza, as honored as I am, and as grateful as I am for this call, I must tell you that there are many more able candidates for New York than me, and that I really don’t think I’ve got what it takes to be the Archbishop of New York.”
To which the nuncio responded, “The Holy Father knows all that, too! He still asks you to accept this appointment.”
So, you got me. I spent that anniversary with the catechists of the archdiocese, those generous women and men who “pass on” the Catholic faith to our children, and then with our retired priests at the Edward Cardinal Egan Residence.
Those catechists and retired priests were two of the many reasons I praised Jesus on that 10th anniversary for the honor and joy of serving as your pastor.
To so many of you who have prayed with and for me, who have supported me and inspired me by your love and loyalty to Jesus and His Church, thank you!
To those I may have hurt or let down, I apologize.
To all, may I ask your patience with me for the next six years of my service.
Now, as significant as that anniversary of my appointment here was, I also just celebrated, last Tuesday on February 26, a far more profound event: the 69th anniversary of my Baptism at Immaculate Conception Church in Maplewood, Missouri.
What happened to my little soul that day, as Father John Ryan, the pastor, poured over me the saving waters of the sacrament, towers over everything else that has since happened in my life, even my ordination as a priest, consecration as a bishop, appointment here as archbishop, nomination as a cardinal, even throwing out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium.
On that day, I was cleansed from Original Sin, adopted by God our Father as His son, initiated into a new family, the Church, received the very life of the Blessed Trinity into my soul through the gift of grace, given the virtues of faith, hope, and charity, and invited to spend eternity with my adopted Father, God, in heaven.
Not bad for three weeks of age!
I’ll have the honor of serving as your archbishop, for a season, a number of years. The effects of the Sacrament of Baptism last forever!
When I die, and stand before Jesus, our judge, what He will immediately notice is not that I’m an American citizen; not how much money I might have; not my academic degrees; not that I was a deacon, priest, monsignor, bishop, archbishop, or cardinal; not that I had Yogi Berra’s funeral Mass, and once met Clint Eastwood...
...What He will notice immediately is that I was “christened,” “made like Christ” in the Sacrament of Baptism. And He will smile, because He’s known me well since February 26, 1950. He will certainly not call me “Your Eminence,” but the name I was given that day, Timothy Michael.
And, if I’m so blessed, and have kept the faith implanted within me that day, and, with His grace, lived up to the promises my Godparents, my Aunt Lois and Bob Nathe, spoke in my name that day, I’ll hear Him whisper, “Well done, Timothy Michael, good and faithful servant! Now enter into the kingdom prepared for you for all eternity!”
This coming Wednesday, as we are signed with ashes, we will commence the holy season of Lent. Through the ancient practices of prayer, penance, and charity, we will begin a forty day journey with Jesus, hoping to die with Him to sin on Good Friday, and rise with Him to new life on Easter Sunday, as we renew our baptismal vows! A classical view of Lent is that is our annual response to the invitation of Jesus to restore our soul to the radiance it had on the day of our christening.