My brother bishops, dear brothers and sisters in Christ,1
This beautiful passage from St. Paul tells us the reason for the hope we have in Jesus Christ.
We trust in God because we know that our Father has a plan of love for history and a purpose for every one of our lives.
God’s plan for history is for Jesus Christ to be the firstborn of many brothers and sisters. God’s plan is to grow his family and his Kingdom — his Catholic Church.
So every human life has a purpose in God’s plan of love. St. Paul tells us this evening: We are destined and called to be conformed to the image of his Son. Our purpose is to be children of God, living in the family of God, his Church.
God our Father is still sending his Church out into the fields of this world to gather a people to himself. He is still calling his Church to make us all brothers and sisters in Jesus — one family of God drawn from every nation, people and tongue.
The Church’s mission — yesterday and today and forever — is evangelization. There is no other reason for the Church. And in a special way, this mission is entrusted to the Church’s bishops, who are the successors of Christ’s first apostles.
So this evening we are here to pray for our brother, Bishop Kevin Vann, as he prepares for his mission as the new Bishop of Orange.
And we know that these words that we have just heard from St. Paul have a deeper meaning for those of us who are bishops. Because in God’s plan of love, the bishop has a unique destiny and calling.
We know, as St. Paul tells us, that we are called to be sons of God. We know that before we are anything else, we are children and he is our Father. We need to nourish this filial identity. This is essential to our spiritual lives.
But by our priesthood and by our episcopal ordination we are called according to a higher purpose. We are called to a more intimate relationship — a more intimate conformity — with the image of Christ.
As bishops, we are conformed to Christ in his image as the Son who shows us the Father. We are conformed to him in his image as the Good Shepherd.
Tonight we pray that Bishop Kevin Vann — and all of us who are bishops — will rediscover and deepen our identification with Jesus our Lord and Good Shepherd.
We pray for the courage to lay down our lives — to offer ourselves every day — for the good of our flock. We pray for the vision to guide our people through the dark valleys of this culture of death.
But especially we pray for the grace to be a source of hope and encouragement to the family of God. To provide our world with the living waters of our faith, and with the conviction that God is with us and that he is calling us to build the “civilization of love” —transforming our lives, our families and our society.
The world needs a new evangelization! And God is calling us in these days to be good shepherds of the new evangelization!
This is our mission as bishops, my brothers. And this is the task for the whole Church in our time.
So let us entrust our ministries and ourselves to our Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Let us ask Mary to watch over Bishop Kevin Vann and to guide him as he assumes this new duties as Shepherd of the family of God in Orange.
May the Lord our Good Shepherd, through the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, give him a heart to know his sheep and to lay down his life for them. And may we all come to a new awareness of our vocation as children of God and our responsibilities for the new evangelization of our world.
1. Readings: Rom. 8:28-30.