Keynote Address at the Diocese Catholic Schools Banquet

Saturday, January 31, 2015
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Somebody said to me recently, “Congratulations. You made it through a year.” And I said, “Congratulations. So did you.”

It is hard to believe it’s been a year. But what is time but simply a measurement of motion and, hopefully, of growth.

One of the chief things bishops talk about when they get together is oftentimes what are called problems. What some see as problems, others see as opportunities. Opportunities which we are given by God.

One of the scripture passages, which I reflected on as I prepared for this evening, involves the issue of fear. And how really antithetical to the Gospel, and how antithetical to scripture, and how antithetical to Catholic education is this problem of fear.

And yet how tempting it is in so many ways.

The scripture passage from Mark’s Gospel chapter 9 verses 2-9 comes to mind. It talks about how our Lord Jesus takes three of his apostles—Peter, James and John—to the summit of Mount Tabor. And there, in prayer, they experience Christ transfigured.

They experience him as the Beloved Son in whom the Father is well pleased. The apostles are simultaneously overcome by fear and, at the same time, a great desire to erect three booths—three monuments to remain on the top of Mt. Tabor. But, Christ is not interested in these booths, tents, or institutions. Rather, He directs them to their mission. And not only does He direct them, He accompanies them. He accompanies them through their fear down the mountain onto Jerusalem, to the place where He will give his sacrifice — the sacrifice of love, which is the cross and the Resurrection. It is this mission of the Church, in particular Catholic education, we are entrusted with. The mission of the Gospel must always drive the institution, not the other way around. And when we let fear dominate our lives, or even infiltrate the way we assess schools, we are losing sight of the mission entrusted to us by Christ.

This, like the Gospel, is nothing new, yet it is always new. It’s always been a part of Catholic education to teach as Jesus taught: To instruct and to enlighten us in our ignorance and to continue forward in service to our neighbor; to accompany each other as Pope Francis says. It has also been a part of our local history as a Diocese, and as a local Church in North Texas where the institutions founded in Catholic education have always been in service to the mission of evangelization.

During this year dedicated to Consecrated Religious Life we especially want to acknowledge the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur. They illustrate how the mission of evangelization and Catholic education go hand in hand. And their institutions have always been dynamically filled by that mission and assessed by that mission as a means to an end. We can see in our history how Our Lady of Victory High School became the foundation for Nolan Catholic High School. And without their generosity, Nolan would have never taken root.

Academy of Mary Immaculate in Wichita Falls with their generosity became the foundation for Notre Dame. And, since I’m in an ecumenical mood, in Dallas Our Lady of Good Counsel, founded by them, became Bishop Dunne. Our Lady of Victory College through their generosity became the charter foundation for the University of Dallas.

Mission must always drive our institutions and keep them alive, and keep us all free of fear.

When we’re afraid, we begin to compare ourselves to others. And there’s a proverb that says, if I compare myself to somebody else, I always lose in that comparison. You see in our identity as Catholics, schools comes from our “yes” to Christ to accompany him in his mission—not to appropriate him for our own. We’re not in competition with other institutions, others booths, or other tents. We do not grow in our Catholic identity by defining ourselves by what we are not. “We are not public schools,” “We are not private schools,” “We’re not home schooling. We’re not even charter schools.”

What are we? If we become overly encumbered with those questions, we’ll be lost in fear just as Peter was on Tabor. We begin to isolate ourselves in individualism with a destructive sense of competition.

We’re not about marketing our schools. We do not have a product. We have a call to serve God and our neighbor in love which is Christ’s mission to establish the Kingdom of God here that we might be prepared to flourish in the Kingdom yet to come.

If we lose ourselves in fear, we choose not to accompany Christ down the mountain to Jerusalem, the site of his sacrifice and resurrection. If we lose sight of that, we lose our sense of sacrifice and it becomes simply private in investment. Education soon becomes the acquisition of useful skills and our schools become sadly, instruments of division and exclusion.

Our “yes” to Christ as Catholic Schools, and the mission that it entails, can only be made if we are all in solidarity with each other. We do not have a series of branch offices in our schools but rather, particular local sites to carry out the one mission of the one Church of the one God.

We have to keep in mind the preferential option for those who are most in need; and that carries with it the responsibility to serve the poor well with the optimal and most prudent application of our resources in the stewardship appropriate for disciples of Jesus. Those who exercise stewardship, always do so in gratitude and with a sense of generosity for the good of my neighbor. The decisions we make in each of our schools affect and impact each and every one of our other schools. The objective of the evil one is to disperse, to scatter and to isolate the sheep so that he might pick us off one by one—the weakest first, but not exclusively. It is the responsibility of the Shepherd to keep the sheep together—mostly.

To keep this solidarity of all of us together requires not that we be judged by the world as being better at education than anybody else; it requires that we care for each other, and that we are grateful for the opportunity to sacrifice in many ways for the education that always shows us Jesus. Sacrifice—not investment—sacrifice that is consistently offered through the action and example of parents, students, teachers, administrators, pastors, staff, parishioners, alumni, and even the bishop. Sacrifice—a willing and loving and generous sense of inconvenience—an inconvenience not for the best—not for ideals, but for the real and true risen Lord who so loves us that He trusts us with his mission. A mission that Catholic schools are an absolutely important means in bringing about the evangelization of our society that so needs to understand the dignity of the human person—that so needs to understand, the right relationship among people, the common good of society. That so needs to understand that those that are disenfranchised and vulnerable are not our adversaries.

How can we teach Christ in and through our schools? Where do we see Christ? Where does He disperse our ignorance in our lives? It is good for us to be here, as Peter would say, but let us not build booths or institutions out of fear. Let’s accompany each other together with Christ down the mountain, eschewing fear and consoling each other in the certitude of faith in Christ—who teaches because He can neither deceive nor be deceived. This is his mission that He entrusts with us for Catholic education. And may our schools always strive to serve the means to that end.


Benediction Prayer for the Inauguration of Governor Abbot, Lt. Governor Patrick, and Texas Legislature

Benediction Prayer for the Inauguration

January 20, 2015

Blessed are you, Gracious God, Source of all that is true and beautiful. You, who delight in all people, we stand in awe before you, believing that the spark of life within each person on earth is the spark of your Divine presence. Through your goodness to us, we live in this great State of Texas – some of us born and nurtured here by your grace and wisdom, some of us called from afar and delivered here through your mercy and compassion, each and all of us sustained here together in fellowship and solidarity by your loving and generous providence.

Bless us, as one people, with the courage to seek the common good for all members of our towns and cities, of our counties and state, of our nation and world. Deliver us as one people from selfishness and distrust that would foment fear and incite violence within our homes and in our communities. Instill in us, as one people, your spirit of integrity that we might do our part in diligently exercising our own personal responsibility for the betterment of our society.

Bless us, as one people with the desire for authentic freedom and justice as promoted by love of our neighbor and protected by the rule of law. Deliver us as one people from apathy and cynicism that would divide and scatter us into the shadows of isolation and moral listlessness. Instill in us as one people, your spirit of compassion that we might actively inconvenience ourselves to care for each and every human being in the reality of need, and not abstractly enshrine humanity in the emptiness of idealism.

Bendícenos, como un solo pueblo, con el deseo de libertad y justicia auténticas promovidas por el amor al prójimo y protegida por el estado de derecho. Líbranos como a un solo pueblo de la apatía y el cinismo que nos dividen y ahuyentan a las sombras del aislamiento y la apatía moral. Inculca en nosotros, como un solo pueblo, el espíritu de la compasión que nos incomode en el cuidado de cada persona humana en su realidad social, y no ver la humanidad en el abstracto y en el vacío del idealismo.

Gracious God, we entrust to you our Governor and our Lieutenant Governor, our legislators and our judges. Bless them as our public servants, in their responsibilities of government, with the courage to be humble in their sincere commitment to the unity of action required for the promotion of a just social order. Deliver them, as our public servants, from temptation to arrogance and dishonesty that would do damage to our development as one people in fellowship and solidarity. Instill in them, as our public servants, our spirit of confidence, that they might lead us in deed as well as in word in the direction set for the by your guidance for a better society marked by the dignity of human flourishing and concern for the poor who live in the margins of our society.

Bless them with wisdom and right judgment that they might, through their decisions, strengthen our state in the present moment with an eye toward the future development and peace for generations yet to come. Deliver our public servants from impatience with the complexities of government. Instill in them your virtue of prudence that they might see, judge, and act within the proper balance of eternal values and present needs for the sake of your peace. We ask all of this in your name.

Bendícelos con sabiduría y buen juicio para que puedan a través de sus decisiones fortalecer a nuestro estado ahora en el momento presente con la mirada puesta en el desarrollo y la paz para las generaciones por venir.


Homily for St. Luke’s Mass for Catholic Medical Guild

St. Luke’s Mass for Catholic Medical Guild
Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

October 12, 2014

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 25:6-10a
Psalm 23
Philippians 4:12-20
Matthew 22: 1-14

In our Gospel reading, Christ speaks in a parable to and about the People of the Old Covenant, and also to and about us (His Church–the People of the New Covenant) as guests invited and called to a wedding banquet. This metaphor conveys images of celebration, fun, revelry, and joy. The wedding imagery conveys an invitation to an intimate covenant made between God and human beings. Who would not want to be a part of such a celebration? Well, apparently, many.

These "many" are invited and called to the wedding banquet that the king is providing for his son, and they refuse to come. Just like in last Sunday’s gospel of the parable of the tenants in the vineyard, when the vineyard owner sends servants to obtain the produce and the tenants abuse, mistreat and kill the servants. So also in this gospel, the king’s servants are abused, mistreated and killed when they summon the invitees to the wedding feast. It is not now a refusal to give the fruits of the vineyard to the landowner; it is now a refusal to let oneself be invited to a wedding banquet, image of joy, covenantal union, communion and life. How hard-hearted and close-minded might these supposed invitees be? They feel that they have enough knowledge about their status and identity independent of their host’s initiative. They understand their participation in the life of the kingdom to be sufficiently established on their own knowledge alone, and a response is not only unnecessary, it is not wanted because it would move them from their selfish complacency. Even joy will not move them. Their knowledge is self-contained; a covenant would only inconvenience them with expectations to practice and to offer an active response. In other words, “Why should they bother?”

The imagery of marriage and the wedding banquet is used in many places in Sacred Scripture to denote closeness and intimacy with the Lord. The Lord wants his people close to him in joyous celebration. So, in the parable from today’s Gospel, the king then sends out his servants to invite other people who are not complacent in their own status and who accept the invitation to enter into covenantal unity. They enter and join the celebration. Their entrance and joining the celebration requires a preparation and action on their part–simple passivity will not suffice. Thus, the late invitee who is not adequately dressed for the celebration (who does not follow through with his response to the invitation) is cast out into the street.

The relationship between physicians and patients is often understood as a covenant; that is, as consisting of intimacy and trust in a unity unlike any other simple professional occupation. For some physicians, the structures of contemporary medical education steeped in technology and a disproportionate demand for publishable research, have prompted them not to respond to the invitation to medicine as an actual practice involved with the needs of patients. Sadly, some physicians instead mistakenly settle for science as sufficient for their identities and status as physicians. Like the invitees who refuse the generous call of the king, they view the invitation to the celebration of the intimate covenant of medical practice as not only unnecessary but also as a burden. Research is enough for them; they need not respond to people.

The covenant between physicians and patients has been further jeopardized in recent years by the same old selfishness of sin but dressed in the new and insufficient garments of bureaucratic proceduralism and commercialism. This jeopardy is caused by those that bother to enter into the medical practice but never really follow through in the sacrifice required to care for patients. Instead they fearfully surrender their covenant of care to the demands for cost-efficiency made by third party payers steeped in bureaucracy and other false idols of for-profit healthcare. Like the man in the parable, they respond to the invitation but do not follow through with perseverance but cave in to fear.

The parable in today’s Gospel conveys the fulfillment by Christ of Isaiah’s prophesy proclaimed in our first reading–the unshrouding of the veil that covers all nations–that is sin and its bitter effects including ignorance, sickness, and ultimately death. The victory of Christ establishes a new covenant and fulfills the old one. It falls to Christ alone to unveil the veil of death that clouds humanity. While physicians and health care practitioners assist in this mission of overcoming suffering and death through care and healing–it is never for physicians to remove the veil neither through inducing death nor by unnecessarily prolonging it.

Our lives as Catholics involve a response to an invitation from the Lord. The response begins in Baptism and continues through the twists and turns and requires not only preparation but perseverance in good deeds. During this month dedicated to Respect Life, it is incumbent upon us to pray for our physicians and to thank them for their covenantal care for us–which they regularly do at great risk to their livelihood because of their courage in following through with perseverance in their Baptismal response.

We are all invited to the wedding banquet, but being chosen depends upon our response and our perseverance. The poor, speechless guy in the gospel is not appropriately clad, and as a result is cast out from the wedding banquet. He remains a bystander even after he is invited to participate. Though invited and called, he was not prepared–not ready, not chosen. The invited, but poorly dressed and cast out individual is likewise the “half-hearted,” “not-too-sure,” “blows with the prevailing winds”, unfaithful and ill-prepared supposed “follower.” Though invited and called, he was not ready for where the call would take him.

Every Sunday, and today again, we are invited to the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb–the Eucharist instituted by Christ. We are called to communion with our God–closeness, intimate proximity with the Lord. “Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb and we are not worthy to have Him taken under our roof, but He says but the word and each of our souls is healed.” “Many are invited, but few are chosen.” What about you and me? Are we “dressed” for it? Are we ready and prepared?


The Joy of the Priesthood

On October 4, I delivered the keynote address for the annual Welcome Dinner for Holy Trinity Seminary. I was pleased to do this because of several reasons. First, the Diocese of Fort Worth has five seminarians currently being formed at Holy Trinity Seminary and being educated at the University of Dallas. They are Tyler Dubeck, Jason Allan, Austin Hoodenpyle, David LaPointe, and Anthony Vecchio. Secondly, one of our own Fort Worth priests, Fr. Jonathan Wallis, currently serves as a formation advisor on the Seminary’s faculty. Finally, it was my joyful privilege to serve as the rector of Holy Trinity Seminary between July of 2008 and November of 2013, before my appointment as the Bishop of Fort Worth. Please pray for Holy Trinity Seminary, for vocations, and for the perseverance of our seminarians.

+ Bishop Michael F. Olson

Holy Trinity Seminary Welcome Dinner
Irving Convention Center, Irving, Texas
October 4, 2014

One of the most challenging questions priests hear is one that we are asked very often: “Why are you a priest?” It is a challenging question for several reasons. First, when I hear it asked of me I wonder with suspicion, “Why is this person asking me this question? Is there something about my behavior that is prompting them to ask the question?” Secondly, it is a very personal question that touches at the core upon a very subtle yet sobering experience that each priest has had spiritually with Christ. Finally, because of this personal experience with Christ, the ordinary parlance of daily conversation usually falls short of being able to capture the true measure of a satisfactory answer to the sincere question.

As a result, we priests in an attempt to counter the popular perceptions portrayed by the media, often respond by speaking about what makes us happy or satisfies us in our pastoral ministry (avoiding the mention of what can aggravate us about our pastoral ministry) and thus, we attempt to convey what we really believe the priesthood is – a truly happy life and a very worthwhile endeavor for a young man to consider. Yet, there seems to be something lacking in such a response.

I would propose that, that “something lacking” in most answers is joy – true Christian joy. Joy is different from both pleasure and happiness. Pleasure is what is appreciated by the physical senses. Happiness is what is appreciated by the internal senses of the soul. Both happiness and pleasure are very much a part of what it means to be human, and thus, what it means to be a priest. There are many pleasurable things that attract us to a priestly life: the aesthetics of music and art in the liturgical life of the church, and the comfort and security of the basic environment of our lives.

There are many satisfying and happy aspects that we enjoy and that are attractive in our priestly lives – the satisfaction of a job well done, the satisfaction of a homily well-crafted and delivered, the happiness of a parish well administered and supervised, and the satisfaction of catechetical programs well-implemented. All of these things are both pleasurable and satisfying, but in themselves are ephemeral and transitory. None of these things when taken in itself involves real joy.

Joy is a supernatural gift that we receive through God’s grace. Our joy as priests comes to us through a point of faith and a point of hope. First, the point of faith is that the priesthood exists entirely at Christ’s initiative for the sake of the Eucharist. There is no Eucharist without the priesthood. Without Jesus’ decision to institute the Eucharist, there is no priesthood.

Secondly, the point of hope that every priest considers is that his own priestly vocation is not something that he has initiated as a career or lifestyle choice, but is also even more particularly and personally initiated by Christ. “It is I who have chosen you, not you who have chosen me.” There is no institution in the natural order of society parallel to the priesthood. The priesthood is an entirely graced reality that transforms our humanity in all of its frailty for the spread of the Gospel.

Now many people receive the gift of joy through other vocations – the vocation of marriage, even particular vocations in medicine, in law, in education, in business, in political life – yet each of these vocations also exist as part of the natural order. Each of these lives receives its vocational character through the Sacrament of Baptism – another gift freely given and fundamentally initiated by Christ. Yet, each of these vocations also exists in the natural order of human society.

Joy is something that really cannot be adequately represented on the terms of the natural order itself. In popular culture, joy is usually depicted more like delirium. Contemporary depictions of joy are usually clown-like and disturbing – manifesting what could be perceived as an acute need for intense psychotropic medication. Like suffering, joy is something that the contemporary world cannot address meaningfully. The lack of joy in our contemporary world is closely associated with the lack of trust. Our current situation in postmodern society, imbued with the fragments of the modern character of philosophy even in its textual residue, tempts and seduces us to act against trust and confidence in every facet of our lives. The Gospel that we most need to proclaim and hear is the Gospel of trust that it might blossom in confidence and joy. Priests are indispensable for this mission.

The joy of the priestly vocation makes clear that fidelity to Christ’s unique sacrifice in the institution of the Eucharist (the gift of Christ’s Body and Blood) is the only way of giving God fitting thanks. In entrusting us, His disciples and His priests with the mission of the Eucharist, Jesus even risks betrayal – yet, consider how necessary this act of trust is on His part to the celebration of the Eucharist and to our own salvation. His generous act of entrustment with the sacred mysteries is what gives us the grace of confidence in His love and in our ministry.

Trust: The marrow of the personal commitment of faith, hope, and charity of the baptized. It is the lack of trust (and the assault on trust) that the satisfying and pleasurable aspects of our priestly lives in themselves cannot provide. These aspects in themselves offer no trust and thus they can provide no lasting confidence for the believer in Christ. It is Christ’s perfect sacrifice that offers precisely that unique gift of confidence. It is a lack of trust that threatens the integrity of the Christian community.

Trust has been wounded, trust has been crucified, and trust is precisely what is at the heart of our mission as the Church, more particularly in our vocation as priests, and even more particularly in the formational endeavor of the seminary. In the seminary, the faculty, the students, and in a special way the bishops (each and all) have a responsibility to develop what are consciously trusting relationships for the formation of a healthy and confident church – not an institution that is sick and turned inward as Pope Francis has identified. To fulfill our mission we must first trust Christ. Without this trust placed in Christ, confidence will vaporize into the arrogance and entitlement of clericalism (a truly modern characteristic repugnant to the Gospel) devoid of joy and bereft of confidence.

There are many aspects of our priestly ministry that make us happy. There are many parts of our priestly ministry that please us and comfort us. Yet, sometimes they are present and sometimes they are absent.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the regnal patron of our Holy Father. Popular culture presents St. Francis as benign and joyful – in fact, delirious. In the popular mind he is more associated with the cable channel Animal Planet than with the Christian faith. Yet, these popular depictions neglect the means by which St. Francis is truly joyful – his entire conformity to Christ represented by the stigmata – the marks of Christ’s crucifixion in which he shares. The joy of the priesthood is engendered by Christ’s call to each of us to share in His Cross – because on the Cross, we see no pleasure, no happiness, but the perfect joy of the Son’s will lovingly surrendered in obedience to the will of the Father.