Monday, 11 July 2011

How my appointment as bishop came about

Many people have been asking about my new appointment, wanting to know how long I have known, what my reaction was, etc. I’ll start with that story.

It began last Monday (the 4th of July) when I received a very special phone call. I had celebrated a funeral that morning and was just back from the cemetery, so I was relaxing a bit. The call display showed an Ottawa number, but not one that I recognized. As it happened it was Archbishop Archbishop Pedro López Quintana, the Apostolic Nuncio to Canada. He said he needed to see me urgently, so I told him I would be in Ottawa the next day in the morning.

As I hung up the phone, my heart started to race. I had heard about these sorts of calls, and what they usually meant. Could this really be happening? Was I about to be invited to become a successor to the apostles?

I had a wonderful grace that evening. I was lying in bed, having trouble falling asleep, thinking of what could very well happen the next day. I keep a rosary hanging on one of my bed posts, so I picked it up and started to pray. I felt this wonderful maternal presence with me, as if the Virgin Mary herself was taking care of one of her little ones. I slept like a baby, and woke up quite refreshed.

I drove to Ottawa early Tuesday (July 5) in the morning, making it to the Nunciature a little before 10am. The Nuncio received me quite warmly, and got to the point pretty quickly. “After much consultation, the Pope is calling you to become auxiliary bishop of Montreal. Do you accept?”

It was at this point that the Nuncio showed he’s also a man with a sense of humour: before I had a chance to respond with even a question, he added, “Of course, you are quite young, but this is a defect that time will take care of on its own.” We had a good laugh at that!

The Nuncio also challenged me to give an answer that sprung from my conscience, as (as he put it) “There are some transgressions people have a harder time forgiving.” “Well, your Grace,” I replied, “I have nothing in my priesthood that I am ashamed of, although please don’t misunderstand me, I know I’m still a sinner.” He smiled and said, “This is not a beatification. We know no one is perfect; it was simply felt that you can do this task.”

So I accepted.

In terms of the date for the announcement, the Nuncio then proposed that it be July 11, the feast of Saint Benedict (i.e. today). He offered to put it off until later if I wanted, but I knew I’d already be busting trying to keep this in — I’m good at keeping secrets for others, but not so good when it comes to myself, so the 11th it was.

Finally, the Nuncio mentioned that I had to write a letter to the Pope formally accepting my election was bishop. Knowing that letters requesting ordination are normally done by hand I offered to write it on the spot — frankly, I figured it would probably be better for me to be able to return to Montreal with as few details on my mind as possible. He found me some paper, and I took care of it right there and then.

The business of our meeting now done, we chatted a bit about the situation of the diocese of Montreal, as well as regarding the challenges facing the bishops of Canada today. We also chatted about (of all things) my blog. The Nuncio knew about it, and encouraged me to use my expertise with new media to reach out to people and try and build community. This, to be honest, is a big part of why I have started a major overhaul of my website — it was something I had been thinking of doing for a while, but it seems that now is the time!

I was already heading out by 11am, and made it back to Montreal by the early afternoon, as (after all) I still had my regular ministry to take care of! As for the rest of my week, I found myself slowly getting used to the idea of becoming a bishop — the new opportunities and challenges I would face, and perhaps some things I would need to let go. I am still getting used to it all, of course, so please pray for me!