GALLERY: New Bishop for Galloway Diocese

Here is the homily of Archbishop Leo Cushley from the Episcopal Ordination of Frank Dougan at St Peter in Chains, Ardrossan, on Saturday 9 March. All pics by Paul McSherry.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

A renewed word of welcome to you all as we gather to ordain Fr Francis Dougan as Bishop of Galloway, in the line of St Ninian and in communion with the universal Church.

We are also very pleased to welcome among us distinguished representatives of civil and political life in this part of the country, and to welcome our brothers and sisters in Christ, our ecumenical friends from other churches active in the area.

You are, all of you, most welcome here.

What we will witness here today is both one of the happiest and one of the most solemn things that the Church does, and that she has done since apostolic times, and those with a personal knowledge and memory of Jesus of Nazareth.

We recall again how the Lord himself chose twelve from among his disciples, to be apostles, that is, the ones he would send from his side to take the good news to others.

We recall the frailties, and the limitations of those first Christians – and how few they were – and yet we also recall their success with affection and hope.  As we like to read in the Psalms on apostles’ feast days, their span indeed extends through all the earth.

And yet, apostles have first to be disciples of the Lord.  They are called first to know and love the Lord, and to learn to serve him and to do his will.  And only when the Lord breathes his Spirit upon them, can they be called to go out as authentic witnesses to the Gospel.

Only then can they be like John the Baptist, the great precursor, and point to Jesus - not to themselves, but to Jesus - and knowingly say “Look, there is the Lamb of God!”

The readings that we have just heard were chosen by Fr Frank for this occasion and they help to illustrate this.  In the first reading, Isaiah tells us that the gift of God’s spirit sends him to bring the good news to the poor, to bind up broken hearts, to proclaim a new kind of freedom, and a time of the Lord’s favour, comfort, gladness and praise.

We notice the other things that the Spirit brings us through that ministry, but the word I’d like you to notice today is “sends”.  To be an apostle, to be a bishop, is to be sent.

A vocation to serve God’s people is just that: it is a call from God, not a career choice.

The vast majority of people nowadays, choose a job, choose a career path, then train for it, then apply for it, then get interviewed for it, then eventually get it.

A priest, and by extension a bishop, does not and cannot apply for the job.

Having offered themselves for service in the Church, they give up their own will in the matter and leave it to others to decide where to send them.  This is not by accident; rather, it is profoundly important for their whole life.

Every deacon and priest and bishop you see here has been sent to the people he now serves.

We all know that and understand that when we respond to God’s call.  But that is what it is: a personal willingness to respond to God’s call.

Personally, of course, that means there is always a degree of uncertainty about what to expect, and there is always a kind of challenge in every new mission that we are given.

But that is what are trained for; that is what we are called to do.  But letting us be sent by the Lord and by his Spirit, is, when willingly and cheerfully embraced, a truly liberating experience.

And I believe that in the experience of the vast majority of us here, it is a joyful one.  Once we entrust ourselves to the Lord, we can be confident that we are where the Lord wishes us to be; we are sent, we become truly apostolic.

As we hear in our second reading from St Paul, all of this “is God’s work”.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus himself gives a name to this kind of leadership, to someone who is sent by God, who is filled with God’s spirit, and who comes willingly to serve his people with his whole life.  That name is shepherd.

Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd in Chapter 10 of John’s Gospel, but this quickly became applied to the bishop as well.

In the ancient world, a shepherd wasn’t’ someone looked up to, but Jesus has transformed our view of what a shepherd can be: someone who knows his sheep as well as Jesus knows God his Father; someone who gives his life, his time, his energy in service to his sheep.

Anyone with a small familiarity with the strands of what is demanded of a bishop knows just how daunting it is, but they will also see how God’s spirit makes this call a happy one and a fulfilling one.

This is surely one of the reasons our Holy Father, Pope Francis has made so much of the clergy “gaining the smell of the sheep”, that is, being close to their people.

And so, Frank, let me address a brief word to you personally.  I have known you for more than three decades, since you were a seminarian in Rome.

We who have seen you grow in maturity and experience in the priesthood are very pleased to see you accept this new and more demanding call, this time to serve the people of Galloway, and we pray that the Lord, who himself sends you, will accompany you in all your ways.

The task over oversight in the Church is not an easy one, and much of what you will have to say and do due to your office will only be understood and appreciated once you’re gone and it’s all over.

But you have gained the confidence of the Holy Father and those advising him, and you stand in a line going back to St Ninian, whose times and circumstances were ones of an uncertainty and difficulty much greater than our own.

You and your people are heirs to the golden thread of the Catholic Christian faith in our country, and the tenacious, good and faithful folk who stood here before us.

There is also a warm welcome for you here, from a well-established and affectionate local church, and you have roots here that will give you a good start.

You also bring much of your own to this important task, beginning with a willingness to embrace lovingly God’s will for you.  Stay humble, then, and be open to the Lord in prayer.

Be close to your people, and always treat them as your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Be ready to listen to them, and accompany them with your presence and your prayers.

Inspire them with your good conduct personally and your good decisions on their behalf.  In a special way, be close to your priests and deacons.  Never forget to confirm them in faith and joyful service, especially by your own fidelity to the promises you will make shortly before us here today.

Finally, be assured of the support and prayers of your brother bishops, and of all here for your blessed and successful ministry in the ancient church of Galloway.  Thank you for taking up this burden, and may God bless you abundantly.

Archbishop Leo Cushley