The record-breaking winter had frozen everyone's spirits. A happy event was needed to melt the gloom and free everyone from the depression that hung over the community. The consecration as bishop of a priest who was loved by almost everyone was that event. The previous weeks, and months, had been cold and dismal, but this day seemed to make up for it all. The weather was perfect. The sun bright and warm, the crisp air fresh from the morning dew, the cool, blue sky with hardly a cloud, all hinted of an early summer. Happy voices filled the air. The sidewalks surrounding the massive Gothic cathedral were teeming with people of every race and religion. An unusual number of Jews, some with beards and long black coats, mingled with their friends; at a distance from them in another section of the crowd was a small group of Muslims, a handful wearing fezzes. There was a sprinkling of Oriental people, too. It was hard to imagine all of these people fitting into the building even as vast as it was, but its huge, bronze-framed doorways swallowed them all as they poured through.
Tommy Burns was a squat, thickly built Irishman. He and his wife, Emily, were walking toward the cathedral next to a rabbi. Tommy was curious as to why a rabbi, especially the old-fashioned kind, was going to a Catholic bishop's consecration. Never reserved, Tommy asked him.
"Rabbi, if I am not being ignorant or too forward, why would a man like yourself be coming to a bishop's consecration?" Tommy asked bluntly.
The rabbi, taken aback, answered simply, "Because he is much more than a bishop to me. Our congregation will always be indebted to David Campbell. When the state was going to take away our synagogue to build a highway, David used his influence with the governor's office to have the course of the highway moved. He is like one of our family. He visits and prays with us on many Friday nights. It is as if one of our own was being made bishop. Perhaps you could tell me why you have come to his consecration."
Tommy grinned. "About six months ago I lost my job and couldn't keep up the mortgage payments on my house. The bank was starting foreclosure proceedings. My wife and I were beside ourselves. If we couldn't afford the mortgage we wouldn't be able to afford rent either. We had nightmares about being thrown out in the streets with our five kids. Mysteriously the money appeared, enough to pay the mortgage until I was able to find a job. It was only later we found out that it was Father Campbell who had sent the money through one of my cousins whom he knows, and that he had sold his own car to raise the money. I'll never be able to pay him back, but I was told he didn't want it back. You don't come across people like that very often. Some people say he's tough when it comes to Church matters, but I can't imagine it."
By that time the two were approaching the entrance to the church. The street was still crowded. Uniformed policemen had difficulty keeping clear the walkway from the rectory so the procession could advance in orderly fashion. As the bells tolled in powerful bursts of joyful exuberance, the procession emerged from the rectory. First came the deacon bearing the Book of the Gospels, its gold and jeweled cover glistening in the sun. He was followed by altar boys and girls, then the part of the choir that was not already in the church, and ranks of clergy of various denominations, including Orthodox bishops in their unusual trappings. Then emerged the consecrating bishops and Archbishop O'Connell from the neighboring archdiocese. Last was the bishop-elect, David Campbell, with his two assisting priests.
Father Campbell was impressive in his priestly robes. He was tall and not powerfully built, but scholarly-looking. His walnut-colored hair was slightly wavy, and his metal-rimmed glasses accented his intellectual appearance.
His long, tapering fingers moved gracefully as he waved to people lining the procession route, a shy smile etching his finely chiseled features. His thin face showed the strain he had been under since his call to the bishopric. A long, thin nose of precise proportion was set between warm, penetrating brown eyes that smiled easily, betraying a kind peacefulness beneath the surface. His look seemed to linger rather than move rapidly, hinting at a thoughtfulness that absorbed everything, weighing carefully, never forgetting. David was not a simple man. What appeared on the surface of his life gave no indication of the wholly different world that existed beneath, into which he would not allow even his most intimate friends to penetrate.
As the procession moved into the church, working its way up the aisle, the organ music stopped and the choir intoned the processional, magnified by the almost two thousand happy voices that filled the vast, vaulting sanctuary. Many of the bishops were smiling to people they recognized as they walked up the aisle. The bishop-elect, his hands folded with palms pressed together, seemed unaware of anything around him. His eyes looked straight ahead but not seeing, as if he were absorbed in thoughts of things far away, or deep within.
As the procession approached the sanctuary, only the officiating bishops and their assistants entered, together with the bishop-elect and his two assisting priests. He was seated before the altar facing the congregation.
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," the archbishop intoned. The congregation roared its "Amen." "My brothers and sisters," he continued, "we have come here today from many places and many backgrounds, but all as God's children. He is very much present here with us as we prepare for the consecration of our friend David as bishop. As we call upon our Father to witness and consecrate what we do, we humbly acknowledge our own sins and failings, and beg for His forgiveness. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy."
The Liturgy of the Word continued, and after the Gospel, the ordination of the bishop-elect took place. The choir sang "Veni, Creator Spiritus": "Come, Creator Spirit, touch the minds of these your children, fill with your heavenly grace these hearts you have created."
During the singing of the hymn, David was led by his assistants to the place of consecration.
"Most Reverend Father," one of the priests addressed the archbishop, "the Church of this diocese asks you to ordain this priest, David, for service as bishop."
"Have you the mandate from the Holy See?" the archbishop asked.
After the letter was read, the archbishop addressed the whole assembly. "Consider carefully the position in the Church to which our brother is about to be raised. Our Lord Jesus Christ, who was sent by the Father to redeem the human race, in turn sent twelve apostles into the world. These men were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit to preach the Gospel to every race and people into a single flock to be guided in the way of holiness. Because this service was to be until the end of time, the apostles selected others to help them. By the laying on of hands which confers the sacrament in its fullness, the apostles passed on the gift of the Holy Spirit, which they themselves had received from Christ. In that way, by a succession of bishops unbroken from one generation to the next, the powers conferred in the beginning were handed down, and the work of the Savior lives and grows in our time." Then, looking at David, he continued, "You, dear brother, have been chosen by the Lord to guide His people. You have been chosen to serve rather than to rule, and to proclaim the good news of Jesus endlessly. You are called to be a good shepherd in imitation of the Master. Love all those entrusted to you' the poor, the sick, the weak, strangers, and the homeless, as well as those who are rich in the things of this world. May your own life be blameless and a shining reflection of the goodness of Jesus Himself. And may God have mercy on your soul, as you accept this awesome responsibility."
The liturgy, stripped of all the medieval pageantry that had once characterized these ceremonies, was still impressive. The rich traditions of the Church, the unbroken line of priestly power and authority that Jesus had given to His apostles and which He had intended should be passed on forever, were reflected in every facet of the beautiful and timeless rite. David could trace his own spiritual lineage to one of the apostles through the unbroken line of succession. It was a graphic expression of the organic bond between the Church of every age with the living Christ who walked the roads of Palestine.
After all the preliminary interrogations and prayers, the bishops laid their hands on David as he knelt before them. With the Book of the Gospels held above his head, the archbishop recited the prayer of consecration over him: "...Father, pour out Your Spirit upon Your chosen, that he may be a shepherd of Your holy flock and a high priest blameless in Your sight. Grant him every power You bestowed upon the apostles themselves, so he may carry on their work in our time. May he be pleasing to You by his gentleness and purity of heart, presenting a fragrant offering to You, through Jesus Your Son."
After the consecration, the symbols of office were presented: the Book of the Gospels, the ring, the miter, and the shepherd's staff. The Mass continued as usual, but when the ceremony ended, thunderous applause spontaneously erupted, attesting to the extraordinary popularity of this quiet and unassuming cleric.
It was difficult for many of David's colleagues to understand the reason for his popularity, since his recent assignments were not high profile situations in which he could cultivate a following. He worked part-time at the chancery, where he had a reputation for exact observance of Church law. When people called for help with difficult predicaments, he would always listen, but if help demanded bending any of the rules or countermanding canon law, he could be uncompromising. Many people left hurt and more alienated from the Church than before they came to see him. He could be cold and detached when applying the law. The book was everything. That was most probably the reason he was selected to be bishop. He was predictable and dedicated to what was expected of a loyal Church official.
Two women on the chancery staff summed it up as they gossiped while exiting the church. "How do you explain why there are so many unusual people here today?" Joan Carey asked the chancery receptionist, Marilyn Cotugno. Joan was not one of David's most avid fans. "I'll never get over the way he handled my sister's case when she came to him for advice. I thought that of all the priests at the chancery he would be the one most likely to understand her problem. She came home that night crying, vowing she'd never go to church again. I certainly can't see why people think he's so great. Charlie Mayberry was really upset when David's appointment was announced."
"Don't you think that was because he was jealous? Charlie would have loved to have been made bishop," Marilyn interjected.
"That's possible, but Charlie still doesn't think much of David. He's forever criticizing the way he does things and tried to get him appointed pastor just to get him out of the chancery."
Marilyn liked David and wasn't about to let him be hacked at like this even by her friend. "Well, how do you explain the unusual demonstration of affection today?"
"It's beyond me," Joan answered with a look of bewilderment.
"Perhaps it's from people he works with in his free time," Marilyn put in by way of David's defense. "He does have a reputation for quietly working with all kinds of people, non-Catholics included, and for helping people in trouble. I'll never forget the time he took a part-time job on the docks to earn money to buy food for poor families whose income was so little they could hardly survive. My Jewish friends tell me he goes to their synagogue on Friday nights and says his prayers in Hebrew. Even Muslims like him because he fights with immigration on behalf of family members who had been refused entrance into the country on technicalities. You have to admit he's shrewd the way he uses his contacts. I think that's the real David. What we see in the chancery is the company man who always goes by the book, but that's what's expected of him. I'm sure that's the reason he was made bishop, because he was such a good company man. I think we are really going to get a surprise once he gets a chance to be himself."
Marilyn wasn't far from wrong. It was for the thorough and faithful performance of his official responsibilities that David was now being rewarded by the Church.
The ceremony over, the clergy met at the cathedral rectory briefly, then departed for the civic center for the lavish dinner and gala festivities. The governor was there, along with other state officials and dignitaries from faraway places. People obviously thought much of and expected much from this new celebrity; they felt honored to have been invited to his ordination.
David was unusually quiet at the dinner, although he talked warmly and politely to everyone, graciously expressing his gratitude to each for attending and for the good wishes. As the day wore on one could see the strain in his face and sense his need to be away from the crowd, alone.
That is just what he did when it all ended. A man other than David might have preferred further celebration and camaraderie; but after thanking the archbishop and all the other bishops, he left for his home to spend the night alone.
After falling into a deep sleep on the couch for a few hours, he woke up and had a drink. Then he went to his room and knelt at his prie-dieu, which faced a stark reproduction of the Crucifixion by El Greco. As he knelt, his face resting in his hands, he became absorbed in his thoughts.
"O, my God, what have I done? What have I taken upon myself? For years I sensed this day would come, and as it approached I became more and more fearful. If only they had known the visions, the thoughts, the conflicts that haunted me, they would never have done this. Now I am here and there is no turning back. For the rest of my life I must live this calling, not as others see it, but as I, under the light of Your grace, understand it. Help me, God, I am frightened. Jesus, Good Shepherd, teach me. I will follow You faithfully wherever You may lead. Only guide me, I am afraid."
David prayed intermittently. At intervals his mind wandered. He did not know whether he had fallen off to sleep and had dreamed dreams, or whether in his openness to God, God was speaking to him.
One dream -- or revelation or vision -- was particularly disturbing. A woman, troubled and crying, a look of haunting anguish on her face, was pointing at David. "You have done this to me. You have done this to me. I trusted you as I trusted God and you turned me away. Now see my children. Look at them, see what has happened to them, and all because of you." Two children appeared in the dream, boys in their late teens, angry children, throwing stones at a church and turning to David with the accusation, "Righteous priest, god without a heart. If that's what he's like, you keep him. We'll have none of him."
David recognized the woman and the boys. She had come to him years ago with a problem. Her husband had left her and abandoned the children. In her loneliness, she had found a man who cared for her and was devoted to the children. They in turn loved him as a father. The woman had been raised in a rigidly traditional family and was troubled over the affair. She decided to tell David the whole story. David told her that her relationship with the man was sinful and that it could not continue; it could not but do spiritual damage to the children. In discussing the possibility of marrying the man, David advised that both their previous marriages be annulled. When that proved impossible because of insurmountable obstacles, he insisted she end the relationship and raise the children as best she could by herself, promising that God would take care of her. Her upbringing had instilled in her enough loyalty to the Church to follow his instructions. She broke off the relationship and tried to make the best of the difficult situation. It proved too much. The children were heartbroken because they missed this man who had become a father to them. The mother's own life began to fall apart, and in her anguish, she turned against God.
The dream epitomized the cruelty of a law heartlessly imposed with no feeling for the lives of those involved. The Good Shepherd certainly would not have acted that way. The Pharisees, maybe, and the Scribes, but not the Good Shepherd who cared for the sheep. "The law was made for man and not man for the law," he once said when he justified a shocking thing King David once did because his troops were hungry. Jesus' justification for David's violation of the law was that there was a human need.
The events of this night were things the new bishop had never experienced before. His prayer had always been detached, quiet, uneventful. What was happening now was shaking him to the depths of his soul. When he periodically came to, he would look up at the figure of Christ and in a cold sweat murmur, "O, my God, no, no. I haven't been that way. Have I really hurt those people that deeply? I was only trying to fulfill my responsibility to the Church in insisting that people observe the letter of the law." The guilt was unbearable, the vivid revelation of his whole past life being acted out in comparison to the Good Shepherd. As saintly as David's life as a priest had been, in contrast to the beauty of Christ's relationship with God's children it was appalling. The law had always been the basis of religion as applied to life. It was so obvious the way Jesus excoriated the Scribes and Pharisees and chief priests that that was not the way. Yet that is what it had become, the exact observance of law no matter what the damage to God's children.
David's soul was seared by the revelations he suffered that night. He would never again be the same. He could never see people in the same way as before. His whole vision of the Church would be forever transformed. He had been touched to the core of his being.
It was far into the night, perhaps just before dawn, when David was almost completely consumed with weariness, that a strange thing occurred. David had slipped from the prie-dieu and fallen on the floor. Bent over, crying uncontrollably from the frightful experiences of the night, suddenly he felt a strange calm. He knelt up straight and looked above him. His face grew peaceful.
His eyes were not looking at anything in the room, yet he was seeing something that was deeply affecting him. As all the horrible nightmares passed, David could see a man walking across a field. Of ordinary build, he was dressed in modern clothes, khaki-colored trousers and a brown pullover shirt open at the collar. He had strong but gentle, clean-shaven features. His hair was full and wavy, but not long. His gentle hazel eyes seemed to penetrate David's soul. The man said nothing, but his presence filled David with a deep sense of peace. David immediately recognized him as a man he thought he had seen in the last pew during his consecration. The panic, the fear, the trauma of the past hours disappeared. The presence of this man, whoever he was, healed David's soul like a soothing balm and seemed to give meaning to all that had taken place that night.
The dreamlike vision passed. The rays of the morning sun began to fill the room. Morning had finally come after a night that had seemed endless.
David was drained of every last drop of energy, but he felt strangely alive and invigorated. He dropped onto the bed, fully dressed, intending to rest briefly, and fell into a deep sleep.
Copyright © 1999 by Joseph F. Girzone