On January 4, 2017 – the feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton – I was appointed by Pope Francis to serve as the eighth bishop of the Diocese of Calgary. The welcome and support that I have received during these few short weeks has been a warm embrace that can only be described in terms of our faith. It has been a reception which reflects the “sensus fidelium” inspired by the Holy Spirit expressed in the living faith of the entire Church. Throughout the greetings and care extended to me during the period of transition – the installation mass and the reception which followed – there is also an important recognition and deep appreciation of the past, especially in the recent witness and service of Bishop Fredrick Henry. The old and the new are celebrated together in the blessed continuity of having a successor of the apostles to lead this local church.
I am very honoured and humbled by this appointment and grateful for the opportunity to serve as Shepherd of the Church in the Diocese of Calgary. Guided by my motto, Trust in the Lord, I have taken many leaps of faith in my life, to priesthood, to the episcopate, to service in Toronto and to the Diocese of Peterborough. Now I am about to be cast into the deep interior of Alberta, all the way to the beautiful Rocky Mountains and the fertile plains of the Bow River. I cannot help but feel daunted by what lies ahead. Nevertheless, I make a bold move forward, trusting in the sustaining power of God and the support of many people and fellow ministers of the Gospel.
I am deeply indebted to my predecessors in this diocese, especially Bishop Henry, who, like the wise master builder spoken of in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, has laid a solid foundation [1 Corinthians 10]. I honour this legacy and want to build upon it.
Although I can only walk in my own shoes, I want to be like the steward who brings out of his storeroom treasures both old and new [Matt 13:52]. I look forward to carrying on the many good initiatives begun by Bishop Henry, coming to know you and to grow with you in the love of Jesus Christ and together sharing that love with all our brothers and sisters. Together as bishop, clergy and people, we will listen to what the Spirit is saying to us in our context and discern how to live and witness as disciples of Christ.
As your new bishop, I come to this role as that of the shepherd–servant who accompanies the people in their journey of faith, pointing them to the signs of the new Blessing and leading them in the direction of the kingdom.
I am committed to serving the life of the Church in Calgary which must always be renewed through the pattern of the paschal mystery of Christ: a Church that dies to worldly power, privilege, clericalism and rises to humility, simplicity, equality and servanthood; a Church that is called to sacrifice, to become poorer and humbler but hopefully more of a light and a sacrament of God’s love to the world. A confident sign of hope and a bearer of the resurrection vision that we have received through the Spirit.
Pope Francis urges us to be a Church where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live according to the Gospel. There can be no future for the living Church without there being a space of welcome for those who have been hurt, damaged or alienated; be they victims of abuse, survivors, those who are separated and divorced, the marginalized or disaffected members of our community who experience this because of their race, ethnicity, sexual identity, culture and religious belief.
I am committed to our building the Church of Calgary to be a house for all peoples, a Church where there is less an experience of exclusion but more an encounter of radical love, inclusiveness and solidarity. “Love one another as I have loved you” [13 John 34].
These words of Jesus can be fully understood not only in terms of his relationship with the disciples but also in the larger context of his engagement with the people. The world wants us to show what authentic Christian love is and we must admit at times what they find does not always reflect the words, gestures and actions of Christ. He shows love not only by his passion and death on the cross. He also demonstrates that love through his acceptance, embrace, affirmation, compassion, forgiveness and solidarity, especially towards those stigmatised by others. In doing so he has a habit of challenging ingrained stereotyped attitudes, subverting the tyranny of the majority, breaking social taboos, pushing the boundaries of love and redefining its meaning. It is his radical vision of love, inclusion and human flourishing that promotes a desire for holiness that ought to guide our pastoral response.
We cannot regain our moral credibility and Christian witness without first reclaiming that vision of the humble, powerless, loving Servant-Leader, and making it the cornerstone of all that we do and all that we are as the church.
With you, the clergy, and the Catholic people of the Diocese of Calgary, I am launching out into the deep. With you, I am embarking on a new Exodus, walking as pilgrims together, accompanying one another as companions on the journey. “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for his friends” [15 John 13].
These words of Jesus challenge us to be the Church that we should be and could be: a house for all peoples, an oasis for the weary and troubled, a field hospital for the wounded, a refuge for the oppressed, a voice for the voiceless and faceless. To become a home that welcomes the young, assists the elderly and supports the family in the struggles that they face.
In becoming the bishop of Calgary I am reminded of the words of a sermon by St. Augustine when he said, “The day I became a bishop, a burden was laid on my shoulders for which it will be no easy task to render an account. The honors I receive are for me an ever-present cause of uneasiness. Indeed, it terrifies me to think that I could take more pleasure in the honor attached to my office, which is where the danger lies, than in your salvation which ought to be its fruit. Therefore, being set above you fills me with alarm, whereas being with you gives me comfort. Danger lies in the first, salvation in the second.”
With grateful heart, I ask for your prayer and support as I walk with you in the new Exodus to the fullness of life and love, to know and experience the gift of salvation that is found in Christ.
☩ William McGrattan
Bishop of Calgary