Archbishop John Wilson gave this Homily at the Episcopal Ordination of Bishop Philip Moger in St George's Cathedral, Southwark, on 21st February 2023; the Memoria of St Peter Damian, a Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ
Dear and beloved Bishop-Elect Philip
The Lord’s choice of each one of us to be his disciple - as laity, religious, or those ordained - expresses the mysterious and particular reality of divine providence. Finding ourselves called by God to a place we never imagined is a test of faith; and also of freedom. This includes, of course, the challenge for a Yorkshireman of moving south! While our fiat, our yes to God, can be exteriorly generous, we can also be interiorly apprehensive. Here, your new spiritual patron, St Peter Damian, gives us wise and holy counsel: ‘Let us detach ourselves in spirit,’ he said ‘from all that we see - and cling to that which we believe.’ Only by faith do we truly live and flourish authentically, faith in the Son of God who loves us – who loves you Philip - and who gave his life for us.
So, dear brother, have within you that peace which is the gift of the Risen Christ. Thank you for your ‘yes’ to a future unknown to you, but known fully to God. Your time in Walsingham has obviously not been wasted. Having taken to heart Our Lady’s own fiat you can now echo her faithfulness in accepting God’s choice according to God’s will. Let your ‘yes’ be shaped by the unique yes of Our Blessed Mother. Have within yourself a humble, yet confident entrustment to God’s plan that you should serve the Church as a bishop. Such faith enables you to lay down your life freely for the new flock which you have been called to shepherd.
Along with Cardinal Roche, then a priest who, in turn, became our bishop, and other priests here with us, you and I had the privilege of serving under Bishop David Konstant when he was Bishop of Leeds. I remember Bishop David once saying that he felt some of the most important works spoken by the Lord Jesus were ‘I call you friends.’ Episcopal ministry is, first and foremost, a call to deepened friendship with the Lord Jesus. Cut off from him we can do nothing. As a bishop you will be even more dependent on the Lord’s loving kindness as you step forward in this service of sacrificial loving for the Church both local and universal.
The liturgy today speaks compellingly of what God’s choice means for you and for us. The pastoral staff, the crozier, which you will carry, is a sign that only by imitating Christ, and united heart to heart with him, can you too be a good shepherd. The ring you will wear is a sign that you are bound in intimate fidelity to Christ and to the Church he founded. The cross that will hang around your neck, close to your heart, is a sign of your Christ-like compassion for the afflicted and the broken, for the imprisoned and the grief-stricken. The mitre that will sit upon your head, like a tongue of fire at Pentecost, is a sign of your submission to the Holy Spirit’s guidance as you exercise your apostolic office. These outward signs are expressions of new friendship with Christ for the sake of his Church, to be sealed by a new laying on of hands and a fresh anointing. As a contemporary Apostle, you stand in a continuous line of succession reaching back to those first Apostles who became friends with the Lord Jesus. Do all you can to call the people of our Archdiocese to an ever more loving and joyful friendship with our Saviour. And, not least, by your own example, lead our priests and deacons towards a renewed personal relationship with the Lord.
At different times and in different places, dear Philip, we were both curates to the inimitable Fr Lawrence Lister. Like all of us, he too would be delighted that you are to be a bishop for the Church of Southwark. He was an indefatigable encourager. No matter what difficult or tragic circumstances someone was in, he would always lift their spirits. I once said to him, ‘Someone could come to the door and say they had just thumped the bishop and you would send them away feeling better about themselves.’ But Lawrie had a lovely way of describing his ministry. ‘I try,’ he said to me, ‘to be an extension of the love of Christ in the service of his people.’ This captures something essential of what it means to bear fruit for the sake of God’s Kingdom. As a bishop, be an extension of the love of Christ in the service of his people. It will not always be easy, but we must renew this intention each day.
Your episcopal ordination is a consecration in, and to, the love of Christ. Through it your earthenware heart is remoulded. St Peter Damian comments that ‘the potter’s furnace puts vessels to the test.’ The test for us as bishops is how extensively and faithfully we show the love of Christ. Significantly, a distinctive quality of earthen vessels is that, even after being fired in the kiln, they remain porous. Our episcopal ministry is never perfect. But porously open to Christ we seek to let his love flow out from us. This said, we also need to allow love to flow back into us, for our own strengthening and our healing. By such a love, which is both accepted and given, we can transmit what we have received, the great treasure of the Good News of salvation. We do this, St Paul reminds us, through the ‘transcendent power’ which neither comes from us, nor belongs to us, but which always belongs to, and comes from, Almighty God.
All episcopal ministry, dear Philip, is subject to the Word of God. In a few moments, the Gospel will literally be placed over you as an open book. By preaching and teaching this Word of Life, your first and most important responsibility is to be a witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the hope he offers to our world. Never tire of reminding people that Christ is alive, that his love is real, and that his mercy is endless. As you share in the governance of our Archdiocese, your mission, above all, is to be an evangelist, inviting people to encounter Christ and to know him better. You remain a disciple with us, but we need you to be an evangelising bishop for us.
Last Friday I returned from a remarkable pilgrimage to El Salvador in the steps of St Oscar Romero and the Salvadorian Martyrs. As an aside, and interestingly, the Auxiliary Bishop of San Salvador was recently made a Cardinal! The towering figure of St Oscar Romero offers powerful inspiration for what it means, in the famous words of Pope Francis, to be ‘shepherds living with the smell of the sheep,’[i] to be shepherds who give up their lives for their friends. St Oscar Romero’s zucchetto and a piece of his blood-stained alb are kept in our Cathedral Shine where you prayed, Philip, on the day your appointment was announced.
As the Bishop of Santiago de Maria, St Oscar wrote a short article about the bishop’s ministry, words which embolden us. Citing his friend, Cardinal Pironio, he stated: ‘A bishop can communicate the things of God and interpret human history and human problems only in terms of the depth of faith…He is simply a man of God in the service of all his brothers and sisters…’ He continued:
‘A bishop is not a technician, an administrator, or a boss. A bishop is essentially a pastor, a father, a brother and a friend. He journeys with other people, sows hope along their path, shares their sorrow and joy, urges them to seek peace, […] justice and love, and teaches them to be brothers and sisters…’[ii]
Hear the Lord say again to you, dear brother: ‘I call you my friend; I choose and appoint you to bear fruit. I command you to love as I love.’ As these truths come to life in your service as a bishop, know that you have the prayers and support of all your fellow bishops, of the clergy and people from the Diocese of Leeds and the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, and of everyone here in what is now our Archdiocese. Believe what you have heard: the Spirit of the Lord is upon you; shine with the light and knowledge of the glory of God shown to us in the beautiful face of Christ. Amen.
[i] Pope Francis, Homily for the Mass of Chrism, 28 March 2013.
[ii] Roberto Morozzo Della Rocca, Oscar Romero – Prophet of Hope, Darton, Longman and Todd, London, 2015, 49. Taken from the original Oscar Romero, La Voz del Pastor, ‘El Obispo es Pastor,’ El Apostol, 4 Jan, 1976, N 17, 3.