Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from remarks made by Bishop Edward J. Burns during Solemn Vespers on Feb. 8 at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
I have to say, being assigned here, many people have remarked about the difference between the Diocese of Juneau, Alaska and the Diocese of Dallas, Texas.
You can only imagine.
The Diocese of Juneau, Alaska, is the largest rainforest in the northern hemisphere. It rains constantly. We get about 300 days of rain and about 60-some days of sunshine.
While it is a little wet, it is absolutely beautiful. What a beautiful diocese. About 1.3 million people travel through Alaska on their cruise or on vacations.
Coming to the wonderful Diocese of Dallas, I am just so impressed by the vastness of this diocese, the very essence of the people and all that they have to offer, the growth and of course the warmth of the people has been so striking.
Allow me to share with you a little experience I had when I went to one of my parishes in the Diocese of Juneau, St. Theresa’s in Skagway. I went with my brother priest, Father Jim Blaney…St. Theresa’s in Skagway is just a small, small little parish.
Well, I arrived on Friday with Father Blaney and we did some hiking on the Chilkoot Trail.
The Chilkoot Trail is the beginning of the Klondike Gold Rush. It is absolutely beautiful.
The weather was fantastic.
The next morning I took Father Blaney to the ferry so he could get over to the other parish and I stayed at St. Theresa’s in Skagway. It was such a beautiful day and when it is a beautiful day that is when you have to take care of the maintenance of the church because of how often it rains.
I am sitting looking at the beautiful day and I thought, you know what, I think that grass needs to be cut. So sure enough I opened up the shed at the church and the lawnmower was there…so I cut the grass and it looked great. I was just sitting there admiring the work.
Well, Skagway gets a lot of visitors and sure enough there was this one tourist who is off one of the ships and she is taking pictures of the parish. I said, “Welcome, how are you doing?” She said, “Good, good, how are you?” I said, “Great. I’m glad I cut the grass so you can get a decent picture of the church.” I asked where she was from. She said, “Sydney, Australia.”
I said, “Wonderful, welcome to Skagway. Welcome to the Diocese of Juneau.” I said, “In fact, we were in your wonderful diocese for World Youth Day recently.” We started chatting and she said, “Are you the pastor here at the parish?” I said, “No, I am actually the bishop of the diocese.” She said, “And you are cutting grass?”
I was having a little bit of fun with it and I said, “Well, doesn’t your bishop come to your parish and cut the grass?”
My friends, there is something about a time in which we look at the very sacred spaces in which we gather for prayer. As much as we maintain them, you even see that when you come into this glorious cathedral, there is work being done on the outside. You see the scaffolding.
Many times when you go to Rome you have a chance to visit Assisi. In Assisi I have a very special place I love to pray and that is the Church of San Damiano. This is the site where St. Francis heard the Lord speak from the cross at San Damiano. He heard, “Rebuild my church.”
It was there that he thought the Lord was instructing him to help with the exterior of it somehow, someway. What Jesus wanted ultimately was a renewal of the church. He wanted to be renewed from the inside. That it would not necessarily be renovated, but rejuvenated with a faith that was also necessary to recognize a special relationship with him.
As we enter this church, we recognize that yes, it may be going through a renovation on the outside, but with our presence here it is his desire for us to rejuvenate ourselves in a relationship with our Lord, Jesus Christ, especially as we go through a historic moment when there now begins a new chapter within the history of the Diocese of Dallas.
I stand before you humbled by the call of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, as the eighth bishop of the Diocese of Dallas.
What is important is to recognize that we need to move together in rejuvenating and renewing our church — that together, we do that.
Many people have asked me, “So what are your priorities or what are your goals?” And I have to say that it is important to us that we continue the good work of this diocese. The good work of continuing to renew ourselves in that relationship with Jesus Christ so that we can strengthen and grow in understanding our role as his disciples of going forth and proclaiming the good news.
What we recognize is also often that sometimes, we as disciples, we can grow complacent or lukewarm. St. Paul has his words to Timothy when he says, “fan into flame the gift you received when I laid hands on you. Fan into flame, bring it anew.”
We recognize we must remember Jesus’ words to the disciples: freely we have received, freely we are to give.
The many blessings that we have we are called to share with one another as a church.
We are called to do this, recognizing that at times there will be sacrifices but to do it with such apostolic zeal and fervor — the fervor of the early apostles and the disciples.
Pope Francis said in his apostolic exhortation, Joy of the Gospel:
The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.
My friends, as I embark on this new chapter with you, as I embark on this journey with you, let’s always support each other in all that we are called to do. My friends, I look forward to the next chapter of the work in the Diocese of Dallas and let us together strengthen our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us renew the church and let us always preach the Gospel with joy.