Today a remarkable historic and religious event took place here at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany, NY. Edward Scharfenberger, entered the building for the last time as “bishop-elect” and exited as our the 10th Bishop of our diocese. His ordination and elevation to the office of bishop, and his installation as bishop was a day that reminded me of Francis becoming the current Bishop of Rome.
Bishop Scharfenberger’s presence reminds me of a conversation that I had with my doctor. She was telling me that she went to medical school abroad. For her, the greatest gift that she from that experience, was that the training put so much emphasis on seeing each patient as an individual, and on listening to each one. All diagnosis and treatment was very one and one, and she attested to the value of getting to know people, treating them with dignity and giving them your full attention as essential elements of healing.
So, you might ask, what precisely does that have to do with our new bishop? I observed Bishop Scharfenberger meeting so many people on Wednesday and Thursday, including me – twice. Watching him – and meeting him, it was abundantly clear that he was intent on each individual person, for that moment or two, even with a long line of others waiting. He did not seem to tire, never and his attention never seeming to wander. Our new bishop was using what I would call the gift of holy or sacred listening. This kind of focused presence and attention is what my doctor does. It is certainly what the Jesus, our Divine Physician did. This gift will help our new bishop and will help our church enormously!
Our new bishop seems to embody, beyond his good listening, the qualities of joyfulness, prayerfulness, and humility in great abundance. His Coat of Arms represents to much that is full of life, along with his motto, “Lord, make me a channel of your peace.” An explanation of his shield can be found here. The beaver on the left of the shield, which is not detailed in that link, is a symbol of Albany and its fur trading past, and a sign of building things up, the crescent moon a reminder of our Blessed Mother, whom our diocese is consecrated to as Mary of the Immaculate Conception. The crozier is of course, the bishop’s staff.
None of this is meant to diminish the legacy of our Bishop Emeritus Hubbard. All of this praise for our new shepherd does not mean that he was not a great shepherd – and he surely loved the smell of his sheep. As for listening, I can only say that I once visited him to discuss a challenging topic. Bishop Hubbard graciously gave me one hour of his time. He listened to me, never once shutting me down, and talking to me about it from his point of view as my bishop, meaning my teacher as well.
Although I continued to struggle with this matter for some time, part of the healing was the way in which Bishop Hubbard listened to me first, and then responding about the issue. I would expect more of the same from Bishop Scharfenberger.
This is what turns hearts and minds, this is what transforms people – finding a listening ear, finding hope and compassion, finding joy and redemption, finding a home for the heart deep in the heart of Christ who is Lord. This kind of joy and transformation is not found because many obedient sheep line up, but because many recalcitrant sheep hear the voice of their shepherd Christ, and turn to follow him. That won’t happen without joyful evangelizers at every level of the Church. And a joyful evangelizer is what we seem to have been given by Pope Francis, a joyful evangelizer himself!
Congratulations Bishop Scharfenberger!
We welcome you to Albany with great joy – Ad multos annos!