On Monday, December 12, 2022, Fr. Gary Franken of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, B.C. was ordained to the episcopate and installed as the new Bishop of St. Paul, Alberta. Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto, gave the homily at this celebration, preaching about the role of bishop. His homily appears below. We offer our prayers and best wishes to Bishop Franken as he begins this new chapter of ministry in Alberta.
Episcopal Ordination of Bishop Gary Franken
December 12, 2022
Very early in the morning of June 22, 1535, long before dawn, the warden of the Tower of London entered the cell of a prisoner, woke him up, and told him that the King had decreed that he would be beheaded that morning. The prisoner, Bishop John Fisher of Rochester, asked at what hour the execution would occur, and when told that it would be at 10am, he requested that he be awakened in time, and then rolled over and went back to sleep.
There was a man with a clear conscience. He had been faithful in fulfilling the sacred office that had been entrusted to him many years before, at his ordination as a bishop. He was being executed because he had protested the king’s decision to reject his faithful wife, and to use his power to seek to destroy the sacred bond of holy matrimony. Earlier Bishop Fisher had written brilliantly against the trendy ideology that was coming out of Germany at the time, and was sweeping through the universities of Europe, dazzling the professorial and political elite, and beginning to take hold throughout society. Then, as now, the ever-shifting spirit of the age, the “zeitgeist” as it is called in German, was blowing against the Gospel of the Lord Jesus, which was found to be too constricting, and out of touch with the demands of the times. The King did not want the objective and unchanging law of God to challenge him to conversion, or to put limits to his subjective and fickle will. Bishop Fisher, bishop of the smallest diocese in England, was the only bishop to resist the will of the king, as his friend Thomas More was the only politician.
Bishop John Fisher was not only faithful at the moment of his martyrdom; he founded his whole episcopal vocation on fidelity to the Lord, and on a simple life of prayer, study, and pastoral action. He provided hospitality for guests, but lived austerely. He spent hours of prayer in his chapel and of study in his library, and he kept a skull on his desk to remind him of the shortness of life. As the psalmist says: “Lord teach me the shortness of life, that I may gain wisdom of heart.” Such a man could not be bribed or bullied.
Knowing the abysmal state of preaching in England, he set up a program of homiletics at the University of Cambridge, where he was chancellor. He himself constantly preached to the people entrusted to his episcopal care. His diocese was on the pilgrim road to Canterbury, and he imitated the pastoral zeal which Chaucer describes in the parson of the prologue to the Canterbury Tales: he was a shepherd, and not a mercenary. He would visit the faithful throughout his diocese, teaching them the Good News, and caring for them in their poverty and suffering. He had been anointed as priest, and prophet, and entrusted with the shepherd’s staff at his ordination, and fulfilled in his whole episcopal life the words of Isaiah from today’s first reading which Jesus himself, the Good Shepherd, our great High Priest, read out in the synagogue of Nazareth as the program for his mission amongst us:
“The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
Because the LORD has anointed me;
He has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
To bind up the broken-hearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And release to the prisoners,
To proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour.
No wonder Bishop Fisher’s parishioners shed tears, and crowded around him, when he was taken away from them to the tower. As Chaucer said of the parson in the Canterbury Tales: “Christ’s teaching, and his apostles twelve, he taught, but first he followed it himself.”
Several years ago I was at the installation of a new bishop. He looked at all of us bishops who were present, resplendent in mitres, and pectoral crosses, and episcopal rings, and he challenged us: he said that we all looked like bishops, but what was important was that we be bishops, and act as true bishops. Like the great bishop saints, such as John Fisher, Ambrose, Augustine, Charles Borromeo (who had a portrait of John Fisher on his desk), and Francis de Sales (who brought people to Christ through the irresistible combination of clarity and charity), we who are ordained to the episcopate need not just to look like bishops, but to be bishops, through and through, faithful and true. As the prayer says when the episcopal ring is received: “Receive the ring, the seal of fidelity: and adorned with undefiled faith, preserve unblemished the Bride of God, the holy Church.”
And at the bestowal of the crosier: “Receive the crosier, the sign of the pastoral office, and keep watch over the whole flock in which the Holy Spirit has placed you as Bishop to govern the Church of God.”
The external active pastoral ministry symbolized by the pastoral staff must not be mere ecclesial busyness, but arise out of a life of prayer. Like all Christians, bishops are called to nothing less than holiness. The prayer on receiving the mitre refers to this, as do the accounts of the life of deep prayer of the bishop saints: “Receive the mitre, and let the splendour of holiness shine in you, so that when the chief Shepherd appears, you may merit to receive an unfading crown of glory.”
The primary mission of the bishop is to proclaim faithfully the word of God, in preaching and in action and in personal example. In a most significant ritual at an episcopal ordination, the Book of the Gospels is held over the head of the new bishop at the prayer of episcopal consecration. Someone once observed that it looks like the roof of a house, the House of the Gospel, which is the true home of the bishop, from which he goes forth to preach the Good News, and to which he daily returns to receive the strength to be fruitful in his mission. As another great bishop, Bishop Sheen, recommended: every day spend an hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, immersed in the prayerful reading of the Word of God.
That life of prayer is the spiritual foundation, in which the vision of faith is received, and in which the hope rooted in the providence of God is nourished amid all of the troubles of life; but that faith and hope must bear fruit in practical love. Today’s Gospel is that of the Visitation. The Annunciation, the life of prayerful encounter with God, in which Mary received her mission, led to the practical charity of the Visitation, as she set out to help Elizabeth; practical love in action is the essential fruit both of Christian life, and of episcopal ministry.
At roughly the same time that the holy bishop John Fisher was martyred in England, Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared in Mexico to Saint Juan Diego. The mystic image that she left on his cloak is a sign of her care for those Isaiah speaks of, the poor and the marginalized, and also of the cosmic struggle with evil revealed in the reading from the Apocalypse at today’s Mass. The woman clothed with the sun is Mary, bringing forth Jesus into a hostile world. But she is also the Mother of the Church, our mother the Church, which is always called to bring forth Jesus into a world in which the power of the great dragon will seem dominant until the second coming of Christ.
In this chapter of the Apocalypse, just after the passage read today, we see the great battle in which Michael defeats the power of Satan, the seemingly invincible dragon. In the society and culture of the time of Juan Diego, and in that of John Fisher, and in our own society and culture, the forces of evil were and are resilient and are for the moment powerful. They seem irresistible. In the battle against them, we all must rely not on mere human action alone, not on our own strength, which is too weak for the task, but on the grace of God and the intercession of Our Lady and of the saints, especially Saint Michael. In view of the cosmic nature of the powers underlying the evils which we face in our own time, as John Fisher and Juan Diego did in their time, in some places, after Mass has finished, people pray the apocalyptic prayer to Saint Michael: “Saint Michael the archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.”
In Saint Juan Diego we see one of the many saintly indigenous Catholics who have been at the foundation of the life of the Church for centuries. When I was Bishop of Saint Paul, a source of great spiritual strength was the Kehewin pilgrimage, as is that of Lac Ste Anne. It is certainly the commitment of the Holy Father and the bishops of Canada to work together with the indigenous peoples of this land as we journey forward. And in a particular way we must all recognize and celebrate the vital role of the indigenous Catholic spiritual tradition in our life in Christ.
The sacraments of spiritual consecration - baptism, confirmation, matrimony, and ordination – remind us all of the commitments before God which each of us has made, holy covenants which shape our lives, and challenge us to holiness. They take us beyond ourselves, in all of our weakness, a weakness and a need for divine grace and saintly intercession that is symbolized when just before ordination the one to be ordained lies flat on the floor as we all pray for him. Each of us is frail and sinful, but by the fire of the Holy Spirit God takes that natural frailty and transforms it through supernatural grace, and sends us on our mission.
Many, many years before his martyrdom, a young Bishop John Fisher composed a prayer for bishops, which with appropriate adaptation can be applied to each of us in our own particular Christian vocations. It is, however, particularly appropriate at the ordination of a new bishop, to encourage and inspire him, and to challenge all of us who are already bishops not just to look like bishops, but to be bishops in the imitation of Christ the Good Shepherd:
Prayer of St John Fisher for Holy Bishops
Lord, according to your promise that the Gospel should be preached throughout the whole world, raise up men fitting for such work.
The Apostles were but soft and yielding clay till they were baked hard by the fire of the Holy Ghost.
So, good Lord, do now in like manner with thy Church militant; change and make the soft and slippery earth into hard stones; set in Thy Church strong and mighty pillars that may suffer and endure great labours, watching, poverty, thirst, hunger, cold, and heat; which also shall not fear the threatenings of princes, persecution, neither death but always persuade and think with themselves to suffer with a good will, slanders, shame, and all kinds of torments, for the glory and laud of Thy Holy Name. By this manner, good Lord, the truth of Thy Gospel shall be preached throughout all the world. Therefore, merciful Lord, exercise Thy mercy, and shower it indeed upon the Church. Amen.