Bishop Fabre bids farewell to Archdiocese of New Orleans
Bishop Shelton J. Fabre delivered the following homily at his Mass of Farewell from the Archdiocese of New Orleans at St. Louis Cathedral on Oct. 21. He was to be installed as the fourth bishop of Houma-Thibodaux on Oct. 30: (Readings: Numbers 6:22-27; Ephesians 3:14-21; Matthew 19:27-29)
I am honored that you have come here tonight, and I am grateful for your presence. Farewells, especially when one has been as fulfilled as I have been here in New Orleans, are never easy, but they can remind us that we are on a journey with God that will lead us back to God if we are faithful to goal of the journey.
I have enjoyed the part of my life’s journey that has been lived here in the Archdiocese of New Orleans for the past six and one half years. You may be surprised to learn that even before I took up residence in New Orleans in February of 2007, the thought of what life would be like if I lived in New Orleans was something that crossed my mind with some regularity as a child.
I considered what my life would be like in New Orleans for two reasons. The first reason is because I would come each summer to spend a week in New Orleans with my godparents, my Aunt Mary and Uncle Pete, who lived with their family in the Gentilly area. Coming to New Orleans as a child, coming from the country to the city to spend a week during the summer with my godparents and cousins, I wondered what it would be like to live here. Who wouldn’t, correct? Have I spoken like a true New Orlenian?
The second and more prominent reason as a child I would think about what life might have been like for me in New Orleans is because at one point during my childhood my father revealed to me if his plans had turned out differently I might have been born in New Orleans. My father told me that around the time he married my mother in Baton Rouge in 1950, he indicated to my mother that at that time he wanted to move to New Orleans to become a New Orleans police officer. Well, my mother was not of the same mind and made it clear that she would not do that, and so my father let go of that dream of living and working in New Orleans to create another with my mother, one that would take them eventually to New Roads, where I was born.
Even though this decision by my father and mother essentially set the course for me to be born away from New Orleans, I am truly amazed at how much in my six and one half years of service here I believe that I have become a ‘New Orlenian’. While I was not born here and therefore cannot, like the native Catholics, reference any New Orleans Catholic high school I attended as an integral and definitive, defining part of my own personal identity and undying loyalty, I am nonetheless amazed at how much I have taken root in this unique American city.
Life here has been an unexpected, wonderful, and eye-opening experience. I have learned so much in my initiation to life here in New Orleans. When I first arrived here, I learned quickly that people literally created new traffic lanes where none existed in order to make a right turn! I was intrigued that one had to navigate almost the entire city utilizing right turns and U turns, but ABSOLUTELY no left turns. I found it endearing that you could actually cross the same street twice going in one direction, and was eventually adequately schooled by the car horns and other gestures of aggravated motorists that you do not block cross street traffic when stopped at a red light or slowed down for another reason while driving.
I directly experienced that the results of the Saints game on Sunday determine the productivity of every group on a Monday morning! I also enjoyed wonderful restaurants tucked away in different parts of the city, and learned and enjoyed the best places to just relax and absorb the unique culture and heartbeat of this wonderful American city.
I have come to know and to love the City of New Orleans and the Archdiocese of New Orleans during my years here. I consider myself to have been rooted here because all these things have become for me an expected part of daily life in this wonderful American city, and in many ways endear the city to my heart.
These experiences of coming to know and to love New Orleans have been made more poignant these past few weeks since the announcement of my appointment to Houma-Thibodaux. I truly look forward to all the good people and faith experiences that await me in Houma-Thibodaux, but these past few weeks of life have also required that I prepare to depart from New Orleans, which has become home to me. In these past few weeks since the announcement of my transfer, I have again lived my life amidst packed and stacked boxes, empty walls, empty book shelves, packed suitcases and many other things that indicate transition.
We all know that during times of transition, our familiar personal spaces become suddenly and starkly unfamiliar to us because we gradually strip our homes, our places of refuge, and our inner sanctums of all personal items that made them uniquely ours. We return them to the state and manner in which we found them upon our first move into them so that we might now entrust these spaces to those who will come after us. No matter how close or how far the move, these are the usual external actions and efforts required when one is moving.
However, as you are aware there are also internal requirements when one’s life is in some kind of transition. Like my childhood questions with regard to what would it be like to live in New Orleans, I now wonder what will it be like live in Houma-Thibodaux? What will life and faith encompass there, and NOT here?
My internal musings create all kinds of scenarios in my mind and heart as I wonder how long will it take to become familiar with those unique surroundings and how long it will take to become home to me? We all know that times of transition force themselves upon us with both kinds of such internal and external ramifications and questions.
Seen only from the perspective of packing and moving, of questions and future projections, times of transition in life may be overwhelming, lonely periods when we might feel the most disconnected and disengaged. One way out of such feelings is to root our times of transition in times of prayer, and these can be times of poignant, powerful prayer. Amidst all that is changing, we can be drawn again into the realization of the eternal fidelity of God and those realities in life that do not change, those realities that are enduring.
Our Gospel reading, which I have used to guide my reflection and prayer during this time of transition, is a clear proclamation that God will not be outdone in generosity, and that if we are faithful to him, the Lord will always be generous to us regardless of the circumstances or changes in our lives. If we put all that we have and all that we are in service to Jesus Christ, how blessed we will be because in his own way and in his own time God will not be outdone in generosity.
The blessings God has promised to those who trustingly follow after him have manifested themselves to me during my time here in New Orleans. I have been blessed with new experiences that I could not have had anywhere else, new friends and wonderful encounters with people that I would probably never have met had I not been appointed here, and a new and renewed perspective on life that comes from a combination of all that the Lord has guided me toward and through during my years here.
During times of transition, we can either focus on that which we are leaving behind, as the person in our gospel does when he states, “We have left everything to follow you,” or we can focus on what is enduring and on God’s wonderful promises fulfilled after past transitions in life, and surrender ourselves again to his love.
My time here in New Orleans has proven to me yet again that God will not be outdone in generosity since here in this place I have received so much from the Lord, just as he promised to me when I arrived here from Baton Rouge. I consider myself truly blessed to have come to know and to call friends Archbishop Aymond, Archbishop Hughes, Bishop Morin and Bishop Carmon – each of whom has enriched my life and my ministry in many particular ways. I thank you, my brother bishops, for the ways that you have formed me into the bishop that the Church deserves and desires me to be.
I am grateful to have come to know the priests, deacons and religious of the archdiocese, and I want to express that it was my privilege to work with you. Your untiring dedication to proclaiming the gospel in good times and in bad has and will continue to bear fruit in the lives of many. I know that it has in mine.
I am grateful to have come to know the Archdiocesan chancery staff and all the other people who serve the other entities in the archdiocesan family of service, such as Catholic Charities, Christopher Homes, the Catholic Foundation and Second Harvest Food Bank to name a few. You all serve so well and give ourselves so generously in service to the Church and the People of God. Your dedication and ministry will long mark my special memories of the Church and its actions here in New Orleans.
It was a grace to encounter the people in parishes, and to celebrate with them and to come to know what they had to teach me. You have all been a blessed part of my time here in New Orleans, and I thank you for those times when you supported me, patiently reminded me, laughed with me, cried with me, prayed with me and for me, encouraged me, took my phone calls, answered my questions, challenged me, and all the many other ways you were a blessing to me. I hope that I did the same for all of you. Most importantly, however, thank you also for the times that you forgave me.
I again express my great gratitude to each one of you for your presence here at this Mass. I thank you for being such a wonderful part of the fulfillment for me of God’s promise in our gospel reading that one who trusts in the Lord and leaves behind the familiar will be blessed with countless gifts. I have been blessed abundantly by God here in New Orleans. All of you are now, and will always continue to be, part of this blessing bestowed upon me by God. The Lord has fulfilled for me his promise to not be outdone in generosity, and I am grateful for the gifts he has poured upon me through all of you. I hope the Lord has blessed you through me.
Even though I am not going far, I am nonetheless leaving life and ministry here in New Orleans. I look forward with great anticipation and joy to serving in Houma-Thibodaux, where I have already been warmly welcome and greeted with great joy and excitement. However, at this time and in this moment, let me express my thanks to each one of you for the ways that you have been a part of so joyfully answering my childhood fantasy about what it would be like to live in New Orleans. I have truly found grace, joy and peace ministering here with you and among you as your auxiliary bishop.
So, let me officially now bid farewell to you, my friends, who live here at ground zero of the ‘Who Dat Nation’, and who worship and serve here in the wonder and joy of ‘Where Y’at Catholicism’. I hope that I will often cross your memories with a smile, and hope even more so that I will often cross your prayers. I know that you will often cross my memories and promise to keep you in prayer as I relish this blessed part of my journey in my heart.
In closing and in wishing you well as I depart, please allow me to simply say that my prayer for you is the prayer found in our second reading from Ephesians tonight, and I quote the words of our first reading to express my gratitude and hope for you in the Lord: “The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!”