By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — We have a bishop.
“Are you willing to serve the people in this diocese in the tradition of the apostolic faith of the church?” asked Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, apostolic nuncio to the United States.
“With faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ, and with the love of God in my heart, I do accept the pastoral care of the people of God in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph,” replied Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr.
With that promise spoken shortly after 2 p.m. on Nov. 4, Archbishop Viganò and St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson of the metropolitan see of Missouri province, led the seventh bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph to his cathedra — the bishop’s chair — at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, and he was officially installed.
We have a bishop.
But Bishop Batman?
That was one of the many lines that caught the packed congregation by surprise as Bishop Johnston addressed his diocese for the very first time in a homily punctuated by gentle laughter.
Bishop Johnston told the congregation he hails from the hill country of Tennessee, and now finds himself living in bishop’s quarters inside the 10-story Catholic Center, smack in the middle of downtown Kansas City.
“No more gardening in the backyard,” he said. “No more birdfeeders. I’m not sure pigeons are really birds.”
But there are advantages to the 19th Century building, including the huge bronze casting of an eagle by one of history’s most renowned American artists, Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
“I do have an outdoor terrace in the building where I now live,” he said. “I’ve been out there at night and look out over the city streets from behind that big bronze eagle and I feel like . . . Batman.”
Bishop Johnston told the congregation that he chose the Feast of St. Charles Borromeo as the date of his installation for a reason, as he told them gently his vision and model as bishop.
“One is struck by the fact that he was a man for the times that he lived in,” Bishop Johnston said of the 16th Century cardinal-archbishop of Milan.
“He wisely brought about needed reforms in the church during a time of chaos and confusion, not only in the church but in the world, a world plagued by political turmoil and a world plagued, literally, by the plague,” he said.
“What is sometimes overlooked is that St. Charles relied heavily on others to help him. He called forth many collaborators, and together they got to work to set in motion movements and institutions that continue to bear fruit in the church today,” he said.
“St. Charles is a wonderful model for me and all bishops,” Bishop Johnston said.
“But here’s the caution, at least for me anyway,” he quickly added.
“One can easily be deceived to believe that success in the church is merely a matter of strategy or getting the right programs in place, or navigating astutely through the politics and personalities,” Bishop Johnston said.
“No doubt these things are necessary, and part of our life in a church made up of human beings,” he said.
“But they are secondary. St. Charles Borromeo knew this,” the bishop said.
“What did St. Charles know that we do well to imitate? To answer that, we need go no further than our readings today,” Bishop Johnston said.
In the letter to the Romans, St. Paul “provides a brief spiritual blueprint for a life of discipleship and service within the communion of the church.”
“His first advice: Be real,” Bishop Johnston said.
“Know who you really are in light of your identity in Christ,” he said.
“A perennial temptation of the enemy around since the Garden of Eden is to get us A) to forget who we are, and B) to grasp at some false notion of ourselves, to forget knowing who we are in right relation to God and one another, and to grasp at some form of power instead,” Bishop Johnston said.
“Our true identity is found in Jesus Christ as sons and daughters of the Father, redeemed by love and born again in the Spirit as new creatures,” he said.
“As friends of God, we are called to a new life of love which comes about through obedience to God and his commandments,” Bishop Johnston said.
“We run into trouble when we forget who we are and whose we are, which is why our central and most important act in God’s household is an act of remembering — a remembering that renews our identity by recalling the Paschal Mystery and making that saving mystery really present to us,” he said.
“From identity comes mission,” Bishop Johnston said.
“In the church, the Body of Christ, everyone is important. Everyone is given gifts for the good of all, and everyone is called by God to use those gifts for the mission Jesus has given to the church,” he said. “Ultimately, it is a mission of mercy.”
Bishop Johnston said the clergy are called to serve the laity “through word and sacrament.”
The laity are called “through their lives and work to permeate the world with the Spirit of Christ, to grow in holiness and become saints, and to give God glory.”
“Put another way, our goal is to get to heaven and drag as many people along with us as we can,” Bishop Johnston said.
He recalled again the words of St. Paul to the Romans: “Let love be sincere. Hate what is evil, hold on to what is good.”
He recalled the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians: “Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.”
“Love needs the truth, but it is also true that truth needs love,” Bishop Johnston said.
“Love and truth cannot be separated. Where love and truth come together, we find mercy. This is the love of the Good Shepherd, the love of Jesus,” he said.
“This is the love that liberates us from illusion,” Bishop Johnston said.
“This is the love that won’t let us settle for anything less than what God created us to be,” he said.
“This is the love that does not grasp at some false god, but spends itself, pours itself out, and suffers for and with others,” he said.
“This is the love manifested on the cross by the Good Shepherd which draws all people to himself, and it is here that the church measures her true success,” Bishop Johnston said.
As he began his homily, Bishop Johnston thanked Archbishop Viganò and Archbishop Carlson, and the more than two dozen bishops and archbishops from around the country — including Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — for their presence that day inside Kansas City’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
Bishop Johnston promised never to forget his first see, the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau.
“What a gift and blessing it has been to serve as the bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau for these past seven and a half years,” he said. “I will always love the church and the people of southern Missouri.”
He thanked the EWTN television network for broadcasting the installation Mass. Both his mother and his ailing father could watch their son back home in Tennessee.
He turned to Kansas City, Kan., Archbishop Joseph Naumann, who served as apostolic administrator of the Missouri diocese since April while continuing as leader of his own see on the Kansas side.
“I wish to convey on behalf of the faithful in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph our deep, deep gratitude for the selfless, wise and generous service of our diocesan administrator, Archbishop Joseph Naumann,” he said.
Bishop Johnston also asked the people of Kansas City-St. Joseph to remember his predecessor.
“I ask all of you to continue to support in prayer and kindness Bishop Robert Finn whom I am succeeding today,” he said. “As he seeks to serve and do God’s will in new ways, may God bless him and those he will serve in the days and years ahead.”
“Since being named your bishop,” Bishop Johnston said, “I’ve been asked many times about what I’m going to do about healing and bringing unity.”
The real work of healing is not his, the bishop said.
“Jesus is the true healer, and at best, a bishop is merely a physician’s assistant,” Bishop Johnston said.
“Jesus and only Jesus is our healer and source of unity. If we forget this, the church becomes just another human organization, prone to factions and arguments,” he said.
“The good news for us is the same good news that’s been there from the outset, and it’s mentioned at the beginning of St. Mark’s Gospel: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel,’” Bishop Johnston said.
“This is where I begin with you as your new bishop. Our task is twofold — to repent and to believe,” he said.
“This is where we each begin anew, and where we must continually return — to repentance and belief, and this is how the church is renewed and becomes healthy and holy and fruitful,” he said.
Bishop Johnston recalled the words of St. Augustine: “When I am frightened by what I am to you, then I am consoled by what I am with you.
For you, I am a bishop, with you, I am a Christian. The first is an office, the second a grace; the first a danger, the second salvation.”
“My friends, my brothers and sisters, my fellow Christians of Kansas City-St. Joseph,” Bishop Johnston said, “let us go forward in a spirit of repentance and faith, mindful that ‘The love of Christ urges us on.’”
That passage, from St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 5, Verse 14, is the official motto of Bishop James V. Johnston Jr., Seventh Bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.