Not that Archbishop Lori really belonged to us, or that our Bridgeport Diocese is such small beer. But Baltimore is a big deal: the oldest diocese in the country; the original seat of American Catholicism.
As Baltimore’s archbishop, Lori will preside over nearly twice as many parishes as he did here in Bridgeport. And his proximity to the nation’s capital will make it more convenient for him to perform his duties as chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.
It was in this role that it became so blindingly obvious over the last few months that our guy was something special. Whether offering the “Parable of the Kosher Deli” in his testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform or appearing in the media to remind folks that “religious liberty is the first of our freedoms and the source of all the others,” our guy revealed himself to be a persuasive advocate for a robust and publicly-engaged Catholicism.
I’d never heard of Bishop Lori before moving into the diocese two years ago, and I met him only once—if you can call shaking a man’s hand after he’s just anointed your forehead with the holy chrism of confirmation meeting someone—but I took pride in watching him come into his own on the national stage.
“That’s our guy,” I’d think when I saw him on TV, or saw him quoted in The New York Times. It was in that newspaper that I read what he told the bishop’s conference at their annual meeting in, where else, Baltimore:
“The services which the Catholic Church and other denominations provide are more crucial than ever, but it is becoming more and more difficult for us to deliver these services in a manner that respects the very faith that impels us to provide them.”
Forty-three words and all of them true, all of them reflective of the urgency of this moment that the Church has found herself in. Turns out our guy has a way with words.
I give Bishop Lori a lot of credit. I give all our priests a lot of credit. It’s not exactly a popular thing these days to be a priest. Or a bishop. If you get right down to it, it’s not exactly a popular thing these days to be the kind of Catholic who actually believes this stuff and is willing to speak openly—that is, in mixed company—about the mysteries of our faith and its importance in our lives.
I’m just a pew-sitter with a bunch of kids to feed and a mailbox full of bills to pay. I generally don’t like to get into discussions about religion with strangers, or newspaper reporters, or the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. You know, if it can be avoided.
So I thank God for Bishop Lori, and others who have the courage to step out and speak up when it can’t be avoided. Where would we be without their courageous witness? What kind of a Church would we be if our leaders refused to meet these challenges head on, publicly, and with conviction?
We would be marginalized, that’s where we would be. We would be on the sidelines of the public discourse, not the Church that Christ called us to be. Jesus told his disciples to, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” He did not say, “Hang back. Keep quiet. Only talk about this stuff behind closed doors.”
And it’s a good thing He didn’t. It’s all too tempting to be that kind of Catholic when the dominant culture regards humility as weakness and faith as ignorance. It’s natural to want to withdraw from that culture, to adopt the “you-go-your-way, we’ll-go-ours” mentality.
So Bishop Lori and his brother bishops, priests, and religious have my eternal thanks and admiration. It takes guts to do what they do. We shouldn’t let it go unnoticed.
He may be off to bigger and better things, but while he’s doing them, we can take pride in saying to ourselves, “That’s our guy.”