LINCOLN, Neb. — As he was installed in the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., on Wednesday, Bishop James Conley stressed the need for bishops and all Catholics to be holy so that the Gospel will impact the culture and the Church will prosper.
“My brother bishops, there is nothing more important for a bishop than the care of souls,” he said in his Nov. 20 homily. “If the Church is to flourish in the world today, if the New Evangelization is to really take root, if we are to truly build a culture of life, holiness must begin with us.”
The installation Mass began at 2pm local time in Lincoln’s Cathedral of the Risen Christ and was broadcast live on EWTN.
Dozens of priests and bishops processed up to the altar. Their procession was flanked by a Knights of Columbus honor guard and followed by the knights and ladies of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre.
Among the more than 40 archbishops, bishops and abbots in attendance were apostolic nuncio Archbishop Carlo Vigano, emeritus Bishop of Lincoln Fabian Bruskewitz, Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, Neb., Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles.
Bishop Conley’s childhood friend, Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, was also among the bishops in attendance.
Lincoln’s new bishop focused in his homily on the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the sufferings of Jesus Christ.
“Christ crucified is the beautiful and harrowing mystery of our faith. It seems inconceivable, unreasonable and unjust that the God of the universe conquers death by dying on a cross,” he said. “The scandal of the Incarnation is that Christ became man to die on a cross, between two criminals, so that we could share in the life of God for all eternity.”
“But the love of God is found precisely at the foot of the cross,” he said. “We gaze at the crucified Christ because the Crucifixion leads to the victory.”
During his homily, Bishop Conley remembered his time in a rural monastery in France and his youthful effort at truck farming in north-central Kansas near the Nebraska border.
“Those are the places where I learned to pray. Those are the places where I learned to hear the voice of the Lord. The rhythms of the rural life are at the heart of my own spiritual life,” he said. “So I’m grateful to the Lord that he has brought me here to Lincoln.”
The bishop credited his attendance at Blessed John Paul II’s papal Mass in Iowa in 1979 with helping inspire his own vocation to the priesthood. The Pope “radiated joy and hope,” despite his sufferings under the Nazis and the communists, he recalled.
Bishop Conley then addressed each of the groups present: the bishops who preceded him, the priests and religious of the diocese and the laity.
He expressed gratitude for the diocese’s “rich Catholic history” and the leadership of his predecessors, Bishop Bruskewitz and Bishop Glennon Flavin.
He reminded his brother bishops to focus on Christ: “Last week in Baltimore, Cardinal Dolan put it like this: ‘We cannot engage culture unless we allow him to first engage us.’”
“And if we want the New Evangelization to take root, it starts on our knees with the conversion of our own hearts,” Bishop Conley stated.
The bishop urged his diocese’s priests to contact him whenever they need to and to pray for him, as he will pray for them always.
“You were made for greatness. We are all made for greatness. And your bishop wants nothing more from you than sanctity. The Church needs holy priests now more than ever,” he said, encouraging priests and bishops to make their priesthood “characterized by joy.”
“Our sufferings can transform our hearts into the Sacred Heart of Jesus. They can allow us to love as Christ loves,” he said.
He thanked vowed religious men and women for their witness to Jesus, and he called seminarians “a supreme blessing to the diocese.”
Bishop Conley, 57, was made auxiliary bishop of Denver in 2008. He was born in Kansas City, Mo., and lived briefly in Colorado before moving to Kansas as a child. He was raised Presbyterian and converted to Catholicism in part because of his experiences as a student in the University of Kansas’ Integrated Humanities Program in the 1970s. He was ordained a priest in 1985 for the Diocese of Wichita, Kan.
There are more than 96,000 Catholics in the Diocese of Lincoln, out of a total population of 588,000. The diocese has 150 diocesan priests, 141 religious sisters and 44 seminarians. There are 134 parishes in the diocese and more than 7,600 primary and secondary students in 27 Catholic elementary schools and six Catholic high schools.
The diocese is the home of a diocesan seminary and the seminary of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, a priestly society dedicated to the celebration of the Tridentine Latin Mass.
Bishop Conley also had a message for the laity.
“Your greatest vocation is to holiness,” he said. “Your holiness can transform the world.”