There is an old story told about a bishop, a priest and a street sweeper. All three men walk into Church. The bishop walks to the front of the Church, throws himself to his knees and cries out in a loud voice: “Lord God, have mercy on me, a miserable sinner.” The priest, then, kneels down beside the bishop and in a clear voice, calls out, “Lord God, have mercy on me, a miserable sinner.” The street sweeper sneaks in the backdoor, falls to his knees and whispers, “Lord, God, have mercy on me a miserable sinner.” The bishop then nudges the priest with a smirk and says, “Look, who thinks he’s a miserable sinner.”
II. New Bishop of Orlando
Just yesterday, one of my dearest friends in the world, John Noonan, was named Bishop of Orlando. I have lived with the good bishop at seminary for the past 15 years: first as my rector and, then, as the Bishop in residence. Those of you who know John Noonan do not need to listen to the rest of this homily. Bishop Noonan is a walking homily in humility, decency and kindness. He reminds me of something Francis of Assisi once said: “Preach the Gospel always and, only when absolutely necessary, use words.”
III. Lift Station
When Bishop Noonan was my rector, I used to tease him that having him as a rector was like having a cook, a maid, a groundskeeper, a nurse and a boss all rolled into one. I have a million stories that make the point but one will suffice. A few years ago, when Bishop Noonan was Msgr. Noonan and rector at the seminary, our lift station went out. The lift station is the basically a huge pump that pumps the raw sewage out of the seminary. Even though my Dad was a plumber, I have always had a deep aversion to raw sewage, which at that point was backing up into my room, which was directly adjacent to the aforementioned lift station. I ran like a scalded cat from my room, morally certain that if I touched any of the stuff, I would die of typhoid, malaria and the bubonic plague. When I got back to my room, there was Msgr. Noonan, on his hands and knees stemming the tide of toxic waste. I was shamed into human decency, as I have often been by Fr/M sgr/Bishop Noonan. I still could not bring myself to get so close to the stuff. But I did pick up a mop and started mopping.
IV. Great for Orlando, sad for us
Yesterday was a great day for Bishop Noonan and for the Church of Orlando (as the people of Orlando will soon find out); yesterday was a sad day for the Church of Miami and for myself personally. I am not sure that I have met anyone who has preached the Gospel more eloquently to me than John Noonan and he has done it without ever preaching at me. Just knowing him and working with him makes me want to be a better man and a better priest.
Humility opens the way to gentleness. Humility makes love possible. Of course, bear in mind that humility is not humiliation. Humility makes you just as gentle with yourself as you are with others. As Frances de Sales said in his Introduction to the Devout Life, “true humility is to see yourself as you are seen in the eyes of God, no more than you are, but no less than you are. Humility is the mean between the two extremes of masochistic humiliation and arrogant pride. If you exalt yourself, you will be humbled. If you humble yourself, you will be exalted. It is very good to know that the man in the front of the Church, the one in the fancy robes, the one we call, “Your Excellency.” the one who is exalted can still have the humble heart of the sinner in the back of the Church. To paraphrase St. Patrick’s breastplate, which is Bishop Noonan’s motto, “Christ is above him and below him; Christ goes before him and follows after him.”