Last week I was honored and thrilled to attend the Mass of Reception for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles' Coadjutor Archbishop Jose H. Gomez.
The Mass, attended by more than 4,000 people, was the "hottest Catholic ticket around," according to a friend and former young adult ministry colleague of mine. Indeed, the May 26 event was by invitation only, and packed. The atmosphere outside the cathedral was a mixture of anger, cautious optimism and delight for the new archbishop.
Many welcomed Gomez with open arms, with some people singing and bursting into prayers of thanks to God having bestowed such a fine prelate upon the people of the archdiocese.
Others were not so thrilled, as evidenced by the protesters who gathered primarily to bash current Cardinal Roger Mahony, primarily about cases of sexual abuse in the archdiocese.
Then there were the cautious optimists who welcome the archbishop but are keeping a close eye on him — not so much on him as a person as much as on his views on a variety of issues, including immigration rights and the abuse scandal.
Mahony was applauded when, in his homily, he touched briefly on immigration: "A good shepherd here will of necessity work tirelessly for just immigration policies and for the protection of the dignity of all immigrants."
I have always been inspired by the symbolism in the church of the shepherd and his flock. Although Jesus was not a shepherd — he was a fisherman by trade — the symbolism of the shepherd and his flock grew out of a love Jesus had for his people, much like a shepherd has for his sheep. This responsibility was later given to the disciples at Pentecost, which we recently celebrated.
As bishops, their primary duty is to be a shepherd — even going out of their way or risking their own life for the protection of their flock — the sheep that went astray.
I was very touched when Cardinal Mahony talked about these virtues in his homily: "The shepherd is found in the midst of the sheep, leading them The shepherd seeks the lost, the stray, the injured, the sick "
Quoting St. Augustine, Mahony said: "I am a bishop for you, a Christian with you. The former is the name of the office received, the latter the name of the grace given; the former name carries danger, the latter salvation."
Gomez's responsibilities will be tending this flock for as long as he remains archbishop. His stance on issues from immigration to evangelization will shape and form the church in Los Angeles.