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Bishop James Conley: The Love of God is Found Precisely at the Foot of the Cross

By Deacon Keith Fournier
December 1st, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Bishop James Conley is one of those whom I have called "Benedict's Bishops". He was installed as the Bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska at 2 pm on November 20, 2012 in the Cathedral of the Risen Christ. His homily, reflecting this holy man, was focused on holiness. Clearly the New Evangelization has taken root in the heart and the ministry of Bishop James Conley.

LINCOLN, NB (Catholic Online) - I make it a regular task to call attention to the wonderful Bishops we have in the Catholic Church in the United States. Benedict the Builder is placing the Foundation stones in place upon which will be built a firm foundation for the Church in the United States. She is being secured and made ready for the challenges we face.

From the beginning of his service to the Church, Pope Benedict XVI has been about rebuilding the Church. When this papacy is recounted in history, I believe that Pope Benedict XVI's apostolic work will be credited with having re-secured the Catholic Church in a time of trial so that she could inaugurate the new missionary age of the Third Millennium. His appointment of Bishops is a key to that entire undertaking.

I believe that Pope Benedict XVI will also be credited with stemming the slide of western civilization into a new paganism. Of course, there is much work to be done. The Church is the only hope to preventing such a slide. She is not some irritant, preventing progress, she is the very path to authentic progress and human flourishing.

In continuity with the 2,000 year teaching of the Catholic Church and helping to ensure that the proper  understanding of the Second Vatican Council within a hermeneutic of continuity, Pope Benedict XVI is re-securing the foundation stones of the Catholic Church in the United States in many ways.

His selection of Bishops proceeds from his unwavering conviction that the Catholic Church - and the message of authentic and true human progress which she offers the world - is what is most needed in this critical hour in human history. Pope Benedict XVI is placing in pastoral leadership over the Catholic Church precisely the kind of Shepherds we need in this vital moment of Church history.

Bishop James Conley is one of those whom I have called "Benedict's Bishops" in my articles over the last year. He was installed as the Bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska at 2 pm on November 20, 2012 in the Cathedral of the Risen Christ. His homily, reflecting this holy man, was focused on holiness.

He turned first to his brother Bishops, telling them, "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." He then spoke to his priests, asking for their prayer and pledging his own for them.  He told them, "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. "

In a beautiful homily on the Sacred Heart, he told all present that "Our sufferings can transform our hearts into the Sacred Heart of Jesus. They can allow us to love as Christ loves". His affirming challenge to holiness was extended to the consecrated religious, seminarians and to the lay faithful whom he reminded, "Your greatest vocation is to holiness. Your holiness can transform the world."

Bishop Conley's appointment to succeed the heroic defender of Catholic orthodoxy, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, was a welcome announcement. He is a true son of the Catholic Church who understands the great gift of the teaching Magisterium. He is unabashedly and uncompromisingly Catholic to the core. Yet, he also has that extra asset so necessary in our age, the gift of evangelical joy.

Bishop Conley is only 57 years old. He is dynamic, spiritually and physically. I met him several years ago when I spoke at the Diocesan Conference in Denver. However, I had followed his heroic defense of unborn children - and admired his courageous support of those who stood on the front line of the Pro-Life effort - for many years.

I was well aware of his dynamically orthodox Catholic Christian faith through the testimonies of people whose lives he had touched with his infectious love for the Lord and His Church. They were always eager to share their experiences. That should be the hallmark of a truly good Bishop,  that the faithful not only love him but bear witness to his ministry in their own lives. 

He also has a compelling life witness. Bishop Conley was raised in a Presbyterian family in Wichita. He hungered for the fullness of truth and entered into the full communion of the Catholic Church when he was a junior at the University of Kansas. It is an interesting fact of contemporary Catholic life that so many Christians from other communities are not only entering the Church but becoming a much needed resource for its genuine renewal.

One has only to look on the bookshelves in Catholic and other Christian bookstores, or check the CD and DVD rack in the back of so many parishes, to see what I mean. "Converts" and "Reverts" (former or fallen away Catholics who return home) have become one of the greatest resources of the new Evangelization in the Church.

They have encountered the Risen Lord and want to live in His Body the Church. They deeply appreciate and understand the gift of the fullness of the Catholic Faith and want to both know the teaching of the Church and live it fully. They are what I call "Catholic by Choice".  

The Bishop entered the seminary four years after he graduated from College and was ordained for the Diocese of Wichita in 1985. He is one of the many treasures of the Church who were trained at Mount St Mary's in Emmitsburg.

He has a deep knowledge of - and devotion to - Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, another noteworthy convert to the Catholic Church. His Episcopal motto is "cor ad cor loquitur," which means "heart speaks to heart". That was John Henry Cardinal Newman's motto as well.

As a priest, Fr. Conley served fruitfully as a College Chaplain and for ten years as an official in the Vatican Congregation for Bishops in Rome.  His Episcopal service to the Church began in 2008 when he was ordained an auxiliary in the Archdiocese of Denver under Archbishop Charles Chaput.

It was during the time he was in Denver that I had the privilege of meeting Bishop Conley. What was immediately evident in the encounter was his deep, personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. He is a man of great personal and pastoral warmth. Immediately upon meeting him you feel welcomed and cared for.

He has a gift of evangelical joy which catches you in its hopeful grasp and shakes any cynicism out of your weary bones. Let's face it, these are trying times and the struggle can wear on you.  When you encounter this Bishop, you just want to be in his presence. The experience reminded me of how people must have experienced Jesus when they encountered him. That should have come as no surprise I guess. This is a truly holy man.  

However, like so many of the episcopal appointments being made by His Holiness Benedict XVI, Bishop Conley possesses that dynamic living faith so vitally important in the times in which we live. He has had that "encounter" with the Lord which Pope Benedict so often addresses. He is, in the best sense of the phrase, an "evangelical" Catholic. In that regard, he reminds me of another great Bishop, the president of the Bishops conference, Cardinal Timothy Dolan. 

So, I was not at all surprised when the new Bishop of Lincoln quoted the Cardinal Archbishop of New York in his homily at the installation: "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,"

Clearly the New Evangelization has taken root in the heart and the ministry of Bishop James Conley. The faithful of the Diocese of Lincoln have received a tremendous gift from the Lord.

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