Text of Bishop-elect Tylka’s homily for Vespers on July 21 at St. Mary’s Cathedral

Coadjutor Bishop-elect Louis Tylka embraced his new diocese at Vespers on July 21 by donning the stole believed to have been worn by Jesuit Father Jacques Marquette the first time he preached the Gospel in what is now Illilnois. He also wore the pectoral cross that belonged to Archbishop John Lancaster Spalding, the first bishop of the Diocese of Peoria. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Following is the full text of the homily given by Coadjutor Bishop-elect Louis Tylka during Vespers at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria on Tuesday, July 21. For a story on the evening service, click here.

My brother priests, both the few that are with us from the Archdiocese of Chicago, some of my friends, and now my new brothers in my new home of the Diocese of Peoria; seminarians — God willing our future priests, family and friends, it is good that our Good God has brought us together in this moment of prayer. It is a tradition to gather the priests of a diocese together on the eve of an episcopal ordination affording the bishop-elect an opportunity to speak with the clergy as he prepares to enter the ranks of bishops. We are a tad bit early in gathering this evening as tomorrow I will be in the Diocese of Belleville for the ordination of Bishop-elect McGovern — whom I commend to your prayers this evening. I am truly appreciative of all who have made the journey for this Vesper Service.

Tonight we formally inaugurate a new journey together which only a little over two months ago, at least for me, seemed quite improbable.

Tonight we formally inaugurate a new journey together which only a little over two months ago, at least for me, seemed quite improbable. Still in many ways, this journey continues to seem improbable even though we know that God indeed has placed before us this wonderful opportunity of faith and friendship, of brotherhood and spiritual fatherhood, of priesthood and most importantly discipleship. We take these first steps in the midst of a world that at times truly seems turned upside down. Despite many challenges, we come together — Coadjutor Bishop with his priests — to call upon the grace of the Holy Spirit to once again bring a fresh breath of life into our journey of faith.

This is the first of many times that I will be tasked in preaching among you, and so in considering our time together this evening, I chose a Gospel passage that speaks to me in many powerful ways. In taking up this new ministry as Bishop, the story we often call the Emmaus Journey offers guidance to this new relationship we share. How appropriate it was that during my first week of “work” here in Peoria I was blessed to spend time with groups of young men who are open to exploring the idea of priesthood on our diocese’s Emmaus Days. Several images stand out which I wish to share with you: Being Disciples, Walking Together, Recognizing in the Breaking of the Bread and Hearts Burning Within.

BEING DISCIPLES

Depending on which translation you read, the story begins by saying “two of them.” Who are the “them?” I believe we can infer from the story that these two are disciples of Jesus. They speak about what they’ve witnessed, what they hoped for in Jesus and ultimately return to the others — the eleven and those with “them” to share their experience of encountering the Risen Lord. We must be disciples in order to make disciples.

Coadjutor Bishop-elect Louis Tylka was the homilist for the July 21 Vespers anticipating his episcopal ordination. He preached on the passage from Luke’s Gospel about the disciples on the road to Emmaus, saying, “We must be disciples in order to make disciples.” (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

Just imagine their conversation which draws in Jesus. They are likely still trying to unpack the significance of all that they have seen and heard. These two had committed themselves to the path of following Jesus; and so must we. It is true we are priests, and good priests at that! But before we are privileged to be ordained by the Church, we demonstrate in our own lives a willingness to “follow Jesus.”

Discipleship is a way of life — it is a commitment to deepen our relationship with Jesus and to always seek more from Him who is our way, our truth, and our life. Disciples are committed to lifelong learning from and living in the Heart of Jesus. I think that is why these two disciples continue to “process” what they have witnessed so that it may fully become a part of who they are.

In my own life, it is only more recently that this notion of discipleship has captured my mind and heart. It is not that I wasn’t a disciple before, and only recently became converted to the idea — no, it is only that more recently, I have begun to unpack what already has taken place. I began to get the language around the reality I lived. I do think we have the great task of helping the People of God understand this calling of discipleship: to help “interpret” as the Lord does for these two on the way, the language and heart of our calling so that we can more fully take up our identity as missionary disciples.

WALKING TOGETHER

The journey of faith is not a solitary journey; in fact, I think it is dangerous when we sometimes veer toward walking alone. Like the disciples in the Gospel we are on the road together. The two on the road to Emmaus have left one gathering of disciples but they are walking together, and since they are together Jesus comes and walks with them (for where two or three are gathered, I am in their midst says the Lord). We need to continue walking together. We need to make sense of our collective calling to bring Jesus’ love and mercy to the world. We need to learn and grow together.

As Bishop I don’t know all the answers — I barely know all the questions. What I do know is we can only be successful in our ministry if we do it together. We must rely on each other to assist in building up God’s Kingdom. Creating a sense of unity among us, especially in a diocese as large as ours — stretching across north central Illinois, from Danville in the east to the Quad Cities on the Mississippi, through small communities among the corn and soybeans, to the larger cities and universities of our diocese, we together make a difference in so many lives, by walking together the path of discipleship.

My pledge is to be a faithful disciple with you — being taught by Jesus how we are to live a life of faith — together.

Here I recall the words of one of the Eucharistic Prayers for Various Needs and Occasions:

“Grant that all the faithful of the Church, looking into the signs of the times by the light of faith, may constantly devote themselves to the service of the Gospel. Keep us attentive to the needs of all that, sharing their grief and pain, their joy and hope, we may faithfully bring them the good news of salvation and go forward with them along the way of you Kingdom.”

My pledge is to be a faithful disciple with you — being taught by Jesus how we are to live a life of faith — together.

RECOGNIZING IN THE BREAKING OF THE BREAD

During the journey, Jesus is hidden from their eyes, but at the end he reveals himself in the “breaking of the bread,” in the Eucharist. The source and summit of our Catholic Christian life is the Sacrament given by Jesus to sustain us, to nourish us, to heal us, to unite us. The Sacraments of the Church are a means by which we as Church bring holiness to the world.

We face many challenges in the world today, which is why, I believe it is all the more important to return often to this great source of life. To see Jesus truly present to us and uniting Himself to us through the Sacred Banquet. Let us commit ourselves to worthy celebrations of this great encounter with Jesus Christ in which all are invited and all feel welcome. And in our own relationship with Jesus — heed the wisdom of one of this diocese’s greatest sons, the Venerable Fulton Sheen; spend time in prayer before Jesus in a Holy Hour: allow Jesus to come into your midst to accompany you in your life of discipleship and in your priestly life.

HEARTS BURNING WITHIN

The encounter with the Lord leaves the hearts of the disciples on fire! “Were not our hearts burning,” they exclaimed. Their voices speak to us across the ages, encouraging us to be open to the Lord, that he may set our hearts on fire: to know, to love and to serve Him.

We can and do allow our faith to grow cold from time to time; this is only human and this happens in our weakness and our sinfulness. We constantly need to take up the journey with fresh vigor, inspired by the witnesses of others whose hearts are aflame — the laity, the religious and our brother priests show us burning hearts. When we find only embers, we must pray for the rekindling spark of the Holy Spirit to move us forward.

My encouragement to us all, especially to myself, is to live a life of prayer so as to keep the fire burning. It can be so easy to neglect our time of prayer as life becomes too “busy.” Doing the work of the Lord is our calling, but so too is spending time with the Lord. Keep the flame of faith alive in your heart so that you may have a passion for serving Jesus each and every day. Follow the example of the first disciple — the Blessed Mother Mary — whose heart was aflame with the Love of God so she was willing to offer her “yes” to God’s plan for her in her own life.

Brothers, sons, family and friends — as on that first day of the week, that day of new life, “two of them,” two disciples, got on the road together. They walked with Jesus, they broke Bread with Jesus, they had their hearts set on fire by Jesus. Let us do the same.

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