On the Feast of St James [25 July] I shall celebrate the 23rd anniversary of my ordination as a bishop. It is not a major celebration, but it is another milestone.
Back in 1994, Archbishop Thomas White was the Pope’s ambassador in Wellington and he suggested it was often appropriate when possible to hold the ordination of a new bishop on the feast of one of the apostles.
So began my annual celebration with St James, although he and I did have a longer association. James is my second name, given in memory of an uncle, who died in an aircraft crash during World War II.
The Feast of James each year is a reminder to me that I have been called to be in a special sense a successor of the apostles. I know it is a high calling, but what attracts me most about the apostles is their ordinary humanity.
St Therese of Lisieux once commented that she could only be inspired by saints whom she could see had feet of clay, just like herself.
James and his brother John were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee.
They must have been a feisty pair. Jesus gave them the nickname “Boanerges” or “Sons of Thunder”. They were the two who wanted to call down fire from heaven when Jesus was rejected by a Samaritan village. They [and their mother] wanted the top spots when Jesus came into his kingdom, which predictably annoyed their companions.
James and John, with Peter, seem to have comprised our Lord’s “inner circle”. These three witnessed the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, the raising of the daughter of Jairus, the transfiguration, and the agony in the Garden.
One gets the impression that Jesus loved this ambitious trio, and they in turn loved him. Peter boasted that he would remain faithful even if all the rest ran away. James and his brother had no doubt they would be able to “drink the cup” that Jesus must drink.
Yet through all the bluster, Peter does emerge as a worthy leader, John left us his majestic fourth Gospel, and James was the first of the Twelve to shed his blood for Christ.
On reflection, what I admire most about James was his courage in leaving the familiar shores of the Sea of Galilee to accompany Jesus wherever that mission might lead.
Twenty-three years ago I experienced a similar upheaval and was asked to walk a different path, serving now as a bishop. As with every calling it has had its ups and downs.
“What is the best thing about being a bishop?” Children often ask this question. I think it is the “big picture” view of the diocese that I get from my work. I love the rich diversity of our parishes, communities and schools, and the wonderful priests and people who bring them to life.
“What is your biggest worry?” My greatest concern is the lack of priestly vocations coming from the Church in New Zealand.
The leader of our Youth Ministry Office returned from a meeting with Pope Francis in Rome earlier this year with two key thoughts spinning in her head: “Take a risk”, and “Be courageous”.
I sense that my friend St James would echo those words, as I do myself. To young men especially I would say that we all have feet of clay, but Jesus still calls us to play our part in making disciples of all nations, and New Zealand desperately needs priests. Take a risk! Be courageous!
Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn is the publisher of NZ Catholic.