My Homily at the Mass Marking the 25th Anniversary of the death of Archbishop James F. Carney, Celebrated by Most Rev. J. Michael Miller, Holy Rosary Cathedral, October 1, 2015
What stupendous enthusiasm and love greeted Pope Francis in the U.S. last month!
Those of us who remember Pope John Paul’s visit to Vancouver thirty-one years earlier have some idea of how people felt in Washington, New York, and Philadelphia.
But the images of those cheering crowds both here and in the States make it hard to remember that there was a time when many Catholics felt deeply divided from the Pope.
James Francis Carney was ordained a
bishop on the eve of the controversy over Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae vitae. Three years later he became Archbishop of Vancouver at the height of dissension and confusion about the right of the Church to teach and guide.
The motto he chose, Servare Unitatem—To Preserve Unity—prophesied both a difficult mission and a path of suffering. His first decade as Archbishop was fraught with opposition, misunderstanding, and criticism—all of which he felt keenly, since he was far more sensitive to what people thought of him than he appeared.
After that stormy decade, the pontificate of St. John Paul brought a kind of vindication, capped by the papal visit of 1984.
Yet the story does not end there, but with a final illness that made enormous demands on Archbishop Carney spiritually, psychologically, and physically.
During the year and a half before his death, the Archbishop had to surrender his independence to others and to make his own the words of St. Paul to Timothy that we have just heard. A man of action permitted himself to be transformed, slowly, to one who could pray “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
His final days were edifying. He was attended at the end by a trusted Basilian priest, Fr. Robert Madden,
|Robert Madden, CSB|
Throughout his sickness, it seemed to me that Archbishop Carney—much like St. John Paul
The Psalm we have sung today, which recounts the joy of leading the assembly to the house of God, recalls the late Archbishop’s great love for this Cathedral church,
The Gospel passage is our Lord’s own prayer at the end of his earthly life. It is called his priestly prayer, and in a sense it is also a prayer for priests. Jesus prays to his heavenly Father that his ministry on earth will prove fruitful, but he prays in a special way for those who have walked most closely with him, the apostles and other disciples.
Archbishop Carney had great regard for his faithful lay collaborators—some of whom are in church this afternoon—and prayed earnestly for all those entrusted to him by the Father. But he had a special love for his priests—those who shared with him most closely the mission of leading souls to heaven, the men who had stood by him in his trials, in the words that Jesus used on Holy Thursday.
Shortly before his 75th birthday, when bishops are expected to offer their resignation to the Holy Father, Archbishop Carney called me into his chapel. He prayed aloud, “Heavenly Father, you have given the diocese to me; I now return it to you” and prayed in gratitude for his time as Archbishop.
He then dictated his letter of resignation, which he signed on the chapel’s altar on the morning of his birthday.
The Archbishop wrote:
“Most Holy Father,
“Today I celebrate my seventy-fifth birthday, and, in conformity with canon 401:1 of the Code of Canon Law, I offer to Your Holiness my resignation from the See of Vancouver, Canada. In submitting my resignation I am moved by an additional motive: my health is not good; I can no longer work as I have worked and the way a bishop must work to keep his diocese a strong community of Catholic faith and Christian love.
“I thank Almighty God for the gift of the priesthood, and for calling me to serve him as archbishop of the city of my birth, the city I have loved with a natural and a supernatural love. I thank the Holy See for naming me to that office, and for the trust and goodwill always shown me.
“As I write this letter, there are many memories flooding my mind and heart, chief among them Your Holiness’ visit to our diocese in 1984. Never did I think that I would have the privilege of welcoming to Vancouver the Vicar of Christ, the visible head of the Church on earth.
“Your pontificate has been a fulfillment of the special responsibility given to Peter: ‘Et tu, aliquando conversus, confirma fratres tuos.’
(The text, translated as “when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren,” is part of the Lord’s prayer for St. Peter on Holy Thursday.)
The letter continues:
“For this, Holy Father, and for your strong leadership that has been a gift of God to His Church and the world, I thank you.
“From the first day of my life as a bishop it has been my purpose to keep the faithful of this diocese united to the Holy Father in mind and heart: I am pleased to say that I think this quality of loyalty and obedience is a characteristic of our priests and people. They love you.”
Closing with a renewed pledge of his loyalty, Archbishop Carney assured the Pope of his prayers, and asked for prayers in return,
I have applied three texts of Scripture—an apostle’s farewell, the psalmist’s thirst for God, and Christ’s prayer for the salvation of those given to him by the Father—to the life and death of the eighth Archbishop of Vancouver. But they apply equally to all of us, who are called to face life’s challenges with faith and courage, strengthened by our hope and longing for the Kingdom, united in Christ’s Church.