Hours before being ordained as auxiliary bishops for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, four LA priests remarked upon the universal aspect of their situation, and the nervous excitement that comes from readying for a big step in their lives.
“I mean, there’s quite a few priests in the archdiocese, and we have some idea what it’s like to be a priest, but to be a bishop? It’s a little intimidating,” said Bishop-elect Brian Nunes, who was chosen to deliver the homily during a Solemn Vespers prayer event Monday evening. the night before the Ordination Mass on Sept. 26.
“In many ways, preparing to be ordained a bishop is like preparing to be shot out of a cannon, on a trajectory toward the great unknown,” added Nunes.
Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez led the Vespers along with hundreds of family, friends, priests and others at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels as the four bishops-elect — Nunes, Albert Bahhuth, Matthew Elshoff, OFM Cap., and Slawomir Szkredka — continued to lean on even the prayers offered the evening before their Sept. 26 episcopal Ordination Mass.
“Saint Paul isn’t just talking about us four but about all believers, all followers of Jesus Christ,” Nunes said, commenting on the reading proclaimed at the service. “On the one hand that makes it a bit more consoling, because even though all of us will encounter challenges, whether you are husbands, wives, parents, kids, single people, priests, religious, deacons, even bishops — regardless, none of us are in this alone. We do it together. We support one another.”
Even the short reading of Colossians seemed to be speaking directly to the bishops-elect.
“May you attain full knowledge of God's will through perfect wisdom and spiritual insight,” the reading said. “Then you will lead a life worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every way.”
The four bishops-elect were all smiles as the ceremony began and they walked down the steps, into the center aisle and toward their designated seats. Also notably present during the event was Cardinal Roger Mahony, as well as LA auxiliary bishops Marc V. Trudeau, Alex Aclan, Gerald Wilkerson, and Ed Clark.
After Nunes’ homily, the four bishops-elect offered a customary profession of faith, signed an Oath of Fidelity, and had their staffs, miters and rings bearing their pontifical insignias blessed by Archbishop Gomez.
During both the profession of faith and the Oath of Fidelity, each bishop-elect said their name first before they joined voices in a chorus of prayer and proclamation.
“I will watch over the unity of the Universal Church, and thus will make every effort to ensure that the deposit of faith handed down from the Apostles is preserved pure and entire, and that the truths to be held and put into practice will be passed on and clearly explained to all, as they are proposed by the Church’s Magisterium,” said part of the Oath of Fidelity they read aloud. “I will show paternal affection to those who err in faith and I will make every effort to guide them to the fullness of catholic truth.”
But when each bishop-elect walked up to sign the oath, the apprehensive silence was such that even the scribbling pen could be heard.
“So help me God and these Holy Gospels which I touch with my hand,” each one said before signing.
Each bishop-elect had family members and loved ones bring up their staff, miters and rings to be blessed by Archbishop Gomez. They stood at the altar as the items were blessed, then returned them to the sacristy, where they’d remain until the Ordination Mass.
“It was a little overwhelming, but it was easier as it went through,” said Nunes’ nephew, Jared Johnson, of the experience.
“We were nervous at first with a big crowd of people,” said his brother, Virgil Johnson.
Drew Elshoff, seven years younger than his older brother Matthew, carried the staff to the altar for the blessings along with two of his three sisters.
“We are all so excited for our brother,” Drew said after the event. “He has been such a blessing to our family. It’s not in his persona to get this sort of attention but as he said, you don’t say no when the Pope calls. The obedience he avowed to has truly come to play and so much looking forward to tomorrow.”
Drew Elshoff, noting his parents passed away three years ago, said the importance of family being at the Vespers all part of the blessing.
“Matt wanted our family to present the staff and miter and ring, and it’s very meaningful to be alongside Matt on the altar,” he said.
Bishop-elect Szkredka, whose family is from Poland, had his sister fly in for the event, but also had plenty of supporters in the pews.
Jerome Palma, 32, said he and his mother have had a close relationship with Szkredka since the bishop-elect was a deacon at St. Genevieve Church. Palma said Szkredka even officiated his wedding.
“We’ve been close family friends,” he said.
Toward the end of the evening prayer event, incense still lingering in the air, Archbishop Gomez turned his attention toward the next day, and the anticipation of the episcopal ordination and the support the bishop-elects still needed.
“Let’s keep praying for them,” Archbishop Gomez said.
Kathleen Anderson, the president and executive director of the Catholic Community Foundation, enjoyed having her husband, Howard, sing in the cathedral choir for such a special event.
“The important thing tonight was to be here for the four bishops-elect, to let them know we care about them and want them to do a fantastic job,” Anderson said. “So we were all together to have an opportunity to really pray for them, to pray over and get them ready for their big day tomorrow.”
The next day’s Ordination Mass was scheduled for 1 p.m. Sept. 26 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. The Mass was a ticketed invite-only event not open to the public but will be livestreamed at LACatholics.org/NewBishops.