By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator  

In his first Mass since becoming bishop of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, Bishop Michael G. Duca appeared relaxed, jovial and calm. The celebration was the 4:30 p.m. Saturday Mass at St. John the Baptist Church in Brusly for the 20 seminarians studying for the diocese.  

Seminarians Mass photo.tif

Seminarian Joseph Bresowar reads from the Scriptures during the seminarians’ Mass at St. John the Baptist Church in Brusly on Aug. 25. It was Bishop Duca’s first Mass since his installation as the sixth bishop of the Diocese of Baton Rouge. Photo by Bonny Van | The Catholic Commentator 

 

“Today, we welcome our seminarians … my seminarians now,” said Bishop Duca. “I’m so proud to see a nice big group of them here and the vocations staff as well.”  

The Mass was on the calendar for Aug. 25 for Bishop Emeritus Robert W. Muench long before the appointment of Bishop Duca. But, when the new bishop learned the seminarian Mass was scheduled the day after his installation ceremony, he did not reschedule.  

“So far, he seems like a great guy,” said first-year seminarian Wesley Adolph. “We were just told the story that this is his first day after his installation, if he wanted to change the schedule that Bishop Muench had set of having this Mass here with us seminarians and without blinking an eye he said, ‘No, I want to keep that.’ ”  

Bishop Duca began his homily with a reminder of how new he is to the job.  

“I’ve already learned something new today,” said Bishop Duca. “You don’t pronounce the ‘s’ in Brusly. So, that’s a nice thing to know so I won’t sound so much like a stranger.”  

The bishop talked about Jesus’ Eucharistic discourse, based on the Gospel reading in St. John, and how Jesus did not back down even when some of his disciples left because of the graphic nature of what Jesus was talking about.  

“Jesus tells them you must eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood or you will not have life in you,” said Bishop Duca. “You know he talks about chewing the flesh, and not the word for ‘body,’ but he used the word for ‘flesh’ and the idea that this is real, the language is real, to drive home the fact that this was his true body and blood.”  

The bishop said the “first generations of theologians in the church confirmed that they believed it as well,” leading to our own faith in the true body and blood of Christ as coming from Scripture and tradition. According to the bishop, the disciples who left were Jesus’ friends, “the ones that were with him up to this point.” Bishop Duca said Jesus then asked the 12 if they also wanted to go but “Peter, speaking for the 12, as Peter now continues to speak for the church, Peter being the office of the pope, (Pope) Francis, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We’ve come to believe that you are the Holy One of God.’ ”  

“Now, I want to make a point that certainly most of us here would have no problem obviously, if Jesus were to say, ‘Do you want to leave, too?’ ‘No, Lord – we believe in the Eucharist. We believe this is the body and blood of Christ,’ ” said the bishop.  

“But also we’re called to believe in Christ throughout our whole lives, to believe he has the words of everlasting life throughout every part of our lives. And so as Jesus said, as he has said, forgive your enemies. Forgive those who have hurt you. And, right now, you know there’s someone in your heart you cannot forgive.”  

The bishop then talked about how difficult forgiveness can be even saying that some who cannot forgive will justify it by saying, “I can’t forgive them and I’m okay because God understands,” he added.  

“That’s what you call self-righteousness,” said Bishop Duca.  

He then compared the unwillingness to forgive, addictions and other behaviors that are wrong to turning away from Jesus.  

“Are we willing to walk away (from evil)? For we know it’s the Lord’s will to not do it; to turn away from evil, to turn away from sin and trust in Jesus, for I’m convinced he has the words of everlasting life, but for a few minutes, I’m going to go over here and do something else,” said the bishop. “In those moments, are we choosing to walk with the Lord or are we the disciples who walked away?”  

The bishop said someone once told him, “Father, if I have to forgive that person, it’ll kill me.” In the past, he would let it go, said Bishop Duca, but now he agrees.  

“You’re exactly right!” Bishop Duca said. “For you to forgive that person, you have to die to all of the things that are keeping you from forgiving them. You have to die to the things that you lost. You have to die to your crime.”  

The bishop continued to talk about the difficulty of forgiveness because it’s “uneven,” with the person that was hurt having to let go of the pain. He also said that if you struggle with forgiveness, then to pray, “Lord, help me to forgive.”  

“Open yourself to it, really believe,” said Bishop Duca. “Sometimes just saying that begins to melt away a little bit of resistance. ‘Lord, I can’t control this, it just consumes me all the time. Lord, help me. Send me your grace.’ ”  

The bishop then recalled that at the time of Jesus’ death, he accepted the will of the father and asked for forgiveness for those who condemned him to die and finally, commending his spirit, “that peace of giving all to the Father.”  

“And at this altar, we enjoin ourselves to that same sacrificial act of faithfulness to the Father, and when we do, let’s bring to the altar these struggles, these things that we want to die to,” said Bishop Duca. “We want to join Jesus on the cross to be faithful like he was.”  

Following the Mass, Bishop Duca had dinner with the seminarians, giving him and the seminarians a chance to get to know one another.  

“(The seminarians) are excited,” said Father Matt Lorrain, pastor of St. John the Baptist and director of seminarians for the diocese. “They love Bishop Muench but they’re already very enamored of Bishop Duca and looking forward to him being our shepherd and going forward.”