The homily below was delivered by the Most Rev. Kevin W. Vann, Bishop of Orange, at the NACC’s Sunday Mass in Anaheim.
Dear friends and brothers and sisters all in the ministry of chaplaincy,
Welcome to beautiful Orange County – or as it is known, “the OC,” at least in some circles! Contrary to the cultural image that is sometimes portrayed, it is land of great beauty, generous individuals, and great enthusiasm and engagement in the Faith. If you haven’t already, I suggest that you make a trip to the Christ Cathedral Campus. On this campus, we have an average of over 11,000 a weekend for 12 Masses in four languages: English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese. One of the main challenges that we face here, and in a number of our parishes, is insufficient space for parking and directing cars in and out.
Not long ago I made a trip to St. Joseph Hospital at night because my next-door neighbor was taken to the hospital. I feel very much at home in those environments because hospital work — being a former medical technician — is still with me in some ways. I do take call occasionally and make it a point to visit families the days leading up to Christmas. As I was in the ER, I was visiting with some of the many families — many of whom are immigrants — who now make ER their place of primary care. And when I visit one person, often there are calls to visit others. I was thinking of this Mass with all of you today in those moments because I know that in some ways that is your life and ministry.
As I was preparing for today as well, I thought that I would take a moment and look up the word chaplain. We can easily slip into theological jargon and forget the original meaning of the words — or maybe even how the meaning of our words is not always immediately clear to those whom we love or those to whom we are sent!
So I looked up chaplain and learned that it comes from the Latin word for cloak (cappelanus), that St. Martin of Tours gave to a beggar who was shivering in the cold. He took his sword and cut his cloak in two, giving half to the beggar. It brought to me vivid memories of when I first heard that story from the Dominican Sisters in Springfield, IL, who taught me, and who were part of our family in our growing-up years and still are.
It seems to me, then, that the ministry of the chaplain is to be the bearer of the cloak of God’s mercy and love to those whom we are sent (like all the ones in the ER that night for me). And sometimes, like Amos, it is very unexpected, and we are reluctantly sent. But as I learned from the Vincentians and the Daughters of Charity who taught me in the seminary in St. Louis, nothing is really unexpected, but always somehow in God’s providence — being chosen for this ministry, truly, reflecting the words of St. Paul. The tunic of St. Martin perhaps harkens back to the tunic of the Gospel today, which accompanies healing, freedom, and repentance. It also accompanies us even in moments of rejection. Because even those moments, it seems, can lead to new life, reflecting what St. Paul would say that “all things work to the good for those who love God.”
As you are together these days and go forth from here, I thank you for your ministry, and I pray for you as bearers of the tunic of St. Martin — you are also “bearers of the mysteries of God!”
May the Lord bless you always and welcome once again to the Diocese of Orange!