On Thursday the Church saw the passing of one of her greatest sons, William Cardinal Keeler, Archbishop Emeritus of Baltimore. Pope Francis called him a “wise and gentle pastor.” I had the honor of serving as the Cardinal’s first Priest-Secretary in the 1990’s before he appointed me as Pastor of the Church of the Nativity. In recent years, in his retirement, I sort of reprised the role. So, I knew him well.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore has put together a memorial website here where you can learn more about his extraordinary life. There is much too much to say about him. Let me just share three insights that have helped guide me since that time.
Reach Out Beyond the Pews
One of Cardinal Keeler’s great achievements was his ecumenical work in bridging divides between Catholics and other Christian and non-Christian religious faiths. He was especially instrumental in sharing conversation and building trust with the Jewish community. The Cardinal cared deeply about this work, which bore much fruit in mutual understanding and cooperation.
It is important for local church leaders and pastors to find ways to connect with other nearby congregations, which can go a long way toward building trust. We have a lot to learn from other communities of faith. At Nativity we never really started to grow as a healthy church until we were willing to start talking to other churches.
Besides, whatever our faith traditions or worship practices, people of faith in the living God can join together as leaven in our community, as salt and light for our world.
Teach All Nations
All great leaders are great learners. Cardinal Keeler was always learning, reading, gathering experience and insight, gathering people together to share insights and perspectives.
You don’t have to be brilliant to be an effective leader (though it helps and the Cardinal bordered on brilliant). But it does take hard work and commitment; that is something we can and should expect from our leaders.
Our growth as a church has come at the hands of collaboration, a willingness to listen and learn, and an openness to change our mind from time to time.
Build Your People with a Purpose
Cardinal Keeler initiated a massive renovation of the Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore, the first Catholic Cathedral built in the United States. When it was originally built, it communicated a fresh approach to the faith in a new nation, symbolized in its (then) contemporary architectural style. The external features though were about what happened on the inside. The building had a clear purpose, to make disciples in the new nation.
Cardinal Keeler helped remind us that’s still our purpose. And we’re trying to keep it front and center here at Nativity as we build our new sanctuary. But even if you are not building a church building, the principle still applies when you are building your people. Be clear on your purpose, to be a people on mission.
Hail and farewell to a wise and gentle pastor.
Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace. Amen.