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World Day for Consecrated Life 2018

Homily for the Feast of the Presentation
February 2, 2018

First Reading: Heb 2.10-11, 13-18
Gospel: Lk 2.22-40

On this World Day for Consecrated Life, we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. We are all familiar with this story, which is the first of Jesus’ many visits to the Temple. Following the custom of the law, Mary and Joseph present the child Jesus to the Lord and offer the required sacrifices. But notice what has just happened. Normally Jesus would have been presented to the priest, who would have offered “the pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons,” which signifies Jesus coming into a state of poverty, on behalf of His parents. In this instance though, Simeon, who wasn’t a priest, receives the child instead.

So, who is this person Simeon? And what can he tell us about the consecrated life? We’re told that Simeon was “a man in Jerusalem”: not Nazareth or Bethlehem, but Jerusalem, the nation’s capital and where Jesus would suffer and die. He is “righteous and devout,” meaning that Simeon was a religious or pious man; “God fearing,” a holy, good man highly respected among the people. He was fully consecrated to God and discharged his duty faithfully. Is this not this what we see in our consecrate persons and the consecrated life: good, holy, and religious men and women, highly respected among the people.

We’re told that Simeon was “looking forward to the consolation of Israel.” The “consolation of Israel,” is the Messiah, who would bring comfort to Israel. “And the Holy Spirit rested on him.” This was a man who was guided by the Holy Spirit; a holy person, open to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit. This should not be surprising to us for the Holy Spirit is with all those called by grace, as with the founders and foundresses of the various religious orders and institutions in our Archdiocese. This divine inspiration continues on in every member who consecrates themselves to God. Like Simeon, our consecrated men and women, led by the Spirit, have recognized the Messiah. And as we know, those led by the Holy Spirit will find Christ, for no one finds Christ on his or her own.

In God’s way, it was “revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Christ.” To see or to taste death was a common way of expressing ‘death’ among the Hebrews. For those who seek the Lord though, it impossible to see death. Is not this the message given to every human being who longs to see the Messiah? Is this not the witness of every consecrated person, who witnesses to the promise of eternal life and lives a life in view of eternal life? How many people wait and look to see the Christ? How many do it with faith and devotion, like those in the consecrated life?

You can imagine what the holy soul of Simeon must have felt the moment when he took Jesus in his arms. “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (Jn 14.23) Simeon would have taken Jesus out of Mary and Joseph’s arms into his own, embracing Him will all affection and respect imaginable. Haven’t our consecrated men and women done the same taking the Lord Jesus into their hearts, where He is held with a love and affection that spills over to every person they minister and witness to?

By these words, “Now you are dismissing your servant in peace,” Simeon is giving God the permission to release him from this life. His goal has been accomplished; the promise has been fulfilled. Simeon represents a sentinel who, upon seeing the rising of the day star, signals that his watch is over, his waiting is at an end. He doesn’t depart in sorrow, but it is a departure “in peace” to the God of peace. To both the living and the dying, the Jewish people say: “Go in peace.” To depart in peace is to have a happy and contented death. Simeon shows us that it is only by Faith that we can welcome the approach of death, and confront its powerlessness in the face of Christ.

“For my eyes have seen your salvation.” Simeon has seen the Christ, or “salvation” with his bodily eyes, but he had seen “salvation” with the eyes of Faith long before. Simeon immediately recognized the Messiah without Mary needing to inform him of what had happened to her. Like Simeon, our consecrated men and women have seen Christ, “our salvation,” with the eyes of Faith so that all of us can see “our salvation” with our physical eyes, if not with the eyes of Faith as well. How should we all live with the promise of seeing (in the fullest sense of the word) the Messiah one day?

And what is Simeon’s final response? He blesses Mary and Joseph. On them Simeon sought the blessing of God on account of their relation to Christ and their care and concern for Christ as Saviour and Redeemer.

Tonight we give thanks to all the men and women religious, all consecrated persons here present and all those who have gone before us for their goodness, their holiness, for showing us the Messiah, for holding our salvation in their arms and hearts, for loving us as Jesus loved, and for blessing us with their various charisms and indeed, their very lives. God bless all of you.

Most Rev. Gregory Bittman

St. Joseph's Basilica, February 2, 2018


Gregory J. Bittman was born on March 5, 1961, in Edmonton, the eldest of three boys. He attended St. Edmund School and St. Joseph High School before earning a diploma in nursing from the Misericordia Hospital School of Nursing and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from the University of Alberta. He worked as a nurse for several years before entering the seminary to study for the priesthood.

In 1991, he obtained a Master’s of Divinity Degree from Christ the King Seminary in Mission, B.C., and in 2009, he obtained a Licentiate in Canon Law from the Catholic University of America. He was ordained to the priesthood on August 15, 1996, at St. Joseph’s Basilica by Archbishop Joseph MacNeil. He began his priestly ministry as Associate Pastor of Holy Family Parish in St. Albert and Administrator of Sacred Heart Parish, Gibbons (1996-97), then was appointed Pastor of Our Lady of the Prairies Parish in Daysland (1997-99), Christ-King Parish in Stettler (1999-2000), and the parishes of St. Agnes and St. Anthony, Edmonton (2000-01).

Father Bittman is a pianist, amateur organist and avid runner. He holds a black belt in karate and enjoys scuba diving. He is known for his work as an apprentice home renovator as well as being a doting uncle to 10 nieces and nephews.

Father Bittman was appointed Chancellor of the Archdiocese in 2000 and was named as Judicial Vicar in 2009. He is an ex officio member of the College of Consultors, the Presbyteral Council, the Clergy Personnel Committee, the Project Review Board and the Finance Committee in the Archdiocese of Edmonton. He has also served as Spiritual Director to seminarians over the last few years.

Father Bittman was appointed the first Auxiliary Bishop of Edmonton by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI on July 14, 2012. He was ordained to the episcopate on September 3, 2012, the Feast of St. Gregory the Great, at St. Joseph's Basilica.

On February 6, 2018, His Holiness Pope Francis appointed him Bishop of the Diocese of Nelson in southeastern British Columbia.

The Bishop's Coat of Arms

History

Heraldry originated about a thousand years ago in Europe, where it was used by the warrior classes as a means of differentiating combatants on the field of battle. As Europe developed and the feudal warrior class disappeared, the practice of identifying one's possessions with personal emblems flourished. Ecclesiastical heraldry grew out of this practice, initially to differentiate between the various degrees of the clerical estate. The Pope and most bishops adopt a personal coat of arms, which today is used primarily to identify communications from their particular office. Bishop Bittman adopted his personal coat of arms when he was appointed Auxiliary  Bishop of Edmonton.

Symbolism

Red is a colour found in the arms or flags of Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Poland, thus marking Bishop Bittman’s ancestry. Red and white are the colours of Canada. The dove is the attribute of Pope St. Gregory the Great, thus alluding to Bishop Bittman’s first name as well as the fact that he was ordained a bishop on the feast day of St. Gregory. The dove is also a symbol of the Holy Spirit, of peace and love, and of the faithful. Its depiction in the arms is based on a stained glass window in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, thus connecting Bishop Bittman’s exercise of the apostolic ministry of a bishop with St. Peter, numbered as the first apostle. The lamp is a symbol of nursing, a reference to Bishop Bittman’s profession as a Registered Nurse prior to his reception of Holy Orders. A lamp is also a Christian symbol, a metaphor for the Word of God. Its flame alludes to the flames above the disciples’ heads on the day of Pentecost (and, by extension, to a bishop’s mitre), and to the enflamed Sacred Heart of Jesus, marking the fact that Bishop Bittman was ordained a deacon on that feast day. The division line resembling clouds alludes to the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on which Bishop Bittman was ordained a priest.

Motto

Christus Iesus Spes Nostra.

These words are Latin for “Christ Jesus our Hope” (1 Tim. 1:1)