‘I Pledge to do All I Can to be a Good Shepherd’

On navigating a time of challenges, surprises

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Father David BonnarThe beginning of a new year always seems to engender reflections and conversations about time. In these days, we hear about the time of this past year with its highlights and lowlights, births and deaths. There are also predictions and prognostications about the future time and the new year.

The thoughts on time, however, which always keep moving (tempus fugit), are not exclusive to the new year. As human beings, we are always mindful of time whether day or night, hours or minutes, weeks or months, or even years. Sacramental moments are opportune moments not just to quantify time but to reflect upon it. Not only do we measure time, but we tend to put a value on it by speaking of “good times and bad times.”

For us priests, this reflection goes even deeper, because every day at holy Mass we preside at a gathering that eclipses our present time and foreshadows eternity. Some priests are so conscious of this reality that they actually remove their watch when celebrating holy Mass.

Time is rich. We often hear at weddings and funerals the beautiful passage from 1 Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 that there is “a time for everything.”

While we strive to keep time, use our time and not lose time, time is much bigger than any of us. We cannot stop it. In a certain sense, time defies words. St. Augustine once said: “What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who ask, I do not know.”

In 1994, Pope St. John Paul II, in his apostolic exhortation Tertio Millennio Adveniente (“On the Coming of the Third Millennium”), wrote a compelling reflection on time. At one point the he speaks about what we are to do with time. He writes, “From this relationship of God with time there arises the duty to sanctify time” (No. 10, emphasis in original). Brothers, it is not enough to use our time well. We have an obligation to make our time holy regardless of the circumstances.

From time to time, excuse the pun, there are challenges and surprises that we would never envision that break into our time, necessitating that we adapt, change and grow. For example, who could ever have imagined that we would be faced with a worldwide pandemic?

On a personal note, I never imagined having to move twice in six months. When I was informed by the apostolic nuncio on Nov. 9, 2020, that Pope Francis was appointing me as the sixth bishop of Youngstown, it initiated a new time in my life and ministry as a priest. I am so humbled to accept this appointment and become a successor to the apostles. I pledge to do all I can to be a good shepherd.

Since the announcement was made on Nov. 17, I have been inundated with emails, texts, cards, calls and letters. How humbling it is that so many people have been “taking time” to reach out to me. I also am reassured in knowing that people are “making time” to pray for me. Is there any other way to make our time more holy than through prayer when we give our time to God?

The many expressions of prayers, love and support these days have made me more cognizant about the need to spend quality time with the Lord in prayer. In fact, amid this startling transition that suddenly broke into my time, I have found great comfort and peace in prayer. This call to set time away for daily prayer has been echoed by so many in their outreach to me.

In one of the many telephone calls I received, I was offered strong advice from a soon-to-be brother bishop, Bishop Dan Thomas, bishop of Toledo. He said, “Dave, in the midst of all that is going on, make sure you make time to be with Our Lord in the Eucharist.” Essentially, the good bishop was encouraging me to sanctify my time.

Please pray for me, especially on Jan. 12, 2021, when I will be ordained and installed as bishop of Youngstown. I will continue in my role, for the time being, as editor of The Priest magazine. 

BISHOP-ELECT DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest and a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, was appointed bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown on Nov. 17, 2020.

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