Minn. auxiliary bishop looks forward to sharing Christ’s light

St. Paul, Minn., Dec 18, 2013 / 04:07 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Andrew Cozzens, who was consecrated an auxiliary bishop of the Saint Paul and Minneapolis archdiocese Dec. 9, is excited that his new ministry will facilitate the spread of Christ's love.

“Being with people. Sharing the love of Jesus with people. Helping people experience the love of Jesus, teaching them to pray, teaching them about the beauty of God's love,” Bishop Cozzens told CNA in a Dec. 12 interview, when asked what he is especially looking forward to in his episcopal ministry.

Having had a “very focused ministry” for his last 10 years as a priest, first as a graduate student in Rome and then forming seminarians for ministry, he explained that “my flock has been kind of an intense and small one; I focused diligently on those few, so they can be strengthened to serve the larger flock.”

“The joy now is that I get to share in the larger flock, and get to be out, again, with the people of God, preaching and teaching about the love of God. I'm firmly convinced that, as Pope Francis says, our Church is rapidly becoming a field hospital as the culture continues to wound people, (so) we have to help them understand that only in Jesus is the true healing they seek going to be found. So I just look forward to the various ways I can help people be healed and come to holiness through the love of Jesus.”

Since his consecration, the bishop has already visited numerous communities to share God's love, going to a cloistered Carmelite convent; Sharing and Caring Hands to wash the feet of the homeless who are cared for there; his nieces' and nephews' school; a late night Mass for Our Lady of Guadalupe; and a Mass of thanksgiving at the local Catholic university.

Bishop Cozzens was made an auxiliary at the request of Archbishop John Nienstedt, in response to the need of the 250,000 Hispanics who live in the archdiocese, which previously had no bishop who speaks Spanish. The new bishop has long been active in Hispanic ministry in the local Church.

He described the surreal experience of being named a bishop, saying that “when you go through a life change like this, you feel like at any moment you might wake up … life does change dramatically.”

After learning of his appointment, the new bishop read, “Rise, Let Us Be on Our Way,” a book by Bl. John Paul II on his own episcopal ministry. He explained that the late Pope “says a bishop is like a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden. That's certainly the most shocking aspect of the job: all of a sudden you're set on a hill and everyone sees you. I just pray that as I'm on that hill, I can let the light of Jesus shine out brightly; that's my real goal.”

Bishop Cozzens shared the trepidation of setting out on episcopal ministry, saying “yes and no” when asked if it was difficult to accept his new appointment.

“There was nothing in me that wanted to say no … because I knew it was the Lord asking, there was no hesitation in me, or thought that I should say no. But it was obviously still difficult to say yes, because one is aware of one's own unworthiness, and one is aware of the weight of apostolic office. So it was difficult to say yes, even though it was very clear to me that that was the right response.”

The call to follow Christ is a call “to give up everything,” he reflected, sharing a scene from a film version of Jesus' life in which Peter, having said he looks forward to returning home and fishing again, is told, “You're not going home. You never get to go home. To follow Jesus means to give everything.”

“That thought came back to me as soon as I hung up with the nuncio: you don't get to go home,” Bishop Cozzens said. “That's the sentiment of John Paul II in his book; he quotes the Lord right before his passion, 'rise and let us be on our way.' You've got to go to the cross, so let's go, because that's what the Lord wants … of course it leads to the beautiful glory of the Christian life,” but it “only comes through the cross.”

Bishop Cozzens is particularly concerned with strengthening the spiritual lives of priests, and is involved in two efforts to that end: the Institute for Priestly Formation, and the Companions of Christ.

“One of the great struggles in the priests of our day can be isolation and not having enough fraternal support from other priests, and it's been both my personal experience and the wisdom of the Catholic tradition that when priests are able to support each other … they are stronger.”

He has been associated with the Institute for Priestly Formation, which assists in spiritual formation of priests and seminarians, since 2008, saying, “I've been deeply grateful for the training in the spiritual life and spiritual direction that I've received” there.

The bishop had also been a member of the Companions of Christ, an association of diocesan priests committed to priestly fraternity and a common life, as well as the evangelical counsels, since his priestly ordination in 1997. While as a bishop he can no longer be a member of the organization, he said that “I'm still able to maintain friendly relationships with the brothers” and looks forward to doing so.

He noted the particular value of priests supporting each other by living together, as in the Companions' ideals, and called the group “one model for … strengthening spiritually our priests.”

“Whatever we can do to help priests bond together and become a strengthening presence for each other, in particular helping each other to live the high ideals of priestly holiness, we need to find ways to do that. So I'm very grateful to have had that experience in the Companions of Christ, and will continue to try and find ways to support that as a bishop.”

Bishop Cozzens reflected on his experience of priestly ministry, saying that it was “someone turned up the volume on life,” intensifying life rather than withdrawing from it.

“People think the priest is out of touch, he lives in the church rectory, and doesn't really know what's going on, but the fact is, as a priest … you actually have a much deeper insight” into people's lives “because you're there at the most intense moments,” he said.

“I feel like a similar thing happens when you become a bishop: it's just like the volume on life gets turned up (yet) another notch.”

“It's certainly been my experience…that you're being carried in a new way by God's grace.”

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