By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
BETTENDORF — On the eve of his ordination, Bishop-elect Thomas Zinkula began his homily during Solemn Vespers with a characteristic note of gratitude. “Thank you, everyone, for being here.”
Candlelight radiated the June 21 vespers service at St. John Vianney Church. Chanted music, accented with band and orchestra instruments, created a harmonious unity. Fragrant incense permeated the air. Blessing of the bishop-elect’s ring, miter and crosier signified the symbols of the soon-to-be bishop’s pastoral office.
His homily, a reflection on the Liturgy of the Hours and the seasons of life, wove together the elements of this sacred evening, a coming together of community in awe and in thanksgiving to God.
Dressed in a simple white alb with stole and wearing a zucchetto (skull cap) on his head, Bishop-elect Zinkula told the gathering of around 750 people that he would start his homily by teaching. The lesson focused, most naturally, on the Liturgy of the Hours, of which vespers is a part. Liturgy of the Hours, he noted, is the prayer of the church, by the church and for the church. It sanctifies the day and our human activity during the day.
One evening, after accepting the appointment to become Ninth Bishop of the Diocese of Davenport, he reflected on Liturgy of the Hours. He was sitting on the deck of his brother Mark and sister-in-law Terri’s acreage near the family farm where he’d grown up. He described the scenery — the Cedar River and landmarks — in a way that placed his audience inside the memory with him. “I think I was sitting out in the field with him,” Esther Urban of St. Mary Parish-Fairfield said after the prayer service.
The gathering laughed as he interspersed humor into the homily. Because of his love for doing things outdoors, his brother and sister-in-law refer to him as their gardener, he said. “Mary Magdalene confused Jesus for a gardener. So I thought, ‘that’s cool,’” quipped the bishop-elect.
A person’s life span is contained within the Liturgy of the Hours, he observed. Morning prayer represents childhood; daytime prayer, young adult to middle age; vespers, the end of the working years/retirement; and night prayer, the final years. “I’m 60. The announcement (of my appointment) was on my 60th birthday. I’m in my vespers years. I’m not at night prayer yet,” he said humorously.
He spoke of the seasons of life and how he loves fall — the age he’s in now. “As I sat there on the deck and reflected, I had lots of thoughts and memories and dreams — past, present and future. You have your own stories and histories and dreams as well,” he said. “God has a purpose for you, just as he has a purpose for me.” His motto, he noted, is “Your (God’s) will be done.”
Even though he was happy as a layman, the bishop-elect noted, he responded to God’s call to the priesthood because the church needs priest leaders. He was happy as a priest, but was called to the episcopacy because the church needs episcopal leaders.
“Who is God calling you to be at this point in your life? What is God calling you to do right now?” Bishop-elect Zinkula asked the gathering. “What kind of person is God calling you to be? What kind of a ministry is God calling you to in the world?” The bishop-elect assured the gathering that “God will be with us, guiding us, challenging us, converting us, forgiving us, comforting us, loving us.”
His predecessor, Bishop Martin Amos blessed Bishop-elect Zinkula’s ring, miter and crosier after the homily. Bishop Amos prayed: “Almighty, eternal God, bless these symbols of the pastoral office and the pontifical dignity. May the one who uses them receive the reward of his faithfulness and enter into eternal life with Christ, the High Priest and Good Shepherd who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.”
Intercessions followed, with speakers praying petitions in Spanish, Vietnamese, Czech (the bishop-elect has Czech heritage on his father’s side), Tagalog and Swahili.
The Solemn Vespers service was a new experience for the musicians —“Apostles of Hymn.” They are mostly members of St. John Vianney Parish who are in grades 7-12 and sing or play in band or orchestra at school. “It was a different kind of music. It’s more in the moment … go with the flow and not marching band music,” observed Rachel Isaacson, co-director with Eleanor Kiel. Kendra Bries, 18, who played saxophone during Solemn Vespers, said, “I really liked the chants.”
“Learning the chants of evening prayer is like learning a foreign language for them,” Kiel said. “We had to learn the flexibility of chant. Musicians are used to meter, rhythm and exact tempo.” She was pleased with the outcome. “The kids worked very hard and the congregation responded well.”
Teresa Mottet, of St. Mary Parish-Fairfield, said she loved the music. “I wear hearing aids and had a little trouble hearing the bishop,” she said. “The music moves me. I can hear it!”
Teri Dickinson, also of St. Mary-Fairfield, said she felt as if she’d gotten to know the bishop-elect better after listening to his homily. “He feels like your neighbor,” she said. “We’re ready to have him over for supper,” added Esther Urban.
The bishop-elect’s teaching on Liturgy of the Hours resonated with Karl Lantzky of St. Paul the Apostle Parish-Davenport, who prays morning and evening prayer regularly. He appreciates the universality of this form of prayer. “We’re praying together, for the whole world; all the world is praying with us.”
Father Francis Bashyam traveled from south India to be present for Solemn Vespers and the ordination of his friend, Bishop-elect Zinkula, who spent three months at Fr. Bashyam’s parish in India. “I bring so much love from my family and friends that he met,” the priest said.
“Now that was church,” said Gale Francione of the prayer service. She serves on the Diocesan Liturgical Commission and assisted with the church environment for Solemn Vespers. “It was amazing; that was what church is supposed to be like every Sunday, where everybody participates; where the music is fabulous and everybody is a part of it. You can feel the prayer!”