July 15, 2011
I'm not exactly sure when it began. As a youngster who became interested in presidential politics (and as one who still fancies that interest), I note the now-famous abbreviations ascribed to some of our presidents: FDR, JFK, LBJ and W. Those shortened "handles" of our presidents seem to represent more than just abbreviations for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson and George Walker Bush (distinct from his dad, George Herbert Walker Bush).
It's interesting that in many organizations that strive for efficiency, the church included, leaders will sign off memos and less formal letters with their initials. In the 24 years I have been serving in diocesan administration, I've grown accustomed to those abbreviations from some of our former bishops: +AJB, +AGB, +DW, i.e., Bishop Anthony J. Bevilacqua, Bishop Anthony G. Bosco and Bishop Donald W. Wuerl. And I must admit that the superb staff who help me in the administration of the diocese have become all too familiar with +DAZ, Bishop David A. Zubik. (By the way, the sign of the cross before a bishop's signature or abbreviation indicates his office in the church.)
As I am writing this article, I am thinking of any number of diocesan staff to whom I also refer by abbreviation: +WJW (both Bishop William J. Waltersheid and Bishop William J. Winter); RPL (Father Ronald P. Lengwin); JAS (Mrs. Judith A. Styperk); KDS (Father Kris D. Stubna); WQ (Dr. Arlene M. McGannon -- this one's an endearing nickname); and GO (Father Gary Oehmler).
Behind the scenes
Several weeks ago, I noted some recent clergy appointments that I made, among them a new assignment for my outgoing priest secretary and episcopal master of ceremonies, Father Gary Oehmler. In so many memos and e-mails I send to Father Oehmler each day, I begin with the abbreviated salutation, "G.O."
For those of you who know Father Oehmler, you know him truly to be a servant priest: humble and helpful to the nth degree. For me, he is always behind the scenes, barely noticed in liturgical settings; quietly preparing every event to which I go; painstakingly detailing volumes of material in preparation for my endless meetings.
As I was reflecting on a topic for this column, and as he is preparing to become a pastor again in about a week, I couldn't help but reflect on Father Oehmler and invite you to think of those countless "hidden behind the scenes" people who make your life so much less burdened, too. They are people obvious and not so obvious.
In the former category are: wives and husbands, mothers and fathers, teachers and doctors, confessors and counselors -- really obvious helps in our lives.
But consider all those people not so obvious but equally if not more important, people whom we often fail to recognize, let alone thank: police, firefighters, grocery store checkout clerks, office secretaries and receptionists, housekeeping and maintenance folks, restaurant waitresses and waiters, airport traffic controllers, PennDOT workers, and on and on and on. These many people each day -- whether it is for them a job and a joy -- make contributions to your life and mine that we may not notice and as a matter of habit we may take for granted.
As I take the opportunity to thank G.O. for all that he has done so helpfully and humbly to make my responsibilities as bishop ever so lighter, might I encourage you to think of those "G.O.'s" in your life and thank them, too.
G.O. for me, and whoever they are for you, are hardly abbreviations. They are often the important "glue" that hold us together.
And isn't that what Jesus calls us to do and be for each other: not seeking to be served but to serve.