‘God never leaves us, even when we depart from him’: Q&A with Bishop Michael Burbidge
In America’s interview with Pope Francis in November 2022, the Holy Father said that “the grace of Jesus Christ is in the relationship between the bishop and his people, his diocese.” We asked U.S. bishops to answer five of our nine questions. In these brief interviews, we hope to highlight and foster this relationship, and to offer some unique personal perspectives and spiritual insights of the shepherds leading our church.
Q&A with Bishop Michael Burbidge
Diocese of Arlington, Va.
What is your favorite movie/book/play/musical/art/sport/etc. right now?
My favorite book and movie at this time are both called “A Man for All Seasons,” and recount the life of Saint Thomas More. I say “at this time” because Saint Thomas More is the patron of my diocese, the Diocese of Arlington, and we are preparing for the celebration of our 50th anniversary as a diocese in 2024. What better way to prepare than to be reminded of the faithful, loyal and courageous witness of Saint Thomas More, who also teaches us about our sacred duty to be “God’s servant first!”
I cannot resist responding to the question regarding my favorite sport to watch at this time of year. It is football, specifically the NFL. No matter where I am, I root for my hometown team, the Philadelphia Eagles. My father and I had season tickets for many years, and I continue to cheer for them (despite my diocesan priests rooting for an NFC rival).
Describe a time that God spoke to you in a surprising way.
Throughout my priesthood, God has spoken to me in a “surprising way” every time I was transferred from one assignment to another. I never expected the assignments I received, and the timing was often confusing. In some cases, they were what I least desired, and I was very puzzled by God’s plan in those moments. To my surprise, all my transfers were gifts that brought me tremendous joy. They taught me to surrender to the Lord’s will and trust that he would provide the grace and strength I needed to carry out the new ministries entrusted to me. They also helped me to remember that peace and joy follow when we let go of “my way, my plans and my desires” and instead, say “yes” to God’s divine providence.
Describe a time that someone modeled God’s mercy in your life.
Others have modeled God’s mercy in my life through countless ways. I recall when my parents forgave me for making some bad decisions as a youth, when loved ones forgave me for being uncharitable in speech when family members forgave me for being “too busy” to be with them, and when brother priests forgave me for taking them for granted.
A specific instance of my time as a college seminarian also comes to mind. Instead of returning directly to the seminary from a class trip with the rest of the group, a few of my classmates and I took some extra time to treat ourselves to a meal. When we returned, our professor was standing on the seminary steps, nervously pacing. We thought we would be severely corrected (which we eventually were by the dean), but the seminary professor said, “Do you know how worried I was about you?” We immediately told him we were sorry. He said, “I am just glad you are here, and I forgive you.” That is what God does whenever we approach him with our sins. He rejoices in our return “back home” and never tires of forgiving us.
If you had not become a priest, what other job/vocation/career could you see yourself in?
If I did not become a priest, I believe I would have become a Catholic school teacher. My dear parents provided me with a sound Catholic education throughout my life, and I always admired and respected my teachers, and I hoped to imitate them. Providentially, after two years as a diocesan priest, I was assigned to teach high school at my alma mater. Later, I continued as a teacher and administrator in secondary and seminary education.
What’s a lesson you’ve learned from the life of your favorite saint that is most applicable to your life today?
I have learned a few lessons from one of my favorite saints, St. Augustine. His life demonstrates that God never leaves us, even when we depart from him, and that we can become a “new creation” with his grace. St. Augustine also teaches us that the virtue of humility is paramount for all those who wish to grow in holiness. Finally, St. Augustine tells us that when we seek after the empty promises of the world, our hearts will always be restless. They will only be filled with the peace for which we long through the Lord alone.
Read more from our Bishop Q&A series: