Thursday, January 13, 2005

A Bishop's manner of life

In his latest book entitled, "Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way," Pope John Paul II writes that: "By his manner of life, a bishop demonstrates that the Christ as "Model" lives on and still speaks to us today. One could say that a diocese reflects the manner of life of its bishop. His virtues - chastity, a spirit of poverty and prayer, simplicity, sensitivity of conscience - will, as it were, be written into the hearts of his priests. They, in their turn, will convey these values to the faithful entrusted to their care, and in this way young people can be led to make a generous response to Christ's call." (p. 129).

And on page 66 of the same book, the Holy Father explains that, "It is very important for a bishop to have a rapport with his people and to know how to relate to them well...Interest in others begins with the bishop's prayer life: his conversations with Christ, who entrusts 'His own' to him. Prayer prepares him for encounter with others."

And so, a Bishop should be a man of deep prayer. And that prayer should motivate him to be a good "paterfamilias" to the faithful who have been entrusted to him by the Lord Jesus. As the Holy Father explains, every individual diocese is a reflection of its Bishop's manner of life. If a diocese is in near constant turmoil, what would this indicate about the Bishop's "manner of life"? If children are sexually abused while a Bishop merely shuffles the abuser from one assignment to another, would this not indicate that something about the Bishop's "manner of life" is gravely wrong? If a diocese is plagued with dissidents and other malcontents who lay siege to various parishes while insisting that the Church's teaching must change or that the very structure of the Church must change, what would this indicate about its Bishop's "manner of life"?

To be sure, not everything negative which transpires in a diocese may be laid at its Bishop's doorstep. However, as the Holy Father makes abundantly clear, "The responsibilities that weigh on a bishop's shoulders are many." (p. 93). He cites St. Augustine's long sermon "On the Shepherds" writing that, "With reference to the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, the bishop of Hippo strongly rebukes evil shepherds, who are concerned not for the sheep but only for themselves. 'Let us see how the word of God, that flatters no one, addresses the shepherds who are feeding themselves, not the sheep. You take the milk, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed my sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the crippled you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought; any strong one you have killed; and My sheep are scattered because there is no shepherd.'" (pp. 63,64).

Indeed, the responsibility of a Bishop is a grave one. This is why the great Saint Augustine (Bishop and Doctor of the Church) said that his vocation as a Christian instilled him with "great hope" but that his vocation as Bishop instilled him with "great fear." It was Jesus, after all, who said that: "Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more" (Luke 12: 48).

Could this be why the normally gentle Saint John Chrysostom has been quoted as having said that the road to Hell is paved with the skulls of Bishops?

Troubling words coming from a gentle saint who was known not only for his great eloquence (his last name translated as "golden-mouthed") but for his pacific spirit. Troubling words indeed!

Until next time,
God love you

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