Wednesday, January 05, 2005

What attitude should a Bishop have toward laity?

The Call of Jesus, "You go into my vineyard too," (Matthew 20:4), is not a call reserved only for ministerial priests. As Pope John Paul II has reminded us in his encyclical letter Christifideles Laici: "The call is a concern not only of Pastors, clergy, and men and women religious. The call is addressed to everyone: lay people as well are personally called by the Lord, from whom they receive a mission on behalf of the Church and the world."

Sometimes a Bishop can forget this. At times, Bishops have been known to treat the laity almost as if they were "second-class" citizens within the Mystical Body of Christ. What does Canon Law have to say with regard to the pastoral responsibilities of a Bishop in dealing with the faithful? Canon 383 states quite clearly that, "In the exercise of his pastoral office a diocesan bishop is to show that he is concerned with all the Christian faithful who are committed to his care regardless of age, condition or nationality, both those who live within his territory and those who are staying in it temporarily; he is to extend his apostolic spirit to those who cannot sufficiently make use of ordinary pastoral care due to their condition in life and to those who no longer practice their religion."

And what should be the attitude of a Bishop with regard to lay involvement in ministries? Again, Canon Law is quite clear: "As much as is possible the diocesan bishop is to foster vocations to the different ministries and to the consecrated life, with special care shown for priestly and missionary vocations." (Can. 385).

If a lay person is engaged in an apostolate which is faithful to Church teaching and which has been approved by legitimate Church authority in accord with the norm of law, and the local Bishop refuses to meet with or even acknowledge that person's presence even though his predecessor had already officially sanctioned the apostolate and gave it his blessing, is such an attitude very pastoral?

A Bishop should love those under his care. As a successor to the Apostles, his charity must be extended freely toward all. Any other attitude would seem to suggest that a Bishop is not exercising his ministry in a responsible way.

Until next time,
God love you!
Paul Anthony Melanson

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