Thursday, October 25, 2012

Do Bishops Need a Year of Faith?

This homily was originally published at Catholic Online

Listen to my homily for today:

If you have trouble listening click here.

"Be not afraid!  Trust Jesus."  This is what Archbishop Harry Flynn told me before I began to confess my sins to him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  I had been away from the Catholic Church for five years, and so I was a bit frightened to come back.  After I went through six pages of sins scribbled on sheets of paper attempting to confess my sins in kind and number, with tears in my eyes I looked up to see him mingling tears with me.  After giving me a penance and listening to my act of contrition, he held out his arms and embraced me.  For me, this was the embrace of God the Father made present on earth, and his prodigal son had come home.
I was very moved when he asked me if I would like to become a priest after hearing my confession.  "Yes!" I joyfully responded, although I had been discerning this for a while, I hadn't yet taken the final plunge.  Within a few hours, I began the entrance dialogue with the vocation director, and well, I think you can tell what happened after that.
A bishop shares in the fullness of the priesthood of Jesus Christ.  We believe that each priest acts in persona Christi, but bishops in a deeper way are "in loco Dei Patris, the place of God the Father" (Bl Pope John Paul II's exhortation on Bishops, Pastores Gregis, 34).  This is what each bishop ought to remind us of, the embrace of God the Father, his provident care for his people, his gentle fatherly direction and correction, his tenacious and protective watch over his children, and above all, his supreme fatherly love.

In the readings for today's Mass, speaking of the servants in charge of his household while he is away, Jesus tells us, "Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more."  And St Paul in the first reading, speaking of those who are chosen to preach the Gospel, says, "
I became a minister by the gift of God's gracethat was granted me in accord with the exercise of his power."  These of course can be applied to bishops in a preeminent way.
Do bishops need a year of faith?
They have such a lofty calling, one that is not easily fulfilled, not without much prayer and suffering on their part and the part of the faithful.  Let us make a commitment to pray for our shepherds, who are beset on our age by many fears, temptations, foes, and battles.
The Second Vatican Council says: "The bishops themselves, however, having been appointed by the Holy Spirit, are successors of the Apostles as pastors of souls. Together with the supreme pontiff and under his authority they are sent to continue throughout the ages the work of Christ, the eternal pastor" (Decree on Bishops, 2).
In this Year of Faith, we ought to have a special commitment not only to understand the role of bishop in the Church, since we believe that it is God the Father's way of caring for us.  There are two dimensions that the mystery of faith brings out in the faithful with regard to the bishops:
1.  We need to see in them the work of God the Father, to govern, teach, and sanctify the Church.  We should therefore have particular reverence for their authority, and understand that part of our baptismal sonship of God the Father is lived out in an incarnate way as filiation to the bishops' authority in the Church.
2.  We need to see that only God the Father is worthy of the name "Father" (Mt 23:9) and that bishops share in this title only in a sacramental, or significatory way.  By this I mean that we ought not lose our faith when we see a bishop not living out his vocation to the fullest to represent God, and that every father on earth is merely a substitute for the real and eternal Father, who is the only one with no father, no origin, but is the Alpha and Omega of all things.
The grave responsibility placed on bishops is spoken of in the readings for today.  "That servant who knew his master's will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely."
The antithesis of these two attitudes of faith in the Church are on one hand the disregard for the authority of the bishops, but on the other hand, too many people lose their faith when they see bishops not living out their vocation.  

Bishops need a year of faith to strengthen their vocation in an environment of secularism and moral relativism.  It seems that bishops can be tempted by two different ways of escaping the trials that face them.  On one hand it is easy to become a bureaucrat, building up a fortress against legal suits and secular culture.  On the other hand the temptation to water down the faith, and not adhere to the law of the Church with regard to teaching the faithful the fullness of truth, following the rubrics of the sacred liturgy, and even the observance of ecclesiastical governance.
Pope Benedict was told by the Archbishop of Dublin, after facing the sex abuse scandal in Ireland, the cause of such pastoral negligence.  "The prevailing mentality was that the Church must not be a Church of laws but, rather, a Church of love; she must not punish. Thus the awareness that punishment can be an act of love ceased to exist. This led to an odd darkening of the mind, even in very good people." (Pope Benedict XVI, Light Of The World, Kindle Locations 470-472)
Bishops are called to be good shepherds, upholding canon law, but doing so in the great love of God the Father, a love which one may find if you read in between the lines of canon law itself and its regard for the salvation of souls.
What can the faithful do?
1.  Pray for your bishops.
2.  Treat them with the reverence that their office is due.
3.  Pray for your bishops.
4.  Don't be upset or afraid when you don't see them living their vocation.  Pray for your bishops.
5.  Pray for your bishops
6.  Seek to collaborate with them in the way that is in keeping with your state in life.  If you are a priest you are his fellow worker.  If you are a single person you should know his pastoral plan for the local Church and live it out.  If you are a family, live your vocation.  All these things are of great help to your bishop.
7.  Pray for your bishops.
8.  Be holy.  Sanctity is what bishops want to see among the faithful.  Fidelity to the Church gives their hearts strength. 
9.  Pray for your bishops.
10.  Live out your filial calling in baptism by filiating yourself to the bishops - simply treat them as fathers in the One Father, and follow their direction with a childlike trust and the obedience of faith.
St Anthony Mary Claret, whose memorial we celebrate today sets the bar quite high for sanctity among bishops, "For myself, I say this to you: The man who burns with the fire of divine love is a son of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and wherever he goes, he enkindles that flame; he deserves and works with all this strength to inflame all men with the fire of God's love. Nothing deters him: he rejoices in poverty; he labors strenuously; he welcomes hardships; he laughs off false accusations; he rejoices in anguish. He thinks only of how he might follow Jesus Christ and imitate him by his prayers, his labors, his sufferings, and by caring always and only for the glory of God and the salvation of souls" -from the Office of Readings for his feast.

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