Summary: The bishop has a special ministry of leadership, teaching and service in the Church.

November 12, 2012

Vatican II Documents

Monday of 32nd Week in Course

St. Paul writes today that “a bishop, as God's steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled; 9 he must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it.” It is important for each of us to consider our relationship with our bishops, even to examine our consciences on that matter, because they are the living presence of Christ the shepherd in our lives.

Like all clergy, the bishop has three responsibilities: teaching, leading and service. The Council Fathers taught: “Bishops, therefore, with their helpers, the priests and deacons, have taken up the service of the community, (11*) presiding in place of God over the flock,(12*) whose shepherds they are, as teachers for doctrine, priests for sacred worship, and ministers for governing.(13*) And just as the office granted individually to Peter, the first among the apostles, is permanent and is to be transmitted to his successors, so also the apostles' office of nurturing the Church is permanent, and is to be exercised without interruption by the sacred order of bishops. (14*) . . .bishops by divine institution have succeeded to the place of the apostles, (15*) as shepherds of the Church, and he who hears them, hears Christ, and he who rejects them, rejects Christ and Him who sent Christ.” His primary charism should be in leadership. The world has always understood this. That’s why the society that is trying to destroy the Church will go after the bishops, and hit them in their weak spots.

The bishop does not serve and lead as a monad. He belongs to what is called the apostolic college, college here meaning an assembly of like people on a mission: “Just as in the Gospel, the Lord so disposing, St. Peter and the other apostles constitute one apostolic college, so in a similar way the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, are joined together. Indeed, the very ancient practice whereby bishops duly established in all parts of the world were in communion with one another and with the Bishop of Rome in a bond of unity, charity and peace,(23*) and also the councils assembled together,(24*) in which more profound issues were settled in common, (25*) the opinion of the many having been prudently considered,(26*) both of these factors are already an indication of the collegiate character and aspect of the Episcopal order; and the ecumenical councils held in the course of centuries are also manifest proof of that same character.” Bishops also meet together in what are called Synods, organized around particular topics. They do this in order to speak to the Church with one voice about a particularly important part of our life. This latest Synod confronted the greatest task of our century, the re-evangelization of our mostly pagan world.

But bishops are human, and, like all of us, they are sinners. This is one reason why Jesus warns against “stumbling blocks” or scandalein. That’s anything we do that might cause another to sin. Scandal is more than something that we react against. It’s bad example. It’s bad example that causes another person to think that the bad action must be OK, because deacon or pastor or the bishop is doing it, or allowing it to be done. So, for instance, we are rightly shocked when we learn that a bishop, hearing of a priest abusing a minor, would send him to a treatment facility and later allow him back in pastoral ministry. But we are not scandalized, because we are not encouraged by that to sin. But perhaps a priest-abuser who has not been caught, seeing what is going on, might conclude that he can keep on abusing kids because the bishop is not taking the crime seriously.

One more thing to consider from the Council about bishops–their infallibility. Now they don’t enjoy an individual infallibility, but collectively they do: “they nevertheless proclaim Christ's doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held.(40*) This is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church, whose definitions must be adhered to with the submission of faith.” Let’s take time every week to pray for our bishops–we always do during the Eucharistic prayer of the Mass–but let’s pray specifically for bishop Gustavo and Bishop Cantu in our devotions, because their mission is one fraught with grace, but also with peril and uncertainty as we battle this aggressive anti-Catholic culture.

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