By Bishop John M. D'Arcy - The Priest, 1/1/2012
I give thanks to God that I have been a bishop for 36 years and, under God’s grace, was the shepherd of the Diocese of Fort Wayne–South Bend for 25 years, minus a few months, and now serve as bishop emeritus. I never felt worthy of any of it, but I look back on it with joy and gratitude.
The question, which I propose to discuss, is this: what kind of bishop is needed in the Church today? Such a central question leads to further questions. Where should one look to find a certain and true answer? What are the sources? And, also, what are the temptations that affect us and pull us away so subtly from finding and living with courage this demanding but beautiful vocation. Sometimes these temptations come from without, from the culture around us, and sometimes from within our hearts, and often from both. Also, I will try after reflection from the appropriate documents, to present two areas where the gifts received at ordination will be tested — gifts such as discernment, courage and pastoral love.
We were ordained priests when we were young. We thought we knew everything, and yet we knew so little. Then, in mid-life, comes this new responsibility. Overwhelming psychologically as well as spiritually. A vocation that will surely test us. On the one hand, an invitation for a greater communion with Christ. At the same time, an invitation to the embracing of the Cross; but also a life that if properly lived is essentially joyful and filled with opportunity. An officium amoris, as the documents call it — an office of love.
When my retirement was drawing near, a good friend asked me what I would miss most. I was surprised at the spontaneity and certainty of my answer. I replied, “The opportunity to do so much good.” This is an office where, every day, you are given the opportunity to make significant decisions that will build up and strengthen the Church.
Audacity of God
It is also true, as we have learned to our great sorrow, that the episcopacy is an office where the wrong choices — or what can be even worse, no decision, no clear Yes or No — can cause great harm to souls. This should not surprise us. It is the nature of salvation history. For God indeed chooses to subject himself to us who are pastoral leaders, as he also entrusts himself to us at every Eucharist, as Pope Benedict made clear in his homily at the end of the Year for Priests. He calls this the Audacity of God.
So much good can come from the right pastoral choice. If a parish has poor leadership, the bishop has the possibility, by his decision about a new pastor, to initiate renewal of that parish. The decision as to whom you should ordain is also such a choice. So is the decision as to whom you should not ordain.
There are sources where we find the right answer to the questions I have proposed. Sources which teach us about this office and which, if embraced, will bring about a transformation of the bishop and eventually of his flock. We look to the Scriptures first of all. The call of the twelve in Mark and Luke and the description of the Good Shepherd given by Christ in the 10th Chapter of John’s Gospel. Primary in Church documents is the teaching on the Bishop in the Second Vatican Council. For myself, the teaching on the Bishop in Lumen Gentium has always brought great encouragement and light.
“A bishop, since he is sent by the Father to govern his family, should keep before his eyes the example of the Good Shepherd, who came not to be waited on, but to serve and to lay down His life for His sheep. . .” and “. . .Having one day to render an account for their souls to God, he takes care of them by his prayers, preaching and all good works of charity. They should be solicitous both for their welfare and those too who do not yet belong to the one flock” (Dogmatic Constitution of the Church: Lumen Gentium, No. 27).
A New Model
That Council was truly a Council dedicated to the renewal and the reform of the Episcopal Office. In preparation for the Synod Year 2000, a synod focusing on the bishop, in the preparatory notes or Lineamenta, we read that as the bishops returned to their dioceses after the Council, they took along “a new model of the Bishop, conformed to the Church’s description of communion,” and “from that time onwards it was understood that the figure of the Bishop would no longer be the same.”
Pastores Gregis, the document that followed that Synod on the Episcopacy, is another source. Also a living source, the example of the two most recent bishops of Rome — one now declared “blessed” and the other currently serving and teaching. Their instruction about the Office of Bishop and especially the way they have lived it, is both a sign of the times and a source of light to us about what God is asking of bishops in these times. Also, a great source because it encapsulates the whole tradition is the Rite of Ordination of a Bishop.
So, beginning with Scripture, let us look at the call of the Apostles in Mark and Luke. Luke, as he so often does, emphasizes prayer, telling us that Christ spent the night in prayer before choosing the twelve by name. Mark, like Luke, shows the personal nature of the call — called by name — but also makes clear what we are called to. The content of the call.
He went up the mountain and summoned those whom He wanted and they came to Him. He appointed twelve whom He also named apostles that they might be with Him and He might send them forth to preach and have authority to drive out demons (Mk 3:13-15).
So, we are called according to Mark to three things:
1. To be with Him.
2. To go out and preach.
3. To have the authority to cast out demons.
The first is central: to be with Him. It is only in intense prayer with Christ (and I would especially support prayer in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament) that one receives both the light to know what is right and the courage to do it. Writing as a young theologian, while teaching at the University of Regensburg, Joseph Ratzinger commented on the nature of this call and on the true nature of Office in the Church — whether it be bishop or priest:
Spiritual office in the Church rests in the existential posture of the servant who has learned how to allot second place to his own will in favor of the will of the person to whom he belongs.
For one, who as priest, attempts to speak to his fellow men and women of Christ, there is nothing of greater importance than this: to learn what being-with-Him, existing in His presence, following Him means, to hear and see Him, to grasp His style of being and thinking. The actual living out of priestly existence and the attempt to prepare others for such an existence demand growth into the ability to hear Him above all the static, and to see Him through all the forms of this world. To do this is to live in His presence (J. Ratzinger: “Priestly Ministry: A Search for its Meaning,” Emmanuel. May 1980, translated from German publication Geist und Leber).
So, we have the beginning, but only the beginning, of the answer to our question: what kind of bishop does the Church need today? A bishop who has learned what being with Him means, and loves being with Him and touched by His love, gladly allots second place to his own will.
We also should look at the teaching on the Good Shepherd in the 10th Chapter of John, Jesus’ great discourse on shepherds. In this passage, the Lord tells us three things about the true shepherd: “he gives his own life for his sheep; he knows them and they know him; he is at the service of unity” (Pope Benedict XVI, Homily on Good Shepherd, Sunday, May 7, 2006).
I would like to share with you a small portion of this homily of Pope Benedict XVI, given as he ordained 15 to the priesthood on Good Shepherd Sunday 2006. It applies to both priests and bishops.
“It is through Him that one must enter the service of shepherd. Jesus highlights very clearly this basic condition by saying: “he who. . .climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber” (Jn 10:1). This word “climbs” — anabainei in Greek — conjures up the image of someone climbing over a fence to get somewhere that is out of bounds to him.
“To climb” — here we can also see the image of careerism, the attempt to “get ahead,” to gain a position through the Church, to make use of and not to serve. It is the image of a man who wants to make himself important, to become a person of note through the priesthood; the image of someone who has as his aim his own exaltation and not the humble service of Jesus Christ.
But the only legitimate ascent towards the shepherd’s ministry is the Cross. This is the true way to rise; this is the true door. It is not the desire to become “someone” for oneself, but rather to exist for others, for Christ, and thus through Him and with Him to be there for the people He seeks, those whom He wants to lead on the path of life.
One enters the priesthood through the Sacrament, and this means precisely: through the gift of oneself to Christ, so that He can make use of me; so that I may serve Him and follow His call, even if it proves contrary to my desire for self-fulfillment and esteem (Origins, May 26, 2006).
So, in these two biblical passages, we see the road to joy and happiness and pastoral effectiveness for the bishop. Indeed, for the priests as well; but ordinarily it will only flower in the priests if it flowers in the bishop. He must hear the call of Christ. He must not focus on his own importance or centrality. His only “climbing” must be through the Cross of Christ. His own importance must never be his goal.
So back to our question: What kind of bishop for these times? Someone who believes that the call of Jesus Christ to him is personal and someone who enters through the gate, which is Jesus Christ on the Cross, and does not try to make himself important and does not seek his own self-importance. This also reflects the teaching of St. Augustine who taught that the title Bishop is not the name of an honor, but of a service or a work, “Assist me by your prayerful support, so that my joy will be in serving you, rather than in being over you” (Sermon 340).
I said I would touch on the temptations. Pope Benedict mentions one: careerism. I think another temptation for us can easily be that of avoiding conflict, lest we be unpopular to some and lest we be misinterpreted or judged as our decisions become public — that is a great temptation, worrying too much about what people think. And it is a temptation to be resisted, for our focus must always go deeper.
From our two living examples, if I may speak in that way, from the Pope in Heaven and the one here on Earth, I would like to share two reflections which point us towards the grace we need in the significant moments of our Episcopal ministry. I refer to moments when we are asked for a special Yes to Christ. When we are asked the challenging question Christ put to the apostles: “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” (Mt 20:22). For that question is always put to the bishop, and it is put by Christ if our hearts are quiet enough to hear it.
Can You Drink the Cup?
The first living example is from Cardinal Ratzinger, in his interview with Peter Seewald at the time of the Great Jubilee, in the book entitled Salt of the Earth. Seewald asked him about the fact that, at the time when he was the Archbishop of Munich, he spoke so frequently and dramatically about the confusion of the times. In a lengthy answer, the Cardinal explained his obligation to face the task which God had given him. He concluded with these words:
The words of the Bible and of the Church Fathers rang in my ears, those sharp condemnations of shepherds who are like mute dogs; in order to avoid conflicts, they let the poison spread. Peace is not the first civic duty, and a bishop whose only concern is not to have any problems and to gloss over as many conflicts as possible is an image I find repulsive.
More recently, when he preached at the Fifth Anniversary Mass for the death of Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict made clear where he believed Pope John Paul found the source of the strength that enabled him to do hard things.
In his Homily for the 25th anniversary of his Pontificate, he confided that he had felt echoing in his soul, at the moment of his election, Jesus’ question to Peter, “Do you love me? Do you love me more than these?” (Jn 21: 15-16); and he added, “Every day that same dialogue between Jesus and Peter takes place in my heart. In spirit, I focus on the benevolent gaze of the Risen Christ. Although He knows of my human frailty, He encourages me to answer confidently, like Peter, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you’ (Jn 21: 17). And then He invites me to take on the responsibilities that He himself has entrusted to me” (Homily, October 16, 2003; L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, 22, p. 3). [Pope Benedict adds:] “These words are laden with faith and love, the love of God, that conquers everything!” (L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, 13, March 31, 2010, p. 3).
What kind of bishop then? Someone who is in love with Jesus Christ, committed to doing His will whatever the cost in conflict and stress and even unpopularity. Someone who expects to be asked to make difficult decisions — and who, while consulting widely, ultimately knows by prayer, by experience, by the light of the Holy Spirit which decisions truly belong to him and should never be delegated.
So, I think the picture of the bishop the Church needs comes more clear. A bishop who believes the call is from Christ and hears it every day. Someone who makes his own will second to the one to whom he belongs. Someone who finds his joy in doing what God wants. Someone who is not afraid of conflict and unpopularity, but expects it and, with the help of grace, even welcomes it, yet always in his public response is measured and, if possible, gracious and respectful as well as clear and forthright.
A bishop who loves the Cross of Christ. It is not accidental that we were recently given the Year of St. Paul. St. Paul is the great theologian of the Cross. He personalized it and wrote with affection of the one who “has loved me and given himself up for me” (Gal 2:20). He also made the Cross the center of his preaching. “For Jews demand signs and Greeks look to wisdom, but we proclaim Christ Crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and absurdity to Gentiles — but to those who are called Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 11:22-24).
So our understanding of the kind of bishop the Church needs, and is in fact seeking, becomes more clear. One who is led by Christ through prayer. One who does not seek his own importance. One who does not avoid conflict, but is willing to embrace it for the good of the Church. One who understands that it is the nature of the Church and of the Gospel that it will meet resistance. The parable of the weeds and wheat in Matthew 13 makes this clear.
Real Pastoral Love
One who avoids conflict ends up with more conflict rather than less. And a bishop who avoids conflicts rather than embracing hard decisions becomes a manager rather than a pastor. A bishop who avoids the difficult decisions will quickly lose the trust of his priests and eventually of his people. They may accept his decisions and even tell him how wonderful he is, but priests and people know real pastoral love when they see it — and when they do not see it.
I would like to conclude by making an application of these principals that I have sketched out. I refer first to one of the great responsibilities of a bishop; namely, discernment and discretion in choosing candidates for the seminary and also the related decisions as to whether or not to ordain a priest. It seems to me the advice of Paul to Timothy is always relevant and is crucial today after all we have been through: “Do not lay hands too readily on anyone” (1 Tm 5:22).
The successor of Peter has made this clear as a part of his response to the recent, grave crisis. In his visit to this country while en route on the airplane, when posed with a question about the crisis we have experienced, he replied, “It is more important to have good priests than many priests” (Pope Benedict XVI, prepared response to questions in an interview with reporters aboard the flight to the U.S., Origins, May 1, 2008, emphasis added.). We also know, and bishops especially know, that we need many also; but the way to many is reached through ordaining only good, mature, manly priests — men of faith and prayer who would also have made good fathers and good husbands if that had been their vocation.
Also, in his homily at the conclusion of the Year for Priests with 15,000 priests concelebrating in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Benedict XVI promised that, in admitting men to priestly ministry, “we will do everything we can to weigh the authenticity of their vocation.”
In his post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, noting the link between priests and the Eucharist, Pope Benedict says, speaking on the shortage of priests:
The situation cannot be resolved by purely practical decisions. On no account should bishops react to real and understandable concerns about the shortage of priests by failing to carry out adequate vocational discernment or by admitting to seminary formation and ordination candidates who lack the necessary qualities for priestly ministry. An insufficiently formed clergy, admitted to ordination without the necessary discernment will not easily be able to offer a witness capable of invoking in others the desire to respond generously to Christ’s call (Sacramentum Caritatis, No. 25).
If I may be forgiven a related personal comment, I recall one year when I was preparing to ordain three men for the priesthood. For us in those days that was significant. I don’t think I had ever ordained more than two at once. On the Monday before the Saturday ordination, I received information about one of the candidates and made the decision that evening — five days before the scheduled ordination — to refuse to ordain the young man. He later requested, with my encouragement, laicization from the Order of Deacon. I consider that the grace of Christ was very close at that time and I look back on the decision with gratitude to God who gave me both light and strength, and I remember it with joy and peace. I also was very encouraged by the strong support of the priests whom I consulted. This decision was surely a positive factor in the spiritual and pastoral renewal of our presbyterate.
In the interest of full truth, I also recall laying hands upon someone I should not have ordained for the priesthood and about whom I had significant doubts, even at the time of his entrance to the seminary. This was a man who could not relate to people; and the priesthood, as you all know, is relational. I think I failed because I did not pay sufficient attention to what was deepest inside myself at the point of decision. God expects us to learn from our mistakes and face ourselves and sharpen our judgment and seek forgiveness, as well as light, for future decisions.
Sound Catechetical Instruction
There is a second area that is linked to the fostering of vocations to the priesthood and also to the whole spiritual growth of the diocese. It is an area over which the bishop must also exercise close and intense pastoral care. Here, also, he must make present the Episcopal charism which is given to him at his ordination as Bishop. I refer to the matter of sound catechetical instruction.
The response of the Church to the catechetical weaknesses, which developed after the Second Vatican Council, gives us an opportunity and a responsibility. “The more the Church, whether on the local or the universal level, gives catechesis priority over other works and undertakings the results of which would be more spectacular, the more she finds in catechesis a strengthening of her internal life as a community of believers and of her external activity as a missionary Church” (Catechesi Tradendae, Pope John Paul II, No. 15).
The present opportunity comes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, our National Catechism and the International and National Directories and the encyclical Catechesi Tradendae of Pope John Paul II. Also, we should rightly note the response of our Conference, which for a number of years now has examined all texts to see if they are in compliance with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I realize that, in the diocese where I have served, we received a special blessing, namely, significant grants over 23 years from Our Sunday Visitor for the training of catechists, first, at the University of Dayton and, in the last 11 years, with the significant help of Professor John Cavadini at the University of Notre Dame. Our Sunday Visitor is willing, under certain conditions, to give such grants to other dioceses for the training of catechists. The Bishop is the chief catechist of the diocese. This is an area on which he must bring to bear the light and gifts given to him at his Episcopal ordination.
Catechetics is a ministry where the bishop must carefully choose and carefully guide the director of the Office of Catechesis. It is an area where he must not delegate too much. There should be no one between the director of the Office of Catechesis and the Bishop. “You can be sure that if catechesis is done well in your local churches, everything else will be easier to do” (Catechesi Tradendae, Pope John Paul II, No. 63).
Indeed this is one of the central places where the Bishop is responding every day in his heart and in his words to the promise he made on the day of his Episcopal ordination. “Do you resolve to guard the deposit of faith, entire and incorrupt, as handed down by the Apostles and preserved in the Church everywhere and at all times?”
So in the choosing of his Director of Catechesis, and also in the careful watch he takes over that department and all aspects of teaching, the Bishop takes seriously and applies the promises he made and takes to heart the admonitions given to him during his ordination as bishop. Indeed these admonitions should be always in his heart.
When I completed this presentation last week, I shared it with my good friend John Cavadini, Ph.D., of Notre Dame. John is the director of the Institute for Church Life, a member of the International Theological Commission, a Patristic Scholar and, for many years, Chair of the Department of Theology at Notre Dame. As always, his response was insightful. He shared something on which he has written previously. Responding to my emphasis that a good bishop is one who loves Christ and the Cross, he added, “A good bishop is someone who loves the Church, for loving Christ and the Cross means loving the Church. I think that if the bishop loves the Church, not the abstract Church of our imagination, but the local Church with all its ups and down, personalities and difficulties, he teaches us to love the Church, too, the real Church who is — astonishingly — really the beloved of the Lord.”
Let us remember the admonitions given when we accepted the ring and the crosier: “Receive this ring, the seal of fidelity; adorned with undefiled faith, preserve unblemished the bride of God, the Holy Church.” and “Receive the Crosier, the sign of your pastoral office, and keep watch over the whole flock in which the Holy Spirit has placed you as bishop to govern the Church of God.”
Let us look then at these two directives, two admonitions if you will: “Preserve unblemished the bride of God, the Holy Church” and “Keep watch over the whole flock.” To preserve unblemished and to keep watch over a family. Preserve unblemished and keep watch. The Church has been severely blemished. The Church is blemished when people with serious flaws which can do harm, men who have not received a true call, are ordained. The Church is blemished when the truth is not taught in its fullness.
In the plan of God, recent years have taught us how much depends on our fidelity. May these reflections help us to keep the promises we made so solemnly and which we all want to live until the end of our days and on which, according to the Second Vatican Council, we will “one day be asked to render an account to God.” TP
BISHOP D’ARCY is Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Fort Wayne – South Bend.
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