Monday, October 22, 2007

The role of a Bishop

Thomas Peters, the indubitable American Papist, made a very important observation that cuts the proper middle line between blind obedience to and rank disregard for a Bishop of the Church.

Why exactly should the Archbishop be concerned about the impact of blogs? Can't the truth survive even when subjected to free debate? If blogging about this topic - on the whole - was malicious, isn't this about the state of affairs any Archbishop should expect to endure as part of his ministry? Isn't it an honor to suffer for the Church? And finally, if blogs have been writing in error, isn't it his duty to teach the faithful? I'm awaiting the Archbishop's firm, public and reasoned rebuke. Offhanded comments about bloggers being "bullies" neither enlightens the observers nor helps the (supposed) offenders.
There are those who would take St. Ignatius' ancient admonition to "do nothing without the Bishop" too far to where they will not allow for any criticism, even that contemplated in Canon 212 to "manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church". That, however, is not the issue I wish to address here today. If you want to argue Canon law, I suggest you take it up with Ed Peters.

What I instead want to contemplate here is the seeming misplaced understanding of what it means to be a priest and Bishop by many of those who are graced with those vocations. I spent the better part of probably close to two years contemplating what life as a priest would be like and what expectations I would have for myself, so perhaps my viewpoint on this issue is slightly colored by a set of expectations I have never had to live up to. That said, however, should life have turned out differently and I were to be wearing a Roman collar at this moment I can honestly say I would be sorely disappointed with myself if I did not live up to those expectations set so long ago.

First, let us remember one thing - why does a priest properly wear black? It's not to keep him warm in the winter, it is not to better hide dirt, it is not because it makes him stand out in a crowd, nor because it makes one look thinner. A priest wears black as a symbol of his death to this world, that he has truly died to this world and that "it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me." The priest, even before he becomes Bishop, is "set aside", he is to renounce his interest in the ways of the world. This also means by direct correlation that he is to expect, indeed to welcome as a providential sign, that he will be vilified by the world. It is certain those same types would have looked askance at the example of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests.

Further, let us remember one of the primary roles of a Bishop - to be the chief catechist for his diocese. This means that he must be willing always and everywhere to stand up and teach those in need of instruction and not just those who ae already predisposed to agree with what he is about to say. It is never Christian charity to allow someone to remain in sin or to live without the greatest knowledge of the Christ who saved us all he or she can possibly absorb. The Bishop must further always be open to the fact that there may well be in their life a modern version of Catherine of Siena and not assume that by his ordination he is immune to correction by even the least of Christ's children.

Are these impossible expectations? Certainly, for those who live only in this world. For those for whom "to live is Christ", it is recalled what can be done with faith "the size of a mustard seed". To ask the impossible from a priest or Bishop expecting it to be done only by his efforts is not only illogical it is nigh to sinful; asking for that same task with full intent to help and through proper dedication to the Son of the living God is the need of today's world. The greatest damage is done to both the world and the Church when God's people and ministers settle only for that which can be accomplished through simple competence and never venture further into that which can only be done through faith. The salvation of souls is not a matter of half-measures or the work of man, but only the work of God working through simple souls dedicated to His service.