Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The role of the bishop

The vestments in the above picture were worn by one of my favorite bishops and patrons, St. Charles Borromeo. Here are some links to more information about him: Catholic Information Network, New Advent, Catholic online, and Wikipedia.

Who is the bishop, and why does he matter?

From The Bishop: Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World, 2001:

Jesus’ discourse on the vine and the branches points to the dynamic work of the Trinity in communion and mission. The Father is the vine dresser; Christ is the true vine; the interior sap of communion and fruitfulness is the Holy Spirit who gives life to the branches united to the vine which is destined to give abundant and lasting fruit. At the center of this parable is found the fundamental teaching that the disciples of Jesus are called to remain in vital communion with him and with his word and commandments and to grow, through God’s pruning, and bear fruit in abundance (cf. Jn 15:1-10).

This leads to the need of communion with Christ and, in him, with the Father and the Spirit in the mystical vine, symbolic of the Church.

“Without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). In keeping with the meaning of the parable of the vine, Jesus tells his disciples that communion with him is remaining faithful to the divine friendship: “You are my friend, if you do what I command you” (Jn 15:14). Through friendship with Christ, they come to a knowledge of the secrets of the Father and receive the gift of a life “even unto death” and a mutual communion in love. Continuing his mandate from the Father, Jesus, for his part, chooses his disciples and sends them out in mission: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (Jn 15:16). For their part, the disciples are called to be faithful to the Word and mission.

60.As Christ’s friend, disciple and apostle, the Bishop is a living branch grafted on the vine which is Christ and bears in himself the personal and ministerial call to communion and mission.

The Bishop’s identity in the Church is grounded in the dynamic action of apostolic succession understood as not only the giving of authority but the extension of Trinitarian communion and mission. Since the Bishop is chosen by the Lord, called to a constant communion with him and sent forth into the world, he is identified with the Person of Jesus in the transmission of divine life, in the communion of love and in the sacrifice of his life.

The above passage explains something that I have been trying hard to find words for lately. I think that we modern American Catholics tend to view our bishops the same way we view other civil authority figures. In our culture, it is considered virtuous to critique our leaders, to disagree with them, and even to oust them if they don't live up to certain standards. We sometimes approach our bishops and pastors with the same attitudes. Of course, there are also still some whose values hearken back to another generation (or who have a military view of authority: if we don't follow our superiors' orders, people could get hurt), when questioning the authority of any leader was culturally unacceptable. I think both attitudes miss the point, though. The bishop isn't an authority figure in the same way that a doctor is (go and get a second opinion/trust your doctor without question), or an elected official (write him outraged letters, vote for his opponent in the next election/make a donation to his campaign, drive your fellow party members to the polls), or a university professor (drop his class, give him a bad evaluation/ask him for recommendations, invite him to direct your thesis), or a police officer (avoid him at all costs/call him every time you have a dispute with your neighbor).

It seems more useful to understand the bishop as a vital part of one's own body. Parts of a single body may sometimes be in disagreement, but they cannot separate from one another and would never desire separation. And the bishop is not one single part of the body while we are another; for example, the bishop cannot be the "mind" while we are the rest of the body -- we cannot absolve ourselves from thinking and reasoning -- but his mind is joined with ours, his heart is joined with ours, his nervous system is joined with ours, so that to tear away even part way would leave us maimed and diminished. I believe that the only way to understand who the bishop is for us is to contemplate the parable of the true vine, given to us by Jesus himself. The bishop is our vital link to the whole vine. Without him, we can hardly call ourselves Christians -- certainly not Catholic Christians -- and thus, we can hardly say that we are alive.

I got the following excellent information from an article by Mary McCarthy, writing in The Catholic Herald:

This lineage of the Apostles and the passing of blessings from the Holy Spirit are still celebrated in the ordination of bishops. At the pinnacle of the sacrament, all the ordained bishops present place their hands, one by one over the head of the bishop being ordained. Through this gesture, they are passing on the mission that has been inherited from God to Jesus, to the Apostles, and to the first appointed bishops. Then, all the bishops present pray together to the Holy Spirit, "Pour out upon this chosen one that power which is from you — the governing Spirit whom you gave to your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the Spirit given by Him to the holy apostles, who founded the church in every place" (Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine).

The bishop is a special conduit for this power, the Holy Spirit, who animates our lives and brings light and savor to all we do. He is like an artery for the sap that passes through the whole vine, including to our own branches. Without him, we cannot hope to bear fruit. Without him, we have no connection to our roots, and we will eventually wither.
St. Charles Borromeo, Archbishop of Milan, ministering to the Milanese people during the plague of 1576 ("At the same time he thought of the people. He prepared himself for death, made his will (9 September, 1576), and then gave himself up entirely to his people. Personal visits were paid by him to the plague-stricken houses. In the hospital of St. Gregory were the worst cases; to this he went, and his presence comforted the sufferers. Though he worked so arduously himself, it was only after many trials that the secular clergy of the town were induced to assist him, but his persuasive words at last won them so that they afterwards aided him in every way." From an article in the Catholic Encyclopedia).

More on the role of the bishop

• Vatican Council II, Constitutio dogmatica Lumen gentium, 21 Nov 1964, AAS 57 (1965) 5-71.5

26. Moreover, every legitimate celebration of the Eucharist is regulated by the bishop, to whom is confided the duty of presenting to the divine majesty the cult of the Christian religion and of ordering it in accordance with the Lord’s injunctions and the Church’s regulations, as further defined for the diocese by his particular decision.
• In reality, the ministerial and hierarchical priesthood, the priesthood of the bishops and the priests, and, at their side, the ministry of the deacons -- ministries which normally begin with the proclamation of the Gospel -- are in the closest relationship with the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the principal and central raison d'etre of the sacrament of the priesthood, which effectively came into being at the moment of the institution of the Eucharist, and together with it.[2] JPII letter to bishops (Dominicae Cenae, On the Mystery and Worship of the Eucharist, His Holiness Pope John Paul II, Promulgated on February 24, 1980, To All the Bishops of the Church.)
• The Bishop is the high priest of his flock. "In a certain sense it is from him that the faithful who are under his care derive and maintain their life in Christ" (SC 41).
• The diocesan Bishop is the first steward of the mysteries of God in the particular Church or diocese entrusted to him. He is the moderator, the promoter, and the guardian of the liturgical life of the Church in his diocese. It is he who offers the Eucharistic Sacrifice, or causes it to be offered, so that the Church continually lives and grows (see CD 15; SC 41; CIC can. 387; RS 19).
• Vatican Council II, Decretum Christus Dominus, 28 Oct 1965, AAS 58 (1966) 673-701.6

15. It is therefore bishops who are the principle dispensers of the mysteries of God, and it is their function to control, promote and protect the entire liturgical life of the Church entrusted to them.

1 comment:

Freder1ck said...

It saddens me to hear about Bishop Braxton's revolting priests. Who defends the bishops?

Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."