Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The role of a bishop

     Today the Church recognizes Saint Robert Bellarmine, a Jesuit priest, bishop and cardinal of the late 1500's and early 1600's (born October 4, 1542 - died September 17, 1621).  A scholar, teacher and preacher, he served the Church as a successor of the Apostles in a very difficult and turbulent time.  It was the Counter-Reformation ... a time of taking stock, of looking to what was essential, of holding onto the deposit of our Faith, and of leading a Church which very often wanted to go in another direction.  It was difficult.  He was good at it, though.  Thus his reputation, the acknowledgment of his holiness and wisdom, and his role as teacher, as sanctifier and as a person of governance - the three characteristics of the shepherd of a diocese.  He is held as a Doctor of the Church.

     It turns out that the first reading for  Tuesday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time comes from 1st Timothy (1 Tm 3:1-13).  Paul writes to Timothy and tells him what to look for in a bishop.  It makes for interesting reflection.  Paul says that "whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task".  On a practical level, in today's world he also needs his head examined, for he can never satisfy everyone (editorial comment).  He must be irreproachable, temperate, self-controlled, decent, hospitable, able to teach, and be gentle of spirit.  The thing that also catches our attention is that Paul says a bishop should be married only once and should keep his children under control.  Despite those points, it is a good description of what we look for in a bishop.

     There was a time when the local bishop was chosen by the laity and priests of the diocese and affirmed by the Holy Father.  Those days passed long ago, although there is usually some consultation in the process.  The throwback to this old tradition is found in the practice of the College of Cardinals (each assigned a church in the Diocese of Rome and thus the local clergy) selecting the next Bishop of Rome, and thus the Holy Father.  Presently the Holy Father makes the selection of a bishop after prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit and based upon the recommendation of the Congregation of Bishops (who give him a "short list").  Their info is impacted by the needs of the diocese, the recommendation of the Metropolitan Archbishop of the area (Philly, for us) and the Apostolic Nuncio in Washington.

     We have a priest of our diocese who, along with a few others, would love to revive the local consultation process.  We have a number of people in the local area who are unhappy with the present leadership who would love to have a say as to what they want in the next bishop.  The value of such desires may have merit.  But even in the appointment from the top format, there is something very important to keep in mind - namely that the ultimate choice, if we truly believe in the providence of God, is that of the Holy Spirit.  He knows the qualities and characteristics needed, and the abilities and willingness of those proposed to respond to the best of their abilities, and with the help of God's grace, to meet the tasks of teaching (from the chair), of sanctifying (through the Sacraments) and of governing (through the structure of the church and the law of God).

     Robert Bellarmine was the man for the moment in his day, and the Holy Spirit did okay by him.  God provides for us still.  So pray for your bishop.

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