Who is the Bishop? The Pope answered this question on receiving in the Vatican, on September 8, 2018, about a hundred Bishops of mission territories. He appealed to the Bishops particularly to beware of worldliness, ambitiousness, and to flee from clericalism.
The young Bishops in the audience, from 34 Nations of four Continents, are taking part in a Seminar organized, in Rome, by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, from September 3-15.
The Holy Father explained that the Bishop is a man of prayer, a man of proclamation and a man of communion. He recommended a prayer employing “frank talk” with God and turned to Christ. “It’s easy to wear a cross on one’s breast, but the Lord asks us to carry a much heavier one on our shoulders and in our heart: He asks us to share His cross,” he stressed.
The Pontiff pleaded for special care of families, seminarians, young people and the poorest. The Bishop, he assured, doesn’t indulge in comfort, he doesn’t like the tranquil life, he doesn’t spare energies, or consider himself a prince; he spends himself for others, abandoning himself to God’s fidelity.”
And he concludes; “Beware, I beg you, of lukewarmness, which leads to mediocrity and to acedia, the “mid-life crisis” . . . Mistrust tranquillity that dodges sacrifice, pastoral precipitation that leads to intolerance; the abundance of goods that disfigures the Gospel. Don’t forget that the devil enters by the pockets! I wish you, on the contrary, a holy anxiety for the Gospel, the only anxiety that gives peace.”
Here is the unabridged translation of the Pope’s address to the Bishops.
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Pope Francis’ Address
Dear Brothers, good morning!
I’m happy to meet with you on the occasion of your Seminar of Formation. Along with you, I greet the communities entrusted to you: the priests, the men and women religious, the catechists and the lay faithful. I’m grateful to Cardinal Filoni for the words he addressed to me and I also thank Monsignor Rugambwa and Monsignor Dal Toso.
Who is the Bishop? Let us question ourselves on our identity of Pastors to be more aware, knowing that there is no identical model standard in all places. The Bishop’s ministry gives vertigo, so great is the ministry he bears in himself. Thanks to the effusion of the Holy Spirit, the Bishop is configured to Christ Pastor and Priest. That means that he is called to have the traits of the Pastor and to make his own the heart of the priesthood, which is the offering of his life. Hence, he doesn’t live for himself but stretches to the gift of his life for the sheep, in particular, the weakest and those in danger. It’s the reason why the Bishop nourishes true compassion for the crowds of brothers who are like sheep without a shepherd (Cf. Mark 6:34), and for all those who in different ways are put aside. I ask you to have gestures and words of special comfort for all those that experience marginalization and degradation. More than others, they are in need of feeling the Lord’s predilection, of whom you are the thoughtful hands.
Who is the Bishop? I would like to sketch with you three essential traits: he’s a man of prayer, he’s a man of proclamation and he’s a man of communion.
Man of prayer. The Bishop is a successor of the Apostles and, like the Apostles, he is called by Jesus to be with Him (Cf. Mark 3:14). He finds there his strength and his confidence. He learns to entrust himself to the Lord before the Tabernacle. Thus there grows in him the awareness that at night also, when he sleeps, or in the day, in the fatigue and sweat of the field he cultivates, the seed grows (Cf. Mark 4: 26-29). Prayer isn’t devotion for the Bishop but a necessity; not an engagement among others, but an indispensable ministry of intercession: every day he must take persons and situations before God. Like Moses, he stretches his hands towards Heaven in favor of his people (Cf. Exodus 17:8-13) and he is capable of insisting with the Lord (Cf. Exodus 33:11-14), of negotiating with the Lord, like Abraham — the parrhesia of prayer. A prayer without frank talk isn’t prayer. It’s the Pastor who prays! — someone who has the courage to argue with God for his flock. Active in prayer, he shares the Passion of the Cross of his Lord. Never satisfied, he constantly seeks to assimilate himself to Him, on the way to becoming, like Jesus, victim, and altar for the salvation of his people. And that doesn’t come from the fact of knowing many things, but from the fact of knowing only one thing each day in prayer: Jesus Christ and Jesus crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Because it’s easy to wear a cross on one’s breast, but the Lord asks us to carry a much heavier one on our shoulders and in our heart: He asks us to share His cross. When explaining to the faithful what the recently created deacons should do, Peter added — and this is true also for us, Bishops — “Prayer is the proclamation of the Word,” — prayer in the first place. I would like to ask each Bishop the question: “How many times a day do you pray?”
Man of proclamation. Successor of the Apostles, the Bishop feels as his own the mandate that Jesus gives him: “Go and preach the Gospel” (Mark 16:15). “Go” the Gospel isn’t proclaimed seated but on the way. The Bishop doesn’t live in an office, as a business administrator, but among the people, on the roads of the world, as Jesus. He takes the Lord where He isn’t known, where He is disfigured and persecuted. And, on going out of himself, he finds himself. He is not delighted in comfort, he doesn’t like the tranquil life and he doesn’t spare his energies, nor does he consider himself a prince, he spends himself for others, abandoning himself to God’s fidelity. If he looks for points of support and worldly securities, he won’t be a veritable Apostle of the Gospel.
And what is the style of the proclamation? To witness with humility the love of God, as Jesus did, who humbled Himself out of love. The proclamation of the Gospel suffers the temptations of power, of satisfaction, of return of image, of worldliness. Worldliness. Beware of worldliness. There is always the risk of giving more attention to form than to substance, of being transformed into actors more than witnesses, of diluting the Word of salvation on proposing a Gospel without Jesus crucified and resurrected. However, you are called to be living memories of the Lord, to remind the Church that to proclaim means to give one’s life, without half-measures, ready also to accept the total sacrifice of oneself.
And, thirdly, he is a man of communion. The Bishop can’t have all the gifts, the ensemble of charisms — some believe they have them, poor things! – but he is called the charism of the ensemble, that is, to keep united, to cement communion. The Church is in need of union, not soloists outside the choir or warriors of personal battles. The Pastor brings together: Bishop for his faithful, he is a Christian with his faithful, he isn’t on the front page of newspapers, he doesn’t seek the world’s approval, he isn’t interested in protecting his name, but he loves to weave communion involving himself in the front line and acting in a humble way. He doesn’t suffer from the lack of a leading role, but he lives rooted in his territory, rejecting the temptation of moving often from his diocese — the temptation of “airport Bishops” — and fleeing the quest for personal glory.
He doesn’t tire of listening. He doesn’t base himself on projects made in an office but he lets himself be questioned by the voice of the Spirit, who likes to speak through the faith of the simple. He becomes altogether one with his people and first of all with his priests, always available to receive and encourage his priests. For example, he promotes more than by words, a sincere priestly fraternity, by showing the priests that one is Pastor for the flock, and not for reasons of prestige or career, which is so ugly. Don’t be go-getters, please, or ambitious: feed God’s flock “Not as bosses of persons entrusted to you, but being an example to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3).
And then, dear brothers, flee from clericalism, “anomalous way of understanding authority in the Church, very common in numerous communities in which behavior is verified of abuse of power, of conscience and sexual.” Clericalism – corrupts communion, in as much as it “engenders a scission in the ecclesial body that encourages and aids in perpetuating many evils that we denounce today. To say no to abuses is to say no, categorically, to all forms of clericalism.” (Letter to the People of God, August 20, 2018). Consequently, don’t feel yourselves lords of the flock — you’re not the masters of the flock — even if others are so or if certain customs of the place favor them. May the people of God, for whom you were ordained, regard you as fathers, not bosses; considerate fathers: no one must have towards you an attitude of subjection. At this stage of history, one sees accentuated in several places certain tendencies of “leadership.” To show yourselves strong men, who keep their distance and command others, might seem practical and interesting, but it’s not evangelical. That often makes irreparable ravages in the flock, for whom Christ gave His life with love, by abasing and annihilating Himself. Therefore, be poor men in goods and rich in relations, never harsh and grumpy, but affable, patient, simple and open.
I would also like you to have at heart, in particular, certain realities:
Families. Although penalized by a culture that transmits the logic of the provisional and privileges individual rights, they remain the first cells of each society and the first Churches, because they are domestic Churches. Promote courses of preparation for marriage and of accompaniment for families, they will be seeds that will bear fruit in their time. Defend the just life conceived as that of the aged person, support parents and grandparents in their mission.
The seminarians. They are the breeding grounds of tomorrow. Be a home for them. Verify carefully that they are guided by men of God, by capable and mature educators, who with the aid of better human sciences, guarantee the formation of healthy human profiles, open, genuine, sincere. Give priority to vocational discernment to help young people recognize God’s voice among those that reverberate in their ears and in their hearts.
So care for young people, to whom the imminent Synod will be dedicated. Let us listen, let us be questioned by them, let us accept their desires, their doubts, their criticisms, and their crises. They are the future of the Church, they are the future of society: a better world depends on them, even when they seem infected by the virus of consumerism and hedonism, let us never put them in quarantine; let us look for them, listen to their heart that begs life and implores freedom. Let us offer them the Gospel with courage.
The poor. To love them means to fight against all poverties, spiritual and material. To dedicate time and energy to the neediest, without fear of soiling your hands. As apostles of charity, go to the human and existential peripheries of your dioceses.
Finally, dear brothers, beware, I beg you, of lukewarmness that leads to mediocrity and to acedia, this “mid-life crisis” (sic) Beware of that. Beware of tranquillity that dodges sacrifice; of pastoral precipitation that leads to intolerance; of abundance of goods that disfigure the Gospel. Don’t forget that the devil enters by the pockets! I wish you, on the contrary, a healthy anxiety for the Gospel, the only anxiety that gives peace. I thank you for listening and I bless you, in the joy of having you as the dearest among brothers. And I ask you, please, not to forget and to have people pray for me. Thank you.
© Libreria Editrice Vatican
Translation by Virginia M. Forrester