By: Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Peter B. Wells
The identikit of the missionary episcopate according to Vatican II and Pope Francis: from among the baptised to the Mission of Christ
- Extending the “Extraordinary Mission Month” into a life project:
The episcopal ministry is oftentimes chaotic, as the demands of the clergy and the Christifideles placed upon all bishops can lead to serious strain. At times, the bishop may find himself without much left to hold on to, perhaps without Root, without much to give the faithful entrusted to his care as their proper pastor.
Last October, the Holy Father, Pope Francis’ called the Extraordinary Mission Month. The depth and quantity of resources made available by the Holy See for this month, exceeded the possibility of adequate coverage in a single month. Moreover, as Pope Francis reminds the People of God in Evangelii Gaudium, “… [M]issionary outreach is paradigmatic of all the Church’s activity” (§15).
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have command you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:19-20).
As a Church that is by foundational command and nature, sent out, it is providential for both the episcopate and all the faithful to pause, to breathe, and to take stock of our missionary vocations.
Toward the end of Advent, we prayed the O Antiphon, O Radix Jesse, reminding ourselves of the Messiah’s origins from the stump of Jesse (Is 11). If Jesus is The Root, by journeying into our own roots – our own places of origin and source – we have the opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with our vocations to serve God’s people. In returning to The Root, we return to Jesus. We have the possibility of reawakening – by remembering – the first spark of why we embarked on this exhilarating journey of casting out into the deep (Lk 5:4) in the priesthood, and then as we are more intensely called by the action of the Holy Spirit to the episcopate, and to a more intimate sharing in the apostolic mission.
- A return to the conversion of baptism:
The profound call to the sacramental ministry of the episcopate is not to a thrice-off consecration by the Holy Spirit at the moments of diaconal, presbyteral and episcopal ordination. Our ordination to the fullness of the Sacrament of Orders must be the pigment that colours a daily and continuous experience of conversion to a life solely and completely lived in and for God and His people. This, as each of us is fully aware, is a “life project”. The ancient monastics, in their attempts to live only for God, knew this well, as their “Jesus Prayer” makes evident the fragile human’s response to the Gospel’s message of the Good Shepherd who comes after His lost ones:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Internalised, the acknowledgement of one’s own littleness before the Lord Jesus, gives orientation and perspective to the human life. In fact, the Holy Father emphasises the littleness of bishops – and our need for humility – when he cautions us to remember that:
“… [A] woman, Mary, is more important than the bishops. Even when the function of ministerial priesthood is considered ‘hierarchical’… Its key and axis is not power understood as domination, but the power to administer the sacrament of the Eucharist; this is the origin of its authority, which is always a service to God’s people” (Evangelii Gaudium, §104).
Sometimes it becomes easy to be caught up in the trappings of the episcopal office. But this office’s dignity requires a continual conversion of life of each of us who have been called by the Spirit to His service of our local Churches. Such a conversion, an alignment of life, can be seen as ever-looking anew at how one relates to God and others, how one discerns about important matters and decisions that need to be undertaken in your dioceses and offices, how one prays. In a certain sense, conversion of life has to do with a constant checking of one’s self in living out the episcopal ministry. The call to continual conversion for the sake of an increase in faith, made by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, includes bishops:
“Every renewal of the Church is essentially grounded in an increase of fidelity to her own calling… Christ summons the Church to continual reformation… The Church is always in need of this…” (Unitatis Redintegratio, §6).
The theme of the recently celebrated Extraordinary Mission Month, “Baptised and sent”, is offered by the Holy Father to each of us, so encouraging and enabling us to work on our own reformation, by a deep reflection on our own need – as bishops – for renewal, conversion, and return. What should our return be to?
“The bishops themselves… having been appointed by the Holy Spirit, are successors of the Apostles as pastors of souls… to continue throughout the ages the work of Christ, the eternal pastor” (Christus Dominus, §2).
Although it is an obvious assertion – though, sometimes we do need reminding – that whatever local Church has been entrusted to our care, even before we are priests of dioceses or of religious institutes – before any of these things, we are first baptised Christians. It is only because we have been baptised – given “God’s most beautiful and magnificent gift…” (Saint Gregory of Nazianzus) – that we have entered into the life of Christ, that we have been claimed by the Church for Jesus, and through the efficacy of the Sacrament, we have become part of the Christian family (Catechism of the Catholic Church, §§1213, 1216). Having been born anew in Christ, put on Christ, all the baptised faithful are called to follow His missionary mandate (Mt 28:19).
From the beginning, when we were baptised, our parents and godparents served as the missionaries who brought us to the faith in response to the call of God, a faith which they received from those who went before them and who in turn served as missionaries to them. They placed each of us upon the path to journey close to the Lord. In and through our own baptism, the Church was missionary to us. From out of this missionary root of our vocations to priesthood in baptism, the Lord Jesus calls each of us by name – as He did two millennia ago to His first apostles – “Follow me” (Mk 1:16, Mt 4:19, 9:9). And then, like to those apostles, He missions us who are their successors, as He sends us out “…to proclaim the kingdom of God…” (Lk 9:2; Christus Dominus, §1) (it worth noting here that I use the word “mission” as a verb and not as a noun). We have been “baptised and sent”, because this is what Jesus calls us to even where we find ourselves today as disciples called to be sharers in the fulness of the Sacrament of Orders, successors of the apostles, who each day follow yet a further instruction of Jesus:
“This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me… This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Lk 22:19-20).
It is easy to forget our vocation, even when we find ourselves expended in its demands by living it, in spite of being in the midst of it. I invite you, then, to remember how you have been baptised, called and sent by Jesus, through the action of the Holy Spirit, to your local Church.
- The bishop authentically living out baptism and mission:
Precisely because each one of us has been mandated by the Holy Spirit, as “proper pastors” of our local Churches, we have the terrific responsibility – which we resolved at our consecrations – of guiding God’s people along the path of salvation as fatherly shepherds, who build up Christ’s Body. This cannot be done without our first living the example of faith before the Christifideles entrusted to our care. To that end, our baptismal calling must be authentic and visible, as we make every attempt to live out the Gospel in the world.
“… [H]e will sometimes go before his people, pointing the way and keeping their hope vibrant. At other times, he will simply be in their midst with his unassuming and merciful presence. At yet others, he will have to walk after them, helping those who lag behind…” (Evangelii Gaudium, §31).
The “dignity and responsibility of bishop” (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1555), presupposes a serious contemplation of and living out of the Good News, and as the chief pastor of the Church entrusted to your care, you must each model the Gospel leadership of Christ to your people:
“… [T]he greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves” (Lk 22:27).
If we truly desire our local Churches to authentically witness Christ in the world – Baptised and Sent on His mission – we, then, must be authentic examples. Authenticity is fundamental in our assistance of young people discerning their vocations, in our facilitating parish priests witnessing to their mission of extending the reign of Christ, in our encouragement of the laity to have sufficient reason to remain active in their parish communities. The chief source of our episcopal authenticity must be from our own intimate encounters with Jesus, the source and proto-exemplar of the Gospel life.
The missionary conversion needed by ourselves then, as bishops in contemporary times, involves a return to the Gospel. Those who encounter us, the successors of the Apostles, must come to experience the joy of Christ in our lives, which “… fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus” (Evangelii Gaudium, §1). We can only be authentic to our apostolic mission, if much time is spent “… drink[ing] of the wellspring of… [Jesus’] brimming heart” (§5), where Jesus’ freely gives Gospel-direction for joyful living (§7).
- The baptismal challenge of a “missionary conversion” to the signs of the times:
The baptismal mission of the Church – to evangelise – is unchanging, however, we exist within a changing, evolving universe, which implies the inevitability of alteration, adjustment, amendment, even at the most basic physical level (Penrose, 2004:721-722). Bishops, like all other faithful, must adapt to the times, in order for our lives and ministries to be transformative to the mission, for yourselves and transformative for the mission of Jesus to continue in today’s world. The world is so much in need of the Gospel message that you resolved to bring to it in your consecration. Because of this commitment, it is apt for us to recall that we must be missionary enablers to bring the experience of “[t]he joy of the Gospel [which] is for all people: no one can be excluded” (Evangelii Gaudium, §23).
Can the “missionary conversion” we bishops need – and which we must facilitate in our faithful – support us “… to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel” in our local Churches? (Evangelii Gaudium, §§20, 30). Making “strategic plans” for evangelisation is not an absolute science. The freedom of the Holy Spirit moves and embeds the Gospel message because of its vitality (§22). So, here, we are not prescribing or proscribing particular ways of evangelisation in your dioceses (§30). We only provide suggestions, then, for the enactment of your own missionary conversion of returning to the Gospel and to your vocation as local ordinary in your Church. Your own discerning creativity, the fruit of the identification of the “signs of the times” should come to the fore here.
In identifying priorities for evangelisation, Pope Francis interprets missionary disciples as those who first go out to bring the Good News to others, because in all of our lives, it is Jesus who first lovingly reaches out (Evangelii Gaudium, §24). With a special consecration to teach the Good News, bishops are marked to be at the forefront of evangelisation through the performing of works of mercy by which the Gospel is preached in deeds (§24). Mission is no longer simply about preaching. To be authentic in today’s world, the baptismal mission of the Christian faithful must be lived counter-culturally, prophetically, in works of mercy being undertaken at the margins of society. Where hypocrisy reigns, this visible action of Christ’s mission is authentic evangelisation.
When Jesus engaged in His evangelising enterprise, He did not keep a distance from the people to whom He went. “The Lord gets involved and he involves his own, as he kneels to wash their feet” (§24). Bishops, as the principal shepherds of local Churches must be so intimate with the people they pastor. You are challenged, like all other people consecrated for mission, to “… take on the ‘smell of the sheep’…” (§24). In this way, you become visibly available for the service of leadership, a constant for the people of God in an ever-changing world, as you support and guide them in their ordinary lives (§24). It is important to point out, however, that you cannot take on that smell on your own. There is no “eau de sheep”. You can only take on that scent if you allow yourself to be surrounded by the flock, if you are with them, if you are one of them, serving them and humbly allowing yourself to supported by them. Smelling like the sheep requires openness, transparency and humility.
The 2018 Synod on the Youth brought to light a number of important aspects of where the Church should be making an outreach. Young people need to be identified with, and a significant dimension of life which attracts them to the People of God is the experience of deep-seated and visible joy. Having been consecrated to the fulness of the teaching office of the mission of Christ, you have a particular intimacy with the Sacred Scriptures. It is not a mere ceremonial gesture when the Gospels were held over our heads at our episcopal ordinations. You thus are imbued with joyful insights by which to live your episcopacy. But do not keep that to yourselves. Be evangelisers that are “… filled with joy…” (§24). Young people are seeking meaning, they want to find joy. Be the conduit, the link between the Gospel and young people, by knowing them and letting them experience the joy of the Gospel. We all know that there is nothing more off putting than a grouchy, or maybe even worse, a disinterested bishop.
- The call of baptism and the renewal of the episcopal identity:
Before our consecration as bishops, we were called to the priesthood, and before we were called to be priests, we were called to be baptised. The Second Vatican Council readily invites us to renew our episcopacy by considering its theology.
When Pope St Paul VI promulgated the decree on priests, Presbyterorum Ordinis, an aide-mémoire was made. Prior to the Council, a “… medieval restriction of church ministry to the priestly office, which was understood exclusively on the basis of the priest’s power to consecrate the Eucharist…” dominated (Kasper, 2003:16) Conceived in this way, priests were seen to be at the top of the pyramidical structure of the Church’s hierarchy. Conciliar theology returns to the roots of priesthood, which of necessity is founded in the episcopacy, thus, envisioning the priest as a sharer in the priesthood of his bishop, and the deacon as a co-worker in the single ministry of his bishop (Kasper, 2003:18; The Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1554). The episcopal office is, thus, the fulness of the Sacrament of Orders, and to it the presbyterate and diaconate depend.
But, Pope Paul’s revisioning of the theological conceptualisation of Orders also returns to more radical roots: i.e. the radix of the episcopal office is to be found in baptism, by means of which all the Christifideles come to share in the one, universal priesthood of Christ by which they enter into the life of holiness, “… offer[ing] spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ…” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, §2). Let us not forget the fact that before any of us received the particular sacramental priesthood we received the universal priesthood of all God’s people in baptism (Presbyterorum Ordinis, §2; The Catechism of the Catholic Church, §784). Importantly, this does not diminish the sacramental priesthood, nor indeed, does it exalt the common priesthood of Christ’s faithful. We who have been called to the sacramental priesthood emerge from the faithful by the specific action of the Holy Spirit:
“The one sent by the Lord does not speak and act on his own authority, but by virtue of Christ’s authority; not as a member of the community, but speaking to it in the name of Christ. No one can bestow grace on himself; it must be given and offered” (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, §875).
With the grace of our priestly vocations, the Holy Spirit has set us aside with a unique function: we are called by God from our communities of origin to be set apart to be agents of unity for God’s people to fulfil the mission of the Apostles (Presbyterorum Ordinis, §2).
We have called to mind that this mission is one of uniting Christ’s faithful (§2). Since no man is called by himself or ordained for himself, our share in the One Priesthood of Christ cannot ever be about ourselves (§10). It must be missionary to be authentic: spread out from ourselves, taking on the mission of Christ, or there would be no need for the Holy Spirit to animate our call or for our ordination through the Spirit’s power. To this end, the Council theologises a dualfold apostolic mission for all priests in their service of God’s people. Never should the priesthood of Christ be understood as having the laity at its service! Priests – and especially bishops who “… have been made true and authentic teachers of the faith, pontiffs [i.e. bridge builders], and pastors through the Holy Spirit…” (Christus Dominus, §2) – who are called to unite the faithful, are to accomplish the unity of God’s people through evangelisation and prayer (Presbyterorum Ordinis, §4). Both of these ministerial aspects of our life are missionary.
For the Council Fathers, the evangelising Gospel-mission entrusted to the successors of the Apostles, challenged the extant theology of the Church (Christus Dominus, §1). Evangelisation could no longer be about direct, primary evangelisation alone. Certainly, as Pope Francis draws out, evangelisation is no longer about the local ordinary doing good conservation of his local Church (Evangelii Gaudium, §15). Evangelisation could take life through dialogue with men and women, or through preaching and teaching, or even by considering present-day problems in the light of the faith of Christ (Presbyterorum Ordinis, §4). By whatever means we bishops pick up our major evangelical responsibility in the corners of the vineyard of the Lord where we find ourselves toiling away, we are missioned to pastor the men and women of our age to holiness in the life of Christ (Presbyterorum Ordinis, §4; Evangelii Gaudium, §31).
It is for this reason that Paul VI considered the second great apostolic task of those mandated through ordination to teach, govern and sanctify: to bring all the Christifideles to “… become proficient in genuine prayer” (§5). The synonyms of “proficient” are indicative of the “expertise” that we must develop in our prayer lives: capable, talented, skilful, adept, dexterous, practised. Through the celebration of the Eucharist, adoration, Lectio Divina, the Office, we bishops must become living prayers through which the Good News is embedded into the life of the world. Only then, will we have sufficient sustenance to lead others to Christ, who is the Sustenance at the root of faith.
Baptised and sent to pray and evangelise. The Council’s theology cannot permit a reduction of this sacred ministry to mere function. These dimensions of ministry – if they are to be life-giving for the faithful and for the bishop who leads them as their chief shepherd – must always remain rooted in Christ.
“[Ordained ministry] is not a job contract… I must receive the gift and care for it, and from there flows all the rest: in contemplation of the gift. When we forget this, appropriate the gift, and turn it into a function, then we lose the heart of ministry and lose Jesus’ gaze who looked upon us and said: ‘Follow me’” (Pope Francis, Homily, 19th September 2019).
- Pope Francis’ challenge to the episcopacy:
We have all known good men who have left formation on the path to priesthood, or who have discerned their way out of priesthood after ordination, for whatever serious reason. Of course we do not condemn those who leave. For each of us who remains behind, though, questions inevitably arise, especially in the context of the many challenges facing our Church today: “Why should I remain?”, “Is life more fulfilling outside Holy Orders?”, “Did I go to the seminary too young”, “Do I know life?”, and they can go on and on. The vocational crisis of one who leaves, particularly one who is one of our own brother priests from our local Churches, can spur us into our own sense of crisis. As bishops, we may ponder what we could have done to make the choice for the service of God’s people more fulfilling for the man who leaves? That which both the Church and society expects of a bishop is great. None of us are worthy for the episcopal office. And that sense of unworthiness that marks the authentic call, is amplified by the sheer strain that being a bishop in the twenty first century can bring. It is supremely challenging to have to field questions about, say, the scourge of sexual abuse in the Church, which so often is reduced to the common misunderstanding that celibacy of the priesthood is the cause of abuse, or reduced even further, the priesthood is the cause!
When Pope Francis visited Southern Africa in September last year, he reflected – in the Cathedral of Maputo – on what he calls “the crisis of priestly identity”:
“… [W]e perhaps need to step away from important and solemn places, and return to the places from which we were called, where it was clear that the initiative and the power was from God… At times… we get used to identifying our daily activity… with… our presence… [as] ‘hierarchical’. Then we are more like Zechariah than like Mary.”
I have always loved the line from the Preface of Martyrs in in the former English translation of the Roman Missal “ You choose the way and make them strong in bearing witness to you”. IN many ways the first step to being a truly missionary bishop is recognizing our weakness. In as much as the Holy Father was speaking about “priestly identity” in the above quote, specifically, the reality he identifies should be extended to the episcopacy, as well. For Pope Francis, then, the internal experience that results in a crisis of episcopal identity is the bishop’s temptation for potential over-identification with authority and with power! In this comfort with sovereignty, we can lose sight of why God called us, and where it is that we came from when God called us. A disorientation can occur. Perhaps it could come about due to other factors: an overwhelming loneliness (we all have the experience of episcopal loneliness, for within your local Churches, you – as the proper pastor – are alone), a contrast between culture and priestly/episcopal identity, the natural desires for family life, children, and so on.
To recapture our identity as bishops, as shepherds at the service of God’s people, Pope Francis invites us to realise our own littleness and fragility, to have a spiritual experience like the Blessed Mother in her Magnificat, indeed, an encounter so earth-shattering that our identity becomes re-rooted in our lives (and for our purpose here, we misquote the Holy Father, extending his lesson to our episcopal office):
“… [T]he [bishop] is very little indeed: the incomparable grandeur of the gift granted us for the ministry sets us among the least of men.
- “The [bishop] is the poorest of men… unless Jesus enriches him by his poverty,
- “the most useless of servants, unless Jesus calls him his friend,
- “the most ignorant of men, unless Jesus patiently teaches him as he did Peter,
- “the frailest of Christians, unless the Good Shepherd strengthens him in the midst of the flock…
“No one is more ‘little’ than a [bishop] left to his own devices… I am a [bishop] because the Lord has regarded my littleness (cf. Lk 1:48).”
I am a bishop because I am lowly. I am a bishop because God calls me as an individual, with my brokenness, to serve His people. Pope Francis’ “model” of the proper pastor, is, thus, of a man who is both aware of his humanity, his call by the Father, and his constant need to return to the fundamentals of faith, in order that he may be a Good Shepherd in the model of Christ the Shepherd. Our call is to become like Mary in the Magnificat as we realise:
“… [God] has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly” (Lk 1:51-52).
For all that we are as bishops, we are reliant upon the Father. And, as bishops, ordained In persona Christi to become alter Christus in our ministry, we have the obligation to be bearers of the Good News as we serve our people through teaching, governing and sanctifying. The most important “take away” from Evangelii Gaudium is the reality that despite all the crises that the world and individuals within the world experience, “[w]ith Christ joy is constantly born anew” (§1). This is an insight for the Christian faithful. It is an insight for the mission of the bishop. But, even more importantly, as sheep ourselves, it is an insight for the person of the bishop; the bishop must become a model of the joy of Christ. This is the first mark of Pope Francis’ model of the missionary episcopacy.
- The episcopacy and the Joy of the Gospel:
The Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, begins with an identification of joy as the fruit of the Gospel, which should fill the hearts and lives of the faithful (§1). As Pope Francis establishes the pastoral reality of the context to which his discourse is to enter, he considers the “desolation” that many people around the world experience in contemporary times, including many Christians (§2). It must be fair to include bishops who are also caught up in the consumeristic, throw-away culture of the world. The inward-looking selfishness that is bred by this norm of our world, directly leads to a separation of person from other people; only interested in selfish gain, many of us make a conscious choice to ignore God, or no longer to hear Him, and certainly not to experience the joy that is His unique gift to humanity (§2). In the midst of spiritual barrenness, the call of Evangelii Gaudium, is to re-enliven an enchantment with a “personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or… an openness to letting him encounter [us]…”, to which the Holy Father invites each of us, every day (§3).
Being a bishop who sits at the wellspring of the joy of Christ, which comes to us through the Gospels – being missionary to self – is the second of Pope Francis’ characteristics of episcopacy (§5). If we bishops take the time to vulnerably sit with the Lord, silently approaching Him, coming to know His Good News, our faith should be nourished, and more than that, the way in which we “see” the world should be tinged by the experience we have of Christ and Christ’s vision (§7).
“If we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?” (§8)
The joy of the Gospel is missionary: outward, never inward, looking. That means that a further characteristic of bishops is that our authenticity is determined by whether we move beyond ourselves – being missionary – to the people of God, who deeply yearn to receive Jesus’ joy (§9). We have the privilege and the obligation to teach and to make manifest that joy in the world through our celebration of the sacraments (§9). Of course, it is not always easy to know joy. Joy is a disposition that arises from an experience that wells up from deep within. It cannot be faked. In as much as the people of God yearn for this joy, we must own that the bishop – a little, susceptible man – also anguishes to experience joy, and at times knows dejection, discouragement, anxiety (§10). It is essential that the bishop, then, have his own spiritual life well-ordered, that is, that the bishop ever be ready to meet the eternal newness that is the Gospel, a perpetual source of joy for the faithful.
In as much as the faithful yearn for the joy of Christ, we bishops can – at times – become “… arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators” (§47). This is a serious indictment made by the Pope on the hierarchy. And while Sacred Scripture is a path to the joy of the Good News, the sacramental character of the Church means that the joy of the Gospel is also contained within the sacraments. If we become “limiters” of Jesus’ joy, we fail to authentically be bishops in the fulness of the Person of Christ. So, a further quality of the episcopate, for Pope Francis, is that we must be missionary bishops who are dispensers of Grace, welcoming all people to God’s house, which is the home of people and their problems (§48).
If we are to know Jesus’ joy and to bring that joy to others, we have to be aware that Jesus’ joy will unsettle us and certainly will urge us to move beyond our comfort, past certainty, into the freedom of the Holy Spirit, which moves wherever It wills. As those principally tasked to be bringers of His grace, we must truly forget ourselves in His service, as we accept our vocation and permit ourselves to become prophets of His joy by leading evangelisation to the most desolate and vulnerable aspects of human life in our societies, and in His Church.
In our rampantly commercially-driven world, the mindset of purchase and discarding seems to have filtered down into a value within most every dimension of daily life. Everything, and everyone, can be bought, and when the time comes, thrown away (§53). The narratives of migrants and refugees in developed nations, and even of those who come to Southern Africa, are horrifying, and stand as a representation of the many peoples who are marginalised and rejected in our societies. Urban centres, though highly populated, are among the loneliest of places for many people (§71). Fellow human beings who have journeyed extraordinarily difficult paths, are abandoned, cast away, as they are excluded from society. Who will go after them? In light of the Gospel, prophetically rejecting the exclusion of people at the margins of society must be a joy-giving characteristic of the episcopal vocation.
How, we may wonder, does the mindset of commodifying our brothers and sisters come to rest – as morally acceptable – within the minds of the Christian faithful? In Pope Francis’ estimation, it is through our sublimation of God for a new god: the ‘god of money’ (§55). When humans are considered as “buyable”, “sellable”, “exchangeable”, like any other item – because so many dimensions of our lives are controlled by the ‘god of money’ – this is the consequence. As teachers of the joy of the Gospel, we bishops are obligated to restore the dignity and primacy of humanity by rejecting the ‘god of money’ (§55, 58). This requires secondly preaching the pre-eminence of our Christian anthropology – the innate value and dignity of human beings – and primarily, in our own lives, living in a simple, authentic manner, a way by means of which the Christian faithful see in our living a sign of the Kingdom, where all people are not separated by difference of inequality (Gal 3:28). Without our taking a prophetic stance, wherein the joy of the Lord’s Gospel is lived, the cycle of inequality and injustice will continue, whilst we stand along watching:
“Today’s economic mechanisms promote inordinate consumption, yet it is evident that unbridled consumerism combined with inequality proves doubly damaging to the social fabric. Inequality eventually engenders a violence which recourse to arms cannot and never will be able to resolve” (§60).
Thus, in confronting the many evils that run rampant through our world, the minister of the joy of the Gospel – the bishop who is a missionary – evangelises (§60).
As bishops, we essentially emerge from the sheepfold, as sheep of the Lord. He comes after us – lost, though we may be – finds us and calls us. From among the sheepfold, we are missioned by the Holy Spirit to become shepherds alongside Him, who leads all to the Father. But we are also always His sheep.
Although being part of the sheepfold of Christ is no doubt difficult, and certainly being a shepherd of a particular one of these sheepfolds, too, is very much not without its challenges, there is consolation afforded to the bishop. As sharers in the episcopal ministry, ours may be and it must be, a life that is lived in uniformity with and conformity to the Gospel of Jesus.
What sort of bishop is Pope Francis calling for, enlightened by the many challenges we have outlined? Fundamentally, the Holy Father is looking for a man rooted in his baptism, who frequently experiences and existentially knows the joy of Christ because he habitually reflects on the Gospel and encounters the joy that Christ gives. It is a bishop who knowing the world, is not selfish with the Gospel that he lives, and following Jesus’ command, has the strength, the courage and the conviction to move beyond himself to bring the joy of the Gospel to those who he governs, teaches and as a missionary, sanctifies. A bishop of this variety, of a truly missionary character, has the capacity to touch the lives of the sheep, because he preaches the Gospel by his life; the Root of his vocation has not been forgotten, for from the sheepfold he emerges in his priesthood, to the sheepfold he belongs by his baptism, and his life is ordered as bishop by his following and being sent out by the Supreme Pastor, the Lord, Jesus Christ.
List of Sources:
Francis, Pope. 2013. Evangelii Gaudium. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana. http://w2.vatican.va/content/dam/francesco/pdf/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium_en.pdf.
Francis, Pope. 2019, September 5. Meeting with the bishops, priests, men and women religious, consecrated persons, seminarians, catechists and animators. Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Maputo. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2019/september/documents/papa-francesco_20190905_consacrati-mozambico.html.
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