“Bishops, don’t waste your energy antagonising each other”

The address Francis gave during yesterday’s audience with bishops who were appointed over the last year was one of the more significant speeches of his pontificate.

Sep 25, 2014

By Andrea Torneilli, Ansa
The address Francis gave during yesterday’s audience with bishops who were appointed over the last year was one of the more significant speeches of his pontificate. It added new elements to the identikit of the ideal pastor which Francis presented on other occasions. The text is worth reading in its entirety in order to understand where it springs from and to appreciate its depth.

Towards the end of his speech, there is an illuminating passage in which Francis describes the reality of the run-up to the Synod: The Pope said he saw the “bishops as sentinels, able to awaken their Churches; men able to cultivate and ripen God’s fields and pastors able to restore unity, sow nets and overcome division. Engage in respectful dialogue with the great traditions in which you are immersed, without fear of getting lost and without feeling the need to defend your borders, because the Church’s identity is defined by the love of Christ which knows no boundaries. Do not waste energy in conflict and disagreement, but rather use it to build and to love.”

One aspect that is “close to his heart” is a bishop’s stable presence in his diocese. A bishop cannot always be someplace else. “I feel it is my duty to remind Church pastors, of the “inseparable bond between a Bishop’s stable presence and the growth of his flock. Any genuine reform within the Church of Christ begins by being present; it begins with the presence of Christ who is never absent, but also with the presence of the pastor who reigns in Christ’s name. This is not just a pious piece of advice. When the Shepherd shirks his responsibility and is not easy to get hold of, he puts the pastoral care of his flock and the salvation of souls at risk,” Francis pointed out, quoting the Council of Trent.

Don’t be bishops with “an expiry date”, “changing address all the time” “like medicine that loses its effect or like tasteless food that just gets thrown away because it cannot be eaten,” Francis went on to say.

“In order to live your Churches to the full you must always live in Him and never run away from Him: you must dwell in His Word, in His Eucharist, in “the things of God” and above all in His Cross. Don’t just stop by, live there for a long time! Just as the tabernacle lamp always remains lit in your majestic cathedrals or humble chapels, so your flock must always be able to see in your eyes the flame of the Risen Christ.”

It is this live encounter that leads to an openness towards the world. “The Church does not need “dull and pessimistic bishops who live independently, having surrendered to the darkness of the world or the apparent defeat of good crying out in vain that the fort is under attack. Your vocation, Francis said, is not to watch over a failed mass of people, but to be guardians of the Evangelii Gaudium, as such, you cannot lack the only piece of wealth we really have to give and which the world cannot give to itself, and that is the joy and love of God.”

Another significant passage follows: “I ask you not to delude yourself into thinking that you can change people. Love the people God has given you, even if they ‘commit serious sins’ and do not forget to ‘go up to the Lord’ to ask for forgiveness and for a fresh start. Even at the cost of realizing that the picture you had painted in your head of the divine face is actually false or of ruining your fantasies of the way in which communion could be established with God. Learn about the humble but irresistible power of vicarious substitution, which is the only source of redemption.”

Francis invited bishops to be true fathers to priests, to receive them, welcome them, listen to them and help them. This paternal attitude and this presence must be communicated to all God’s People instead of feeding them a “catalogue of regrets”. “I would like you to make yourselves reachable, not just in terms of the number of ways you can be contacted, but in terms of the inner space you offer people and their needs, communicating the teaching of the Church in its entirety, instead of presenting it to them as a catalogue of regrets. Welcome all without discrimination, offering the firmness of the authority that enables growth and the gentleness of paternity that generates. Do not fall prey the temptation to sacrifice your freedom by surrounding yourself with courts, networks or choirs of assent, as the Church and the world always have the right to hear from the lips of bishops the Gospel that sets them free.”

The Pope said he saw the bishops as sentinels, able to awaken their Churches, rising before dawn or in the middle of the night to restore the faith, hope and inspire charity, without letting yourselves doze off or nurture a nostalgia for a fertile past that has already been and gone. Dig deeper into yourselves and show courage in removing the encrustation that is covering the beauty and vigour of the pilgrims and missionaries before you who established Churches and created civilizations.”

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