Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

The Duties of the Bishop

by Most Rev. Robert James Carlson


Bishop Carlson, of Sioux Falls, SD, reflects on the identity of the Bishop in the modern world, including the many challenges that he must face and his call to pastoral charity.

Larger Work

Lay Witness

Publisher & Date

Catholics United for the Faith, March 1999

Why this article

The next Synod of Bishops endeavors to examine the role and importance of the episcopacy throughout the world. At a time of renewal and tremendous outpouring of grace from the Holy Spirit, we are invited as we approach the brink of the new millennium to take a courageous, honest, hopeful, and challenging look at Catholic leadership and the prominent place held by the Bishop in carrying forth the Gospel mandate to bear the light of Christ to all nations. Learning from the lessons of the past, while ever inspired by the promises of the future, we shall come together to open our hearts anew to the tremendous call to be a shepherd of God’s people and commonly strive to magnify our understanding of, appreciation for, and docility to the special sacramental life of the episcopacy and the demands and privileges which it entails. In the pages which follow, we shall briefly reflect upon some of the most important duties of the Bishop, particularly in light of the contemporary challenges inevitably facing every Bishop.

What the Bishop is

The Mystical Body of Christ cannot functionally exist without a hierarchical structure to ensure its organic unity. From the very beginning, for the Christian community to endure and organize itself after the departure of Jesus, it was necessary to institute governmental functions. It is in relation with other civilizations that our Christian identity emerges historically; Christianity must express and display its identity as a visibly gathered community. The Church assembles in a single faith and worship having as its origin the preaching of the Apostles. This reference to the Apostles assures the presence of the Gospel, which in turn allows a community to be the subject of the name "Church." The Bishop is the successor of the Apostles, sent out to guide the flock of Christ and ensure the unity of Christians. The Bishop is a representative of Christ, commissioned to bear witness to him, to speak in his name, and to preserve all that has been handed down by means of the apostolic body. "And what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well."1 "Go therefore . . . teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you."2 "Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me."3

The unique purpose of the Bishop is "to build up in communion the one and only Body of Christ until it reaches full maturity."4 The identity and mission of the Church is communion. Bishops are guardians and servants of communion. What one does follows from what one is. By virtue of his consecration and in a sacramental way, the Bishop is the embodiment of Christ and the Gospel message. He is a symbol of the unity of Christ and the Church. Acting "in persona Christi," Bishops are a sign, voice, and means of salvation; they carry out—in visible form—the role of Christ as teacher, priest, and shepherd.

Bishops are called above all to proclaim the person of Christ and bear a special witness to him. Consecrated "for the salvation of the entire world,"5 they should embody before all men evidence of the rightness of Christ. In a special way, in the life of the Bishop, the very mystery of the hypostatic union is made visible in a concrete manner. In everything the Bishop does in his frail person, he radiates a message and becomes the bearer of truth. The visible expression of his devotion is a beacon whose concentrated brightness is able to distinctly illuminate the pathway of Christian liberty and draw watchful eyes toward the warmth and joy of hope in Christ.

His work is precisely that of Christ and the heralding of hope. Apostle of Christ, he is a symbol of all that binds the community into a single body in the Lord. As a defender, promoter, and builder of communion in the Church, instrument of communion among all and between man and God, the Bishop is, personally, an announcement of hope for the whole world.

The fundamental duties of the Bishop

"In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully."6

To the successors of the Apostles is entrusted the entire People of God: with the assistance of their priests, Bishops thus have the responsibility of preaching the Gospel, administering the sacraments, and guiding Christ’s flock.7 The Bishop is the principal teacher in the faith community. As such, he must be devoted to preaching the Gospel constantly. That preaching aims at illuminating to the faithful what they must believe and put into practice, while steering them away from every error that is life-threatening to the spirit. The Bishop’s teaching is called to embody a powerful proclamation of the reasons for hope.8 There exists today an urgent need to examine and illuminate the contemporary signs of hope, especially in a world where they have become obscure or hidden. Such a responsibility must be taken up courageously, proclaiming Jesus Christ as the encompassing center of Christian life and of all history, expounding the moral life as the unique pathway responsive to the sublime vocation of those who believe in Christ.9 Preaching the message of salvation, the Bishop must make it his first concern to lead others to knowledge of the truth of salvation in Christ and to that "obedience of faith" which welcomes God’s saving Word and opens man to the transformation of grace.10

The whole mystery of Christ must be expounded in its integrity.11 Indifferent to human popularity, the Bishop must boldly preach the Cross for the sake of the souls entrusted to him. The unity of truth and love can never be compromised under the pretext of retaining believers or of maintaining the harmony and good disposition of church-going members. In essence, the Bishop must be committed to freeing the faithful from every form of superficiality and to feeding his flock with the lasting substance of sound doctrine. Indeed, the aim of episcopal teaching is none other than the sanctification of souls. Specifically, the Bishop must seek to awaken Christian consciences and call every citizen to a responsible moral life and freedom in Jesus Christ.

The Bishop is the primary minister of the sacred liturgy and principal dispenser of all of the sacraments. He possesses the fullness of Orders so that the fullness of Christ’s grace may flow forth, in sacramental form, to the sanctification of all the faithful. The source and summit of Christian worship is the Eucharist. In this celebration, the Church experiences the most sublime expression of her being and the sanctifying office of the Bishop. In this moment, the Bishop manifests in the most excellent way the total unity of the Church, the "total Christ," head and body, mystically one in action, mind and spirit. He should seek, therefore, to celebrate the sacred mysteries as often as possible in the presence of the faithful. In such a light, the Bishop’s Eucharistic celebration in the Cathedral Church takes on great significance. "When the Bishop presides in the Cathedral Church, the particular Church beholds a sign of its unity, its supernatural vitality, and—especially in the celebration of the Eucharist—its participation in the One Catholic Church."12 What is more, the Bishop becomes a powerful symbol of faith and love, a sign of encouragement to the faithful who stand today in the greatest of need for visible spiritual leadership. To become a single praying community, a single-minded People of God and the love-filled Body of Christ, this is the goal of the Bishop’s munus sanctificandi and the goal of his munus docendi. "The responsibility of sanctifying in the person of Christ, the supreme and eternal High Priest, is borne by the Bishop, and this office stands as the summit and source of the other ministries."13

Contemporary challenges

"Our most urgent task is to satisfy the spiritual hunger of our times."14 As Bishops, we need above all else to unhesitantly proclaim the joy of living in the Lord, of sharing in the life of God and of belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ in whom we are destined to the inheritance of eternal life.15 The essence of Christian hope is the light of the Resurrection, giving meaning to all of history and every human endeavor. All that we do, therefore, to make known the saving message of Christ aims to set men’s eyes upon the mystery of salvation with lively hope in the promise of eternal life and union with God. As servants of hope, Bishops are servants of the transcendent desire rooted in the deepest recesses of human nature, of man’s spiritual thirst and quest for the all, fulfilled in the joyful drama of courtship with God effected by the grace of the Holy Spirit and our generous response to his gifts. Calling men and women to rejoice in the heights of the destiny to which they have been called since the moment of their creation, toward which they are patiently guided by a merciful God at every instant, and in which every aspiration of the human heart is brought to fulfillment and even unimaginably surpassed—calling men and women to this sublime joy and supreme reason to hope, amid modern messages of indifference, incredulity and despair, is the primary task set before the Bishop today.

Among the principal threats to human fulfillment which rears itself in our day is the strength of secularism which attempts not only to eliminate rights to religious expression, but to eradicate from men’s consciousness the duties of religion and the sense of the sacred. Against the falsehood and emptiness of this agenda, Bishops fulfill their ministry of hope by ceaselessly proclaiming the sacred value of every person in the light of human nature and the gift of life in God. The Bishop is a herald of hope by pointing to the things of heaven, tirelessly directing the hearts and minds of his faithful, in contrast with the materialist message of the secular world, toward enduring spiritual realities and the happiness to which they are called. To bring home an ardent preoccupation with the afterlife by instilling a yearning for and hope in the countless treasures of heaven is a first necessity in this day where a deeper understanding of destiny, glory and lasting beauty has all but vanished. Only a response centered on the rights and dignity of every person, on the supreme good of each individual and the blissful and glorious end to which he is called by God can adequately meet, moreover, the challenge of the current proliferation of sects and "alternative religions".

Today, more than ever, we witness a deficient understanding of the faith among believers. What this entails is the need to re-catechize people at every level. The doctrine of Christ must be presented over and over, in a manner suited to the audience and in such a way that the faithful themselves are able to defend it and propagate it.16 Given the paramount importance of the continual teaching of Catholic doctrine, the preparation of catechists, selection of textbooks and teaching methods to be adopted must be carefully overseen. Such instruction "should be based on holy scripture, tradition, liturgy, and on the teaching authority and life of the Church."17 Every Bishop must see to it that there exist quality catechetical and strong educational programs geared toward providing the necessary knowledge for coming to an understanding of and love for the riches of the faith, and profound significance of the Liturgy and the liturgical life of the Church community. This is possible even in a small rural diocese like my own. Using the Rural Television Network (RDTN), we gave 24 hours of instruction based on the new Catechism of the Catholic Church to more than 1,500 of our 2,000 volunteer catechists at the start of this academic year, while an additional 96 hours will follow over the next 12 months.

Beyond this, however, we recognize a heightened need for vigilance over fidelity to Catholic principles in schools and institutes which bear the Catholic name. Too many faculties of theology, too many religious study programs, too many textbooks, and too many publications enjoy the dignity and influential power of being designated "Catholic" when they have nothing to do with true Catholic principles and call into question fundamental teachings of the Catholic faith.

With equal need to be confronted today is the misunderstanding generated by theological pluralism and popular rhetoric concerning inculturation. Numerous academicians and institutes of higher education cooperatively erect models of intellectual acumen and academic standards which, despite their claim of scientificity and rigor, represent no more than a reflection of skeptical and relativist ideologies. Combined with a failure to distinguish the range of acceptable forms of pluralism and culturally conditioned expressions of belief, the result is a tendency to mislead young students into thinking that there exist neither objective theological criteria of judgment nor universally valid theological truths, and this, ironically, all in the name of open-mindedness and impartiality. This same sort of deceptive methodology characterizes the prevailing forms of dissidence donned in the guise of critical thinking. In response to these prejudices, the Bishop must vigilantly oversee the staffing of Catholic educational institutions. Bishops must take great care today to see that Catholic educational structures prepare the faithful against the dangers of the pluralist society in such a way that they can defend their beliefs when confronted in public discussion.

Combating the infirmities which plague the human spirit, Bishops encounter a fundamental obstacle to human liberty rooted in the modern disdain for authority. The attitude is symptomatic of the preponderant subjectivism and individualism of our age. The suffocating and paralyzing effect of alienation, isolation and fear ought to be enough to convince the world of the tragedy of self-centered ideals; nevertheless, the Church, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, must lead a visionless world back to the truth of fulfillment in self-giving, communion and following the law of God. The role and meaning of authority must be reexamined so that it may be properly understood and exercised as a service, always subordinated to that greater end which is human happiness and true freedom. In other words, talk about freedom must be talk about dependence upon God. Modern individualism and its emphasis on selfish satisfaction has distorted the notion and experience of freedom, presenting it as an autonomous power of self-assertion in opposition to prescribed forms of behavior to be pursued even to the detriment of others. Egotistical self-affirmation thus replaces the quest and capacity for integrally relating to God and others according to the original plan of God for man. In their concern to illuminate the hearts and minds of all men, Bishops must convey that it is precisely by obeying the divine law inscribed in his conscience, expressed in the teaching of the Church and urged by the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit that man comes to a state of true freedom in which he is master of himself and able to relate to others with interior strength and certitude.18

Carrying out their prophetic mission, Bishops need to manifest clearly the inseparable connection between truth and freedom.19 In contrast with the mind-set of our "culture of death," what is needed is to teach an authentic theology of freedom. If it is the chief duty of the Bishop to be a guardian of the Truth,20 then he is principally an upholder of the possibility of freedom for all. Freedom means being able to perform well, spontaneously, and with ease; it is the perfection of our capacities to act, and this freedom, far from amounting to mere indifference before a plurality of options, entails voluntarily appropriating the ways of perfection, ways which adorn us with beauty, fulfill our natures and, in the light of grace, make us divine.

Bishops are called to announce the signposts of freedom, to challenge all men to embrace perfection in Christ. In this light, the meaning of sacrifice and the Cross become transparent, and Bishops become heralds of hope once more by proclaiming the essence of sacrifice as transfiguration, not destruction. Likewise, everything the Church teaches about the human body and all of her moral teaching is oriented toward this most desirable freedom in which the creature is made beautiful as God is beautiful. To be a symbol of hope is to encourage others along the pathway to this freedom. "Hope," in the words of the lineamenta, "shows itself in the form of an intense pursuit of freedom."21 Every Bishop must be devoted to instilling among the faithful a sense and desire for true Christian freedom.

Confronting the countless obstacles to the moral life, in a society of consumerism and rampant hedonism, Bishops must exhort, enjoin, and encourage the faithful at all times with eschatological vision, knowing that the Church is a pilgrim people "looking for the city that is to come."22 More than ever, there exists a need for interior life and reawakening fervor for the contemplative dimension of our being. The youth are starving for the absolute which gives meaning to their lives. Bishops must announce to them and show them that, through his Church, Christ can respond to all of their expectations.23

A living testimony to the surpassing worth of the Kingdom of God are the religious communities residing within the diocese. The religious state of life, however, is often misunderstood and even scoffed today. The majority of Catholics themselves are ignorant of the exalted value of consecrated life and of the precious treasure which those committed to the religious life are for a diocese. Bishops should not only teach the Gospel mystery of dying to self, of the worth of abandoning all things for the Kingdom of God, but, if they are blessed with the presence of a monastery within their diocese, should foster a sense and understanding of the spiritual community and mutual service which exists between the faithful living in the world and those who work for Christ through the counsels of poverty, obedience, and chastity.

In opposition to today’s sweeping moral promiscuity and deviant forms of sexual behavior, Bishops need to boldly dismember the myths—such as that of a "population explosion"—which falsely ground the governmental promotion of contraception and abortion. They especially need to redirect our attention to the prophetic message of Humanae vitae24 and to encourage the embracing and teaching of its truth-centered, life-cherishing, and joy-giving principles at home, in school, and in our daily witness.

Among the leading modern challenges to be mentioned is the great need for unity of witness amongst the Bishops themselves. They "must have a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching, so that he may be able both to preach with sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it."25 "If you put these instructions before the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching that you have followed."26 "These are the things you must insist on and teach . . . Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers."27 "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, and of the elect angels, I warn you to keep these instructions without prejudice, doing nothing on the basis of partiality."28 "Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. . . . I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ."29

Fraternal charity and filial sentiments should characterize the Bishop’s relationship with the Roman Pontiff. The ordinary magisterium of the Pope should not only be adhered to, but spread, supported and defended in every episcopal see.30 For no reason should a Bishop publicly dissent over the constant teaching of the universal Church, nor should he foster novel ideas concerning the ecclesial law without conferring with the other Bishops of his conference. To exercise episcopal authority any other way is to betray the will of Christ and the collegiate nature of the episcopacy itself.31 To assert one’s authority outside the boundaries of the universal Church is to abandon the meaning of the episcopal mission which is service in humility for the salvation of souls, collaboration with Christ for the evangelization and sanctification of all peoples.

In essence, a Bishop’s love for the universal Church must be commensurate with his love for Christ. Christ Jesus gave his life for his Spouse with whom he forms a single mystical body. Indifference toward Rome or toward the total unity of the faithful of the world signals a spirit torn from the Spirit of Christ. Given his fundamental role of concretizing, symbolizing, and proclaiming the unity of our Savior and of the Church, the Bishop has a distinct responsibility to make evident an intimate and collegial bond with the Pope in whom the unity of the universal Church is visibly sustained. By the example of their own obedience, Bishops give witness to the humility of faith which is the foundation of all spiritual growth and sharing in the life of Christ. "Let them so sanctify the churches entrusted to them that the mind of the universal Church of Christ may be fully reflected in them,"32 "so that each of their churches constitutes one particular church in which the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and active."33

The Bishop must visibly maintain a hierarchical communion with Rome, not only for the sake of ecclesial unity, but also so that the truth which is handed down through the ages may remain pure from the distortions of individualism, partiality, and incongruity. Such constancy is essential to episcopal authenticity. "A person cannot properly rule others unless he has first proven himself to be an example of obedience;"34 if the Bishop is not faithful to the leadership of the Holy Father, why should the people in the diocese follow him? Indeed, the very cause of our justification was the obedience of the Son of God, who submitted all things to his Father, even to the point of accepting death upon a cross.

Faithful to our sanctifying mission, we acknowledge an urgent need to foster the dignity and grandeur of family life, most especially in light of the fact that the renewal of the Church and the world shall take place only through the sanctification and witness of Christian families committed to serving God and others. In this connection, Bishops should seriously consider giving greater priority to the spiritual enrichment of married life and to marriage preparation for the engaged.35 It is clear from studies that support and outreach after marriage in such programs as Marriage Encounter and diocesan retreats for couples is one of the most effective ways of strengthening marriage.

Obviously, one of the most serious challenges to the integral flourishing of the People of God, and something that is an essential concern of the Bishop, is the many Catholics who have drifted away from the faith. "The fundamental way in which the Bishop fulfills his office of teaching is the evangelization of those who do not yet believe in Christ or who have deserted the Christian faith either in theory or in practice."36 The Bishop must be a herald of the Father’s desire, inviting lost brethren to return with abundant hope. Toward these, by actively seeking them out and calling them home, the Bishop manifests his special concern to illuminate the measurelessness of Christ’s enduring love and mercy.

In front of the lack of "practicing" Catholics and the shortage of vocations, Bishops must bear witness in faith to the tremendous gift of God made present in the sacraments of the Church. What is needed is to direct young people’s attention to the transcendent, eternal, and divine value of worship with and in the Church. Above all, Bishops need to foster an appreciation for the ineffable gift of sacramental grace, transforming the prevalent and false notion of "Sunday obligation" into the unimagined and generously hope-giving invitation to "take benefit and abundantly receive."

The Eucharist is the source of the Christian community. It is, therefore, the critical responsibility of the Bishop, more than anyone else, to promote vocations to the ministerial priesthood and to the consecrated life. "It should be the Bishop’s supreme concern that he and his church cultivate the worship of God, and fulfill the priestly office which is the supreme act of the new People of God."37 To this end, Bishops ought to conscientiously oversee the organization of the scheduling and frequency of Eucharistic worship so that it be sufficiently convenient in face of the stressful demands of today’s work life. The constant availability of the spiritual goods of the Church must be ensured. This means, above all, the sacraments and, in particular, those of reconciliation and Eucharist.38 It goes without saying that Bishops must have utmost concern for vocations to the sacred hierarchy upon which the sacramental life of the community depends. They should unify every resource available to promote priestly vocations and dedicate their constant care to the overseeing of seminary formation.

There exists today a special need to re-catechize, in particular, basic ecclesiological principles, to educate the faithful about the nature of the Church and the distinct roles that exist within it.39 It is pastorally very important at this time to guide lay people in their understanding of ecclesial service, both as regards the ministerial priesthood in its relation to the whole Church and as regards the participation of lay individuals in the priestly function of the People of God (the latter of which, on account of ignorance or selfishness, frequently occasions unnecessary misunderstandings, dissatisfaction, and dissent).

At a more foundational level, the overall liturgical sensitivity of the ecclesial community needs to be reawakened. We witness a tragic absence of appreciation for the profundity of the liturgy and the significance of the liturgical life of the Church. As "the principal dispensers of the mysteries of God, it is their [the Bishops’] function to control, promote, and protect the entire liturgical life of the Church entrusted to them."40 Not only must the theological significance of communal prayer and the sacramental nature of the sacred rites be expounded and regularly proclaimed, but Bishops must see to it that the common and public worship of their dioceses is celebrated with the greatest of dignity, that the liturgical forms and activities adopted cultivate devotion, adoration, joy, and thoughtful reflection. Rather than a pleasant theatrical experience, beauty must be at the service of truth, external splendor a window into the inner mystery intended to shine through it. Ideally, the Cathedral Church should become a model of liturgical life for the entire diocese, exemplifying the qualities of a praying community fully drawn into the unique and eternal prayer of Christ. Mindful of the cultural traditions and pastoral needs of his diocese, the Bishop should seek to enrich liturgical celebration in ways that stir more deeply the spiritual sensitivity of his flock and bring forth authentic expressions of faith.41 By his piety and seriousness in Eucharistic celebration, the Bishop shows himself to be a true high priest for his People and leads them in the act of common worship founded upon the bond of charity and empowered by the sacrifice of Christ.

In fulfilling their prophetic office, Bishops should avail themselves of the opportunity to preach within their Cathedral Churches as well as the opportunity to spread the teaching of Christ and his apostles through pastoral letters. They should likewise welcome every opportunity to speak on religious matters to special groups whose role in society has a direct influence on public opinion. Ecumenical dialogue is a necessary initiative, and Bishops should labor in this regard to enhance mutual understanding and growth in charity as we progress toward the full maturity of Christ’s body. In order to overcome prejudices, proclamation of the entire Gospel and the consideration of Christian doctrines in their organic unity ought to characterize the interpretive methods of these discussions. Any and all ecumenical dialogue must respect the ecclesiological principles set forth in the conciliar documents. Resisting the dangers of irenicism and syncretism, it remains the Bishop’s duty to demonstrate the profound, mysterious, and divine unity of the Catholic Church (constancy in dogmatic matters alone can ensure fruitful encounters and authentic sharing in the context of interreligious exchange).

The Bishop, with the entire Church, must pass judgment upon the deceitful and false messages of the age. Illusory promises and false freedoms must be bravely attacked and substituted with the message of salvation in Christ and liberation through his Cross and Resurrection. We acknowledge an ever growing need to oppose the secularist campaign against the deepest and most basic human rights, to defend the right to religious freedom and the personal expression of one’s religious beliefs. Without adopting any particular political form, the Bishop must loudly proclaim the truth about human freedom even in the face of overwhelming political opposition. In this regard, it is wrong to remain silent out of a misconceived respect for the separation of Church and State, or fear for the loss of State granted privileges. Indeed, the very distinction between Church and State means that the Bishop must speak out, without reservation, in favor of human dignity and freedom for all men. He must speak out, directly and explicitly, against every form of injustice which jeopardizes the transcendent value of the human person. The Church needs to speak out against violent political agendas and be willing to take on the culture of death so evident in politics today with the partial birth abortion debate and the trend toward euthanasia. If the Bishop is truly the leader of his people, he should be ready to lead them, even unto death, for the sake of Christ. "At every stage and in every circumstance,"42 Catholic leaders, must "recover their identity as followers of Jesus Christ and be leaders in the renewal of American respect for the sanctity of life."43

These are the primary duties of the Bishop; his public role in civil society must never divert so much of his attention as to impede his divine mission. These duties need to be coordinated with great prudence and pastoral wisdom. Great discernment is needed to achieve that prerequisite balance between the active and contemplative dimensions of the Bishop’s own spiritual life, as well as between the ad intra responsibility of shepherding his faithful and the ad extra obligation to spread the Good News to all nations.44 Above all, the Bishop must understand his role as minister of Christ to persons. Visitations, Eucharistic celebration, and public preaching place him in visible human contact with his flock. Administrative affairs must be given secondary importance and should be delegated as much as possible to others in order that the Bishop might be "all things to all men."45

Pastoral charity

The Bishop’s role is one of father, educator, consoler, and friend.46 Kindness, courtesy, meekness, gentleness, humility, patience, prudence, and eager concern are the virtues which must describe the pastoral ministry of the Bishop.47 Bishops must, before all else, be men of faith, outstanding witnesses of the life of the Holy Spirit. They must be dedicated to prayer and the constant reading of Scripture. Only by drawing upon the wealth of the interior life of grace can the ministry of the Bishop effectively take form.

In their pastoral guidance, Bishops need to be more and more present, in a heartening way, to those entrusted to their care. The truth must be proclaimed with the compassion of Christ, and, like Christ, the Bishop must embrace the joys and sorrows of his flock, so that all might approach him with confidence and hope. While striving to embody the Petrine mission to love, listen and encourage, "one of the most important properties a Bishop must have is time"48—time to think, to pray, and just to be with those whose needs are so often met by a simple word of encouragement and hope. As to their priests, Bishops should conscientiously attend to their spiritual, intellectual, and material needs. This means being present to and spending time with them, fostering a relationship which allows them to be regarded as sons and friends, and which transforms "obedience" into a spontaneous and mutual bond of charity.49 It also means promoting learning by means of various forms of continuing education and a continual preoccupation with their spiritual progress.

True signs of hope

The social and spiritual message of the Church can be made credible only by the witness of action, only by a sincere and generous reaching out to those in special need, to the poor and marginalized members of society in various personal, communal, and institutional ways. To this end, some Bishops have struggled to the point of giving their lives. Every Bishop, like the Apostles, must be an image of Christ emptying himself for the suffering, offering his life for the Kingdom of God.50 This is the crowning act of episcopacy, bringing to life once again the hope-filled and triumphant Church of the martyrs.

As Bishops, we are the apostles of Christ, travelers in a foreign land who ceaselessly lead God’s people toward the heavenly home. By traveling the narrow path toward martyrdom from Antioch to Rome, with a soul and will aflame in Christ, Ignatius inspired the entire Asian church through his letters and example. Today, we also must traverse the hard and narrow road in order to effectively lead the Church to its true home. Like Ignatius, we must be ready to risk everything to convince an ever growing skeptical Church to embrace the treasure of orthodoxy. How can we expect the faithful to follow if we cannot lead, especially in the difficult moral decisions that Christians face in this era? Let us be willing to sacrifice all for the glory of Christ and His Church, to "endure all things for the sake of the elect."51 In this way we announce and exemplify the Gospel which "guarantees the blessings that we hope for and proves the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen."52


1. 2 Tim. 2:2
2. Mt. 28:18-20.
3. Lk. 10:16.
4. The Bishop: Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the
World, preface; cf. 2 Cor. 10:8.
5.  Ad Gentes, no. 38; cf. Christus Dominus, no. 11.
6.  2 Tim. 4:1-5.
7. Cf. Basil Hume, Light in the Lord, Reflections on Priesthood
(Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991), 145.
8. Cf. 1 Pet. 3:15.
9. Cf. Directory on the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops, no. 56.
10. Cf. The Bishop: Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of
the World.
11. Cf. Christus Dominus, no. 12.
12. The Bishop: Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the
World, no. 62.
13. Directory on the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops, no. 75; cf. Lumen
gentium, no. 21; Christus Dominus, no. 15.
14. "Ad limina Apostolorum: Bishops of the United States," L'Osservatore
Romano, October 28, 1998.
15. Cf. Pope John Paul II, Ad limina address to the 13th group of American
Bishops, "Ad limina Apostolorum: Bishops of the United States,"
L'Osservatore Romano, October 28, 1998.
16. Cf. Christus Dominus, no. 13.
17. Cf. Christus Dominus, no. 14.
18. Cf. Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on
Christian Freedom and Liberation, nos. 27-30.
19. Cf. 2 Thess. 2:10; Jn. 8:32; cf. "Living the Gospel of Life: A
Challenge to American Catholics," no. 12: U.S. Bishops' Meeting, Origins,
December 3, 1998, 432.
20. The Bishop: Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the
World, no. 14.
21. Ibid., no. 22.
22. Heb. 13:14.
23. Cf. Evangelica testificatio, no. 45 (S.C.R.S.I., June 1971).
24.  See Robert J. Carlson, "Reflections on the 30th Anniversary of Humanae
Vitae," Lay Witness, July/August 1998; see also the tape made available in
our diocese by Janet E. Smith of the University of Dallas, "Contraception:
Why Not?" (One More Soul, Dayton, OH, 1995).
25. Tit. 1:9.
26. 1 Tim. 4:6.
27. 1 Tim. 4:11-16.
28. 1 Tim. 5:21.
29. 1 Tim. 6:12-14.
30. Cf. Directory on the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops, no. 44.
31. Cf. Lumen Gentium, no. 22; Robert J. Carlson, "The Rights and
Responsibilities of Bishops: A Canonical Perspective," in Cooperation
Between Theologians and the Ecclesiastical Magisterium, L. J. O'Donovan
(editor), Canon Law Society of America, Washington, D.C. 1982, 37-47;
Directory on the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops, no. 39.
32. Christus Dominus, no. 15.
33. Christus Dominus, no. 11.
34. Directory on the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops, no. 26.
35. Cf. Revised Code of Canon Law, canon 1063.
36. Directory on the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops, no. 58; cf. Revised Code
of Canon Law, canon 771.
37. Directory on the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops, no. 76; cf. Robert J.
Carlson, Elements of a Dynamic Vocations Ministry", Origins, September 3,
1998, 216-220.
38. Cf. Directory on the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops, no. 121.
39. Cf. Lumen Gentium, no. 30; Directory on the Pastoral Ministry of
Bishops, no. 208.
40. Cf. Christus Dominus, no. 15.
41. Cf. Directory on the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops, no. 84.
42. "Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics," no. 6:
U.S. Bishops' Meeting, Origins, December 3, 1998, 432.
43. Ibid., no. 7; cf. ibid., no. 23, (434).
44. Cf. The Bishop: Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of
the World.
45. 1 Cor. 9:22.
46. Cf. Pope Paul VI, AAS 58 (1966), 66-71; L'Osservatore Romano, December
8, 1965.
47. Cf. Directory on the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops, no. 32.
48. Basil Hume, Light in the Lord, Reflections on Priesthood (Collegeville,
MN: Liturgical Press, 1991), 143.
49. Cf. Lumen Gentium, no. 44; Christus Dominus, no. 16; Directory on the
Pastoral Ministry of Bishops, no. 107.
50. Cf. Jn. 10:11.
52. 2 Tim. 2:10.
52. Heb. 11:1.

© Lay Witness, International Headquarters, 827 North Fourth Street, Steubenville, OH 43952, 800-MY-FAITH  (800-693-2484), Website: Catholics United for the Faith.

This item 898 digitally provided courtesy of