On the Duty of Bishops
Thanks (again!) to Daily Gospel Online, I was led to look at Christus Dominus, the Vatican II decree on the pastoral office of bishops. I found the following (long) passage impressive for what it calls a bishop to do. I have highlighted a few sentences that I found particularly striking:
Bishops should dedicate themselves to their apostolic office as witness of Christ before all men. They should not only look after those who already follow the Prince of Pastors but should also wholeheartedly devote themselves to those who have strayed in any way from the path of truth or are ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and His saving mercy until finally all men walk “in all goodness and justice and truth” (Eph. 5:9).
12. In exercising their duty of teaching-which is conspicuous among the principal duties of bishops-they should announce the Gospel of Christ to men, calling them to a faith in the power of the Spirit or confirming them in a living faith. They should expound the whole mystery of Christ to them, namely, those truths the ignorance of which is ignorance of Christ. At the same time they should point out the divinely revealed way to give glory to God and thereby to attain to eternal happiness.
They should show, moreover, that earthly goods and human institutions according to the plan of God the Creator are also disposed for man’s salvation and therefore can contribute much to the building up of the body of Christ.
Therefore, they should teach, according to the doctrine of the Church, the great value of these things: the human person with his freedom and bodily life, the family and its unity and stability, the procreation and education of children, civil society with its laws and professions, labor and leisure, the arts and technical inventions, poverty and affluence. Finally, they should set forth the ways by which are to be answered the most serious questions concerning the ownership, increase, and just distribution of material goods, peace and war, and brotherly relations among all countries.
13. The bishops should present Christian doctrine in a manner adapted to the needs of the times, that is to say, in a manner that will respond to the difficulties and questions by which people are especially burdened and troubled. They should also guard that doctrine, teaching the faithful to defend and propagate it. In propounding this doctrine they should manifest the maternal solicitude of the Church toward all men whether they be believers or not. With a special affection they should attend upon the poor and the lower classes to whom the Lord sent them to preach the Gospel.
Since it is the mission of the Church to converse with the human society in which it lives, it is especially the duty of bishops to seek out men and both request and promote dialogue with them. These conversations on salvation ought to be noted for clarity of speech as well as humility and mildness in order that at all times truth may be joined to charity and understanding with love. Likewise they should be noted for due prudence joined with trust, which fosters friendship and thus is capable of bringing about a union of minds.
They should also strive to make use of the various media at hand nowadays for proclaiming Christian doctrine, namely, first of all, preaching and catechetical instruction which always hold the first place, then the presentation of this doctrine in schools, academies, conferences, and meetings of every kind, and finally its dissemination through public statements at times of outstanding events as well as by the press and various other media of communication, which by all means ought to be used in proclaiming the Gospel of Christ.
A challenging charge, but a necessary one. A lot of bishops have fallen short of this standard. But, while criticizing them is not off limits, we need to also ask ourselves: how do we measure up to these standards?
May God, in his goodness and mercy, continue to bless and protect all bishops, and give them the grace to fulfill their duties to God and to His people.