August 4, 2006

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Bishop is the central figure of unity in the local Church

As I continue my reflections on what it means to be an archdiocese, I will address the question: Why a hierarchical Church?

Because they are so clumsy and odd in appearance, people say God must have put together a committee to create elephants and giraffes.

The fun poked at committees usually says that too often in too many committees no one is in charge. And when no one is in charge, either nothing happens or, at best, strange things happen, sometimes chaos.

Christ never intended his Church to be a committee without leadership or a body without a head. Ours is a Church with order. What is the basis for Church order?

If the Church is the sacrament of Christ, if it is his body made visible in time and space until he comes again, then Christ must be visible in both head and members now.

Bishops and priests are sacramentally ordained to serve in the person of Christ as head of the body and also as bridegroom of the Church. As such, bishops and their priest co-workers are to be teacher, priest and pastor in the person of Christ. Christ’s headship is the source of the body’s unity. As spouse, his is a pastoral love for the Church.

Like any human community, the body of the Church needs a personal symbolic center for its unity and leadership in its common mission. Thus, the bishop, ordained to represent the person of Christ the priest, pastor and teacher, is the central figure of unity of the diocese, with priests as his co-workers.

The Church teaches that as Christ’s vicar and representative, marked with the fullness of the sacrament of orders, the bishop leads the particular (diocesan) Church in communion with the pope and under his authority.

The Church teaches that placed there by the Holy Spirit, bishops are the successors of the Apostles as shepherds of souls, for Christ gave the Apostles and their successors the mandate and the power to teach all nations, and to sanctify and to shepherd their people in truth. By the anointing of the Holy Spirit, therefore, bishops have been made true and authentic teachers of the faith, high priests and pastors.

Priests and deacons depend on the shared delegation of the bishop for the exercise of their orders. Priests, as

co-workers of the order of bishops, are themselves consecrated to represent the person of Christ the teacher, priest and pastor. Deacons are ordained for service to the people of God in communion with the bishop and his priests.

This means that priests assigned to a parish, and especially a pastor, represent the bishop.

Their priesthood is a participation in the priesthood of the bishop in whom is invested the fullness of the priesthood of Christ.

Deacons, as first among the ministers of a parish, manifest the fact that all ministry (service to the poor, care of the sick, education, care of families and other social outreach) is rooted in the ministry of the bishop, who is the symbol of unity in the local Church.

The fact that the bishop is the central figure of unity in the diocese—and with the priests as co-workers—does not mean he is better or worse, more or less than any other member of the body of Christ.

The bishop and priests are to be icons of Christ, the head of the body, the one who serves as teacher, priest and pastor.

In oriental culture, an icon is not just a flat photo of the subject. Somehow, the icon contains the very mystery it portrays.

There are other icons of Jesus. Can we not say that the poor, the suffering, the oppressed are icons of Jesus the victim?

St. Thérèse, the Little Flower, considered herself an icon of the heart of Jesus. The distinctive roles of worship and service in the Church are to serve the unity of the body of Christ.

The late Pope John Paul II said that wherever people gather, there is the sanctuary of Jesus. And there is where a pastor belongs.

In terms of pastoral activity, the late Holy Father said that visiting the parishes and leading the people of God in Eucharist is and was at the heart of his ministry. He said that the visible symbolism of pastor and people praying together, especially at Mass, is the chief vehicle to bring about unity in a parish.

In the same way that each priest participates in the priesthood of the bishop, each parish—when it gathers for public worship and, in particular, for the Eucharist—participates in the public worship of the diocesan Church.

In the Eucharist at which the bishop presides, the reality of the Church, as sacrament of Christ, is given its fullest and most complete expression.†


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