December 17, 2021

The Face of Mercy / Daniel Conway

Pope Francis shares the ‘Beatitudes of the Bishop’

(En Espanol)

At a meeting of the Italian bishops’ conference last month, Pope Francis shared a reflection written by Archbishop Domenico Battaglia of Naples, Italy. The “Beatitudes of the Bishop” offers some striking insights into the way Pope Francis views the episcopal ministry.

Here are the eight “Beatitudes of the Bishop”:

—“Blessed is the bishop who makes poverty and sharing his lifestyle, because with his witness he builds the kingdom of heaven.”

Pope Francis has often expressed his hope that Church leaders, and the Church herself, would “be poor” and “be for the poor.” In the spirit of his namesake,

St. Francis of Assisi, the Holy Father urges all of us, but especially those who are in positions of leadership, to embrace poverty as Jesus did.

—“Blessed is the bishop who is not afraid to wet his face with tears, so that in them may be reflected the sorrow of the people, the work of priests, and who finds God’s consolation in the embrace with those who suffer.”

“Tenderness” and “closeness” are characteristics that Pope Francis frequently suggests are signs of the presence of God. During this Advent season especially, the pope reminds us that the Lord “draws near,” that he is not distant or remote but “God-with-us” (Emmanuel).

—“Blessed is the bishop who considers his ministry a service and not a power, who makes meekness his strength, gives everyone a right to a place in his heart, so as to give the promised land to the weak.”

The paradox of Christian leadership is that all power and authority come from selfless, self-sacrificing service. Servant leaders follow the example of Jesus who came to serve, not to be served.

—“Blessed is the bishop who does not shut himself up in government buildings, who does not become a bureaucrat more attentive to statistics than to faces, to procedures than to stories, who seeks to fight alongside man for God’s dream of justice because the Lord, encountered in the silence of daily prayer, will nourish him.”

Pope Francis reminds us that missionary disciples of Jesus Christ must move beyond their comfort zones to meet the needs of God’s people even at the “peripheries,” the farthest ends of social boundaries.

—“Blessed is the bishop who has a heart for the misery of the world, who is not afraid to dirty his hands with the mud of the human soul in order to find the gold of God there, who is not scandalized by the sin and fragility of others because he knows his own misery, because the look of the Risen Crucified One will be the seal of infinite forgiveness.”

Recall the pope’s image of “the smell of the sheep” that he says must identify true pastors. Bishops are not supposed to act like princes who are above the fray. They should be familiar with the dirt and drudgery of people’s daily lives.

—“Blessed is the bishop who stays away from the duplicity of the heart, who avoids every ambiguous dynamic, who dreams of the good even in the midst of evil, because he will be able to rejoice in the face of God, finding his reflection in every puddle in the city of people.”

Pastoral leaders should be pure of heart, not deceitful or dishonest in their dealings with others. Even when confronted with political intrigues or public controversy, bishops should “speak the truth with love.”

—“Blessed is the bishop who works for peace, who walks along the path of reconciliation, who plants the seed of communion in the hearts of priests, who accompanies a divided society along the path of reconciliation, who takes every man and woman of goodwill by the hand to build fraternity: God will recognize him as his Son.”

Pope Francis describes Church leaders in three ways: walking ahead of the crowd (leading), traveling alongside their people (accompanying), and bringing up the rear (following). All three are needed. All build unity, fraternity and peace.

—“Blessed is the bishop who is not afraid to go against the current for the Gospel, and hardens his face like Jesus going to Jerusalem, without letting himself be stopped by misunderstandings and obstacles because he knows that the kingdom of God moves forth against the world.”

Bishops, pastors and all Church leaders should have the mind of Christ, undeterred by opposition or temptation as they travel together in a synodal journey to God’s kingdom. The witness of the martyrs and all the saints should help bishops negotiate the difficulties that they must face as they lead us to our heavenly homeland.

(Daniel Conway is a member of The Criterion’s editorial committee.)

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