Wednesday, June 29, 2011

St. Peter and St. Paul: And the Bishop's "Pride of Place"

Part I: The Main Thing

If Western Civilization is to be saved, it will be saved by the very principles from which it originated. Any sincere historian who is well grounded in the history will tell you that the Catholic Church raised up, through her preaching, a Christian civilization. Unfortunately, this once Christian civilization has been secularized and is now better known as Western Civilization.

St. Peter, the first Bishop of Rome and St. Paul, the bishop who tirelessly preached the Gospel throughout the Roman empire, were two pillars of this great Christian civilization. Every June 29th the Catholic Church celebrates the legacy of these two great men.

St. Peter, the Rock, as he was called by our Lord, was that immovable agent of authority through which Jesus Christ would speak and rule his sheep throughout the centuries. St. Paul, on the other hand, was always on the go; laying the foundation of the Church by preaching the Word. The former was a Bishop who preached to the universal Church from Rome; the latter was a Bishop who was always traveling about in order to preach the Gospel to as many people as possible. For the Apostles, nothing was more important than preaching. After all, it was because of the ministry of the Word that the celebration of the Sacraments and living the Christian life was possible.

In book of Acts, it reads that the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, "It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." (Acts 6:2-4) St. Paul would go on to say to the Corinthians that his priority was not to administer the sacraments but to preach the Gospel. “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel.” (I Corinthians 1:7) This same mandate would also apply to every bishop who would succeed the Apostles.

To be sure, the Councils down through the ages- most especially the Council of Trent and Second Vatican Council -have taught in no uncertain terms that among all the responsibilities of the bishop preaching the Gospel holds the “pride of place.” Canon law confirms this. In canon 761 it states that, “While pride of place must always be given to preaching and catechetical instruction, all the available means of proclaiming Christian doctrine are to be used…”

The proclamation of the Word exercised by bishops enjoys the fullness of Holy Orders. As such, from the fullness of this sacrament, the foundation of Christian civilization was laid. Without a doubt, the greatest impact the Word of God would have on souls and on civilization itself principally comes their prophetic utterance. This is why in the book of Acts the twelve Apostles stressed that they were to be free from other administrative responsibilities to preach the Word.

St. Paul asked the rhetorical question: “[H]ow can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach?” (Romans 10:14) It can also be asked, “How can the light of the Gospel shine in the unlit corners of society if the bishop does not preach there? Or how can Christian civilization expand once again if the successors of the Apostles preach only to Christians?”

Part II: Using All Available Means

I am convinced that like the Apostles and early Church Fathers, bishops need to avail themselves to the public- to believers and non-believers alike; and in doing so use “all the available means of proclaiming Christian doctrine are used.” (Canon 761) Where do people gather? Where do they meet? That is where the bishops preaching must be; not just in cathedrals and basilicas; but out there in the streets and in public venues, leading the New Evangelization.

Exposure to non-believers can be brutal; but this is precisely why our spiritual ancestors- the Saints of old –used war or battlefield imagery for their mission. St. Paul, a bishop, told his brother bishop St. Timothy to "fight the good fight." What has been lost in the modern day Church is that saving souls does involve a battle against evil; a fight that requires gentleness as a rule but a manly forthrightness when necessary.

In his encyclical on Union Among Christians in 1769, Pope Clement XIII implored the bishops of the Church to be courageous in preaching the Gospel. He challenged them by saying, “We should not be like dumb watchdogs unable to bark, allowing our flocks to fall prey to looting and our sheep to be devoured by every wild animal in the field. Nor should anything deter us from throwing ourselves into battle for the glory of God and for the salvation of souls.”

Clement XIII goes on to say, “If we are afraid of the audacity of worthless men, it affects the strength of the episcopacy and its sublime and divine power to govern the Church. Nor can we Christians endure or exist any longer-if it has come to that-if we become overly frightened by the snares or threats of the damned.” (On the Unity of Christians, 1769) Fearing “worthless” or godless men, he said, affects the “sublime and divine power to govern the Church.” Throughout history whenever spiritual leaders winced and flinched out of fear of reprisals, the people did not hear nor benefit from the fullness of the truth.

Then, in 1904, St. Pope Pius X wrote about the duty incumbent upon every bishop. He quoted St. Pope Gregory the Great by saying, “Gregory rebukes the bishop who, through love of spiritual solitude and prayer, fails to go out into the battlefield to combat strenuously for the cause of the Lord: ‘The name of bishop, which he bears, is an empty one.’ And rightly so, for men's intellects are to be enlightened by continual preaching of the truth, and errors are to be efficaciously refuted by the principles of true and solid philosophy and theology…” (On Pope Gregory the Great, 1904)

Again, among the duties of a bishop the "pride of place" is that of preaching. Preaching to who? Just Catholics? Absolutely not! Preaching to both Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Christ said to the twelve Apostles- who were the very first bishops -to make disciples of all nations. Most of them were not to stay in Jerusalem and preach among each other. They were constantly venturing into uncharted waters; that is, into the unbaptized world. This is how the Kingdom of God was to spread throughout the world. Indeed, if the frontiers of this kingdom is not expanding, it is contracting. One thing fore sure: It is never static.

Conclusion: Bishops and America

In the 1950's, Bishop Fulton Sheen cautioned America that in an affluent society spiritual leaders go from Shepherds to administrators; from being among the people to being among their own; and from being comforters to being comforted. Indeed, Christianity had softened up. Having witnessed what had begun to develop in the 1950's Sheen said that Christians were beginning to preach a Christ without a Cross, without his laws and without any demands.

On the flip side, Fulton Sheen said that it is adversity, that is, the Cross, which tends to bring out the good pastoral instincts of our bishops. To be sure, the mission of the Church is being challenged in many ways in America- legally, politically and socially. But it is the ministry of preaching by the bishops that will forge the way to renewed America. As good and valuable as we are as lay people, we cannot do it without the bishops leading the way. With their anointing to preach, they can build up a culture of life as did their predecessors St. Peter and St. Paul.