Saturday, February 11, 2012

The King, Not the Princes

Remember, the object of the Catholic faith is the person and promises of Jesus Christ -- not the bishops. The bishops are indispensable since they are the legitimate successors to the apostles (Acts 1:20-26), authoritative teachers of the faith (Luke 10:16; Matt 23:3), and holders of the keys to "loose and bind" Church law (Matt 16:19), but they exist solely because of Him. Jesus is the "cornerstone" (Matt 21:42) -- the foundational rock of the Catholic Church -- whom the bishops stand upon. They are called, like everyone else, to a life of holiness, but their holiness should excel since they have an esteemed office. St. Timothy (1 Tim 3:1-7) describes the desired exemplary character of a bishop:
A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that rules well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
Sadly, there are Catholics whose faith in Christ is shallow. Since faith is like seeds, "some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away" (Matt 13:5-6). The world scorches faith without depth. When these Catholics hear of bishops falling into the "snare of the devil", scandal completely disorients them, they shrivel into despair, and uproot from the Church. Anyone can cause scandal but scandal from bishops is most serious. Let the words of Bishop St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) seep into your heart:
Those who commit these types of scandals are guilty of the spiritual equivalent of murder, but I'm here among you to prevent something far worse for you. While those who give scandal are guilty of the spiritual equivalent of murder, those who take scandal -- who allow scandals to destroy their faith -- are guilty of spiritual suicide.
And what should happen to those guilty of scandal? The ancient canons (4th century) of the Church once said:
If a bishop be accused of any crime by credible and faithful persons, it is necessary that he be cited by the bishops; and if he comes and makes his apology, and yet is convicted, let his punishment be determined. But if, when he is cited, he does not obey, let him be cited a second time, by two bishops sent to him. But if even then he despises them, and will not come, let the synod pass what sentence they please against him, that he may not appear to gain advantage by avoiding their judgment. (Apostolic Constitutions 4)
And to those who escape all earthly judgment without repentance?
Those, however, who are believed to be presbyters by many, but serve their own lusts, and, do not place the fear of God supreme in their hearts, but conduct themselves with contempt towards others, and are puffed up with the pride of holding the chief seat, and work evil deeds in secret, saying, "No man sees us," shall be convicted by the Word, who does not judge after outward appearance, nor looks upon the countenance, but the heart; and they shall hear those words, to be found in Daniel the prophet: "O You offspring of Canaan and not of Judah, beauty has deceived you and lust has perverted your heart (Dan 13:56). You old relic of wicked days, your sins have now come home, which you have committed in the past, pronouncing unjust judgments, condemning the innocent and letting the guilty go free, though the Lord said, 'Do not put to death an innocent and righteous person'" (Dan 13:52-53). Of whom also did the Lord say: "But if the evil servant shall say in his heart, 'My lord delays his coming,' and shall begin to beat the man-servants and maidens, and to eat and drink and be drunken; the lord of that servant shall come in a day that he looks not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers" (Matt 24:48; Luke 12:45). (St. Ireneaus, Against Heresies 4, 26, 3)
The overwhelming majority of bishops are good and can say like St. Paul: "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ" (1 Cor 11:1). However, there are Judases in every age of the Church -- leaders whose betrayals are ruinous to faith -- but do not let their poor choices create poor choices in you. When you read about scandalous bishops, focus on these words instead: "you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach" (Matt 23:3). The Catholic faith is not founded on the personal holiness of bishops, but Jesus, the Head, Who is brought to us through the Church, the Body. We need all of Jesus -- Body and Head -- to be saved, for there can be no division of Him.

Please take a moment and pray for your local bishop:
Heavenly Father,
in these trying times
when the spirit of the age
threatens Christian values,
give our bishop holiness of life
and wisdom to direct and guide our (arch)diocesan
family so that we may grow in your love.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.