An Advent Journey with Pope Francis and Evangelii Gaudium, Part 12
The bishop must always foster this missionary communion in his diocesan Church, following the ideal of the first Christian communities, in which the believers were of one heart and one soul (cf. Acts 4:32). (Evangelii Gaudium, 31)
Pope Francis encourages all bishops to foster pastoral dialogue, “out of a desire to listen to everyone and not simply those who would tell him what he would like to hear.” The focus of forming this active and practical spirit of communion is not ecclesiastical organization, but “the missionary aspiration of reaching everyone.”
This missionary aspiration is not always apparent, or it is presented in ways that lack compassion and charity. Reading Catholic news both here in North America and around the world, we see a diversity of bishops. Some are loud, cultural warriors seeking the media spot light to rant and rail against the evils of the world. Some are quiet pastors. Some rule their dioceses with a strong doctrinal arm, with a bevy of faithful minions ready to snitch on those who stray from the black and white lines of orthodoxy. Some focus their efforts on local and national social justice issues. Some revel in ecclesiastical honors and glory. Some live humbly, walking the streets to be with the people; taking on the smell of the sheep.
Francis calls bishops to a new style of leadership. At times, he says, a bishop will “go before his people, pointing the way and keeping the hope vibrant.” At other times, he “will simply be in their midst with his unassuming and merciful presence.” And, sometimes “he will have to walk after them, helping those who lag behind and – above all – allowing the flock to strike out on new paths.”
In his focus on pastoral ministers, Francis has spoken often about the evils of clericalism in the church. Eugene Cullen Kennedy has written a satirical but, sadly, too true piece for the National Catholic Reporter called, The envelope, please, for the 2013 Clericus Maximus Award.
In the almost fifty years that I’ve spent in my current diocese, there has only been one bishop that I would nominate for this award. He is long gone, but his memory and the hurts he left behind remain. We are thankful for the many good bishops in our church, and pray that more will follow in the steps of Pope Francis.