On October 8, 2013, Pope Francis announced that in October 2014 there would be an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on topics related to the family and evangelization. A year later, more than 250 participants, including 14 married couples from around the world, gathered in Rome to find ways to improve the pastoral application of church teachings, ways to explain it, and to help Catholics live it. The goal of this synod was not to reach definitive conclusions but rather set the agenda for a larger world synod in October 2015. Until then, the 185 bishops in attendance would share what was discussed in the Synod with their respective dioceses in preparation for implementation before sharing their experiences with and making recommendations to the Holy Father.
It is on such an occasion that we reflect on the office of the bishop, men who are “endowed with the authority of Christ” by virtue of apostolic succession to “exercise their pastoral office over the portion of the People of God assigned to them” (CCC 888, 886, cf. 2 Timothy 2:2). These men are much more than diocesan administrators of the Church— by virtue of their identities as the successors of the Apostles, they wield the same power and authority to govern the universal Church as that given to their predecessors by Christ. Together, with the Bishop of Rome (the successor of Peter), and assisted by priests and deacons, the college or body of bishops tend to their local Churches; by ruling them well, each bishop contributes “to the welfare of the whole Mystical Body, which, from another point of view, is a corporate body of Churches” (CCC 884-886).
The role of the bishop is threefold: to teach, to govern, and to sanctify. With priests as co-workers, the bishop’s first task is “‘to preach the Gospel of God to all men,’ in keeping with the Lord’s command” (CCC 888). In order to preserve the purity of the Faith first entrusted to the Apostles, Christ extends a share in His own infallibility to the bishops of the Church who are working in communion with the Pope (CCC 890). This Magisterium, then, is tasked with overseeing the spread of the Gospel and addressing any misunderstandings regarding the Church’s dogma; in matters of faith and morals, the extraordinary Magisterium is infallible, particularly when assembled in an Ecumenical Council or proposing a doctrine “for belief as being divinely revealed” (CCC 891). Secondly, each bishop governs his local Church (i.e. diocese) by his counsels, exhortations, and example. Though he has authority and sacred power, the bishop exercises them— in communion with the whole Church and under the guidance of the Pope— in a spirit of service to those entrusted to his care as well as the rest of Holy Mother Church (CCC 895). Finally, the bishop, “the steward of grace of the supreme priesthood,” along with the priests, sanctifies the Church through his “prayer and work, by [his] ministry of the word and of the sacraments” (CCC 893). By his example, the bishop helps his entrusted flock attain eternal life.
Just as our Lord is the often portrayed as the model shepherd, the bishop, like the “Good Shepherd,” must lead his faithful flock along the path of salvation, disciplining and protecting them as needed. To set them apart from other religious, bishops utilize special regalia distinctive to their Office, that is, the fullness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders: the pectoral cross, ring, the zucchetto and miter (hat), crozier (staff), and pallium. The cross, traditionally containing a relic, is attached to a chain and is worn on the chest. The ring symbolizes the bishop’s authority and traditionally is reverenced by kissing. The miter, unlike the zucchetto, is worn purely for liturgical functions and is referenced in Scripture as a headdress for the Judaic (high) priesthood (see Exodus 39:27-31; cf. Leviticus 8:7-9). The crozier clearly references the model Good Shepherd and symbolizes guidance, correction, and support. Finally, the pallium, normally reserved for metropolitan archbishops and the Holy Father, represents fidelity to Christ. These different regalia give a certain distinction to and inspire respect for the Office of Bishop and its authority.
Let us never forget about our bishops! As leaders of the Church, these men are always in need of our prayers! As Blessed Pope Paul VI said when setting up the first Synod of Bishops in 1965, bishops assist in providing for the good of the universal Church through “the consolation of their presence, the help of their wisdom and experience, the support of their counsel, and the voice of their authority.” May we always follow these men who continuously defend and guide the Church in the spirit of the Apostles.
Thomas Wong is an undergraduate at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
“Wow, you got your hands full.”
If you’re a parent, it’s possible that you have heard this statement thrown in your direction before. My wife and I, as we approach our seventh wedding anniversary, have three children. I find it amazing when people say “you got your hands full” when I am only holding one of my children. Imagine if they saw me when all three were climbing on me at the same time, or when they’re hungry and in a seemingly rehearsed chorus they ask for different foods in harmony.
With the Third Extraordinary Synod of Bishops set to meet this Fall, Pope Francis and bishops from around the world will be discussing issues related to marriage and family life. I believe that the Catholic Church’s vision for married life offers a fresh and engaging perspective for our contemporary world. St. John Paul II declares, “The communion of love between God and people, a fundamental part of the Revelation and faith experience of Israel, finds a meaningful expression in the marriage covenant which is established between a man and a woman” (Familiaris Consortio 12). The approaching synod has caused me to reflect on how I live my vocation to married life.
In his book Divine Likeness, Cardinal Marc Ouellet suggests that since Vatican II and St. John Paul II, “the theology of marriage has been developed in terms of ‘gift’…” (Ouellet 150-151). Men and women are created in the image of God (cf. Genesis 1:26-27). One of the great theological insights of Vatican II was the idea that “man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself” (Gaudium et Spes 24). Only through a gift of self can people find their true purpose and meaning in life. This is because a total self gift both participates in and manifests the divine life to which we’re invited.
Many of us are familiar with St. John Paul II’s Wednesday audiences which have become what we call the “Theology of the Body.” The giving of oneself in marriage, including in the conjugal act, is discussed in terms of a total gift of oneself. In a marriage covenant, husband and wife can manifest Trinitarian love, and the communion to which all people are drawn. For a husband or wife to hold back anything would be a betrayal of the communion which they’re guided by the Holy Spirit to manifest.
Cardinal Angelo Scola in The Nuptial Mystery draws from St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” and describes how the perichoresis of the Triune God is based on total self-giving. This is described beautifully in the following:
Communio personarum exists in its perfection in the Three in One, because the Father gives himself completely to the Son without keeping anything of his divine essence for himself… The Son himself gives back the same, perennial divine essence. This exchange of love between the two is so perfect as to be fruitful in a pure state: it gives rise to another person, the Holy Spirit (donum doni) (Scola, 131).
The Father completely gives everything He is to the Son; the Son completely gives Himself back in totality to the Father. Their self-giving love is so total and so perfect that it is fruitful and a third Person arises, the Holy Spirit.
Cardinal Scola makes the connection between this Trinitarian relationship and the relationship between husband and wife. A husband and wife can give a total gift of self, offering all that they are, and in the context of the conjugal act, it is possible that a new person can be created. But Cardinal Ouellet also mentions that whether or not a new child is conceived, the love of the spouses is fruitful in that they are manifesting the Trinitarian gift of self (cf. Ouellet 172).
There is an element of sacrifice involved here. The spouses freely commit to each other, accepting the new life if God should bless them with a child. However, if a couple experiences difficulty in conceiving, they also accept the sacrifice associated with not being able to bear children. In both cases, the spouses who completely give of themselves in love have the opportunity to offer themselves as a spiritual sacrifice to the Lord (cf. Romans 12:1) and to participate in the economy of salvation by manifesting Trinitarian love through a gift of self.
So my response to my interlocutors should be “Yes, I have my hands full: they’re full with my gift of self to the Lord. I give Him all that I am in loving surrender in an act of self-emptying gift-giving aimed at being drawn deeper into the mystery of the Trinitarian communio personarum, and this participation in the divine life penetrates who I am, giving me the grace and love to offer myself as a self gift to my wife.” Do you think that would get their attention?
Either way, what is essential to remember is that God invites us to participate in His very own divine life and we can experience true love through sincere acts of self gift.
Edward Trendowski is Coordinator for Catechetical Resources for the Diocese of Providence and teaches pastoral theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.
This blog post was first published on the St. Joseph’s College of Maine Theology Faculty Blog. Click here to learn more about our cooperative alliance with St. Joseph’s College Online