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.
While we cannot have the Church without having community, I have realized that a lot of my spirituality also depends on my own initiative and personal relationship with God. I am learning to see God everywhere in the world, but particularly in frequent mass, exercise, music, the Rosary, art and silence. As persons of faith in our society, it is important to have strong foundations that enable us spread the love of our work to those most in need.
Here are a few elements I find crucial:
1. Prayer - Prayer is the foundation of faith and spirituality. The beauty of prayer? There’s no right or wrong way to pray. While some of us turn to more traditional forms of prayer such as praying the Rosary or praying with Scripture, exercise, meditation, writing or service work can also be forms of prayer. Every morning, I like to say a prayer offering up everything I will do, think and feel up to God. This even includes my weaknesses and anxieties. The key is to set aside regular time for prayer in whatever way you most connect with. What kind of time do you have? Do you have 20 minutes? 10? Five? One? Whatever time you can, set that aside for regular prayer. See what happens.
Spiritual Tip: Have a smart phone? Check out the “pray as you go” section of the free Laudate app. It’s an Ignatian podcast of daily scripture, song and reflection that is only ten to fifteen minutes long and is great to listen to on your commute to work!
2. Silence - This one is often overlooked….or seemingly impossible. But silence enables us to truly think and to let those thoughts mature. Just like prayer, think about how much time you can set aside for some moments of silence, even if that just means closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths during your work day.
Spiritual Tip: “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
3. Spiritual direction - I like to think of a spiritual director as a type of faith-based therapist. I’ve learned that I can think and pray and meditate all I want, but it’s helpful to have an outside perspective that enables me to see outside of myself. This can be a priest, religious, trained spiritual director or leader in your community. It’s helpful to have a spiritual director you trust that isn’t necessarily a friend or family member. That way, this person can bring in a fresh, outside perspective to guide and direct you along your spiritual journey.
Spiritual Tip: Browse spiritual directors they way you would browse for shoes for an important occasion. Spiritual directors, like shoes, are not “one size fits all,” so be sure to have some preliminary discussions with several people before settling on one.
4. Retreats - It’s typically recommended that we do a retreat per year. Retreats are exactly what the name implies: a retreat from the world, from our lives or from our typical schedules. They are important in allowing us to focus our thoughts and energy on the divine in a way that our regular schedule hardly permits. The beauty of retreats is that they can vary greatly. There are silent retreats, community retreats, family retreats, staff retreats, yoga retreats, weekend retreats, day retreats—you name it. Think about what one may be right for you at a certain time.
Spiritual Tip: This once a year thing sounding impossible with your schedule? Try a daily three minute retreat from Loyola Press by clicking here.
5. Eat, sleep and exercise - Seriously. God gave us minds and bodies as well as spirits. So make sure to take care of all of you! We can’t be of much help to others if we ourselves are not being taken care of. Shut off your laptop or TV at least 30 minutes before getting to bed; studies show that the light from these screens can keep you up or leave you restless. Read a book instead. Take a ten or fifteen minute walk during lunch. Add some more green to your life. Recycle. Do whatever you need to feel rested and taken care of. Think of the phrase, “Behold God beholding you…and smiling.” Rest with that.
We are the Church. And we are called to support, love and stand with others. Our work as people of faith enables us to do this in unique and beautiful ways, but we need to make sure we are healthy and strong in our own spiritual lives in order to truly be living, breathing instruments of God.
How will you commit to living intentionally today?
Kate Flannery is a former Catholic Volunteer Network Communications intern.
This post was originally written and posted on the Catholic Volunteer Network Blog. For more Catholic Volunteer Blog Posts please visit the CVN Blog. The Catholic Apostolate Center is proud to partner with the Catholic Volunteer Network by developing faith formation resources for volunteers and alumni, assisting in its efforts to provide and advocate for faith-based volunteerism and collaborate in many additional ways.