By Hannah Brockhaus
The most important duty of bishops is total dedication to the pursuit of holiness and the holiness of their local Church, Pope Francis said to a group of 130 new bishops Thursday.
“I speak to you here of the most urgent task of Pastors: that of holiness!” Francis said Sept. 13, explaining that holiness is not a “bookkeeping” of one's virtues, a schedule of ascetic practices, a diet, or “a gym of personal effort.”
“Before we existed, God was there and he loved us. Holiness is touching this flesh of God that precedes us. It is getting in touch with his goodness,” he said. “Each of us [bishops] must humbly enter into the depths of ourselves and ask ourselves what he can do to make the face of the Church we govern in the name of the Supreme Pastor more holy.”
To do this, the pope recommended they face the wounds of their local Church and dialogue with their flock about the questions they have. He also advised paying special attention to their clergy and seminaries.
He said the challenges facing clergy and seminaries cannot be confronted without “updating our processes of selection, accompaniment, evaluation.” But solutions will only be fruitful if they also address “the spiritual chasm that, in many cases, has allowed scandalous weaknesses”
Answers need to reveal “why God has been so mute, so silenced, so removed from a certain way of life, as if he were not there,” he stated.
Warning that pointing the finger at others is counter-productive, he told the bishops to work together, remembering that holiness is a work of God which happens when “we return to the simple joy of the Gospel, so that his blessedness becomes flesh for others in our choices and in our lives.”
Speaking at the conclusion of a training course for new bishops, organized annually by the Vatican, the pope condemned the idea that the position of a bishop might come with “automatic privileges.”
Bishops do not have “titles of property or acquired rights,” he said. Referencing to Matthew 13 and the “treasure buried in a field,” he said they have found the treasure of their ministry “by chance,” and are called “to sell everything” to buy the field and protect it.
Becoming a bishop “is not the result of a merely human scrutiny, but of a choice from Above” and the ministry “requires not intermittent dedication, fidelity to alternating stages, a selective obedience, no.” He said: “you are called to consume yourselves day and night.”
He told them their identity as bishops is a gift from God and must be considered in the right perspective, begging them to put God at the center of their lives. “He is the one who asks everything but in return offers life fully,” he said.
He urged them not to become discouraged when faced with dark times or difficulty, but to take consolation in the fact that the fate of the Church is in God's hands.
“The destiny of the Church, of the little flock, is victoriously hidden in the cross of the Son of God. Our names are engraved on his heart – engraved on his heart!” he said. “Therefore, do not spend your best energies recording failures and bringing up disappointments, letting the heart shrink and horizons narrow.”
He praised ministers and consecrated men who persevere in doing good, even though it is not noisy and is not “the theme of blogs nor does it reach the front pages of newspapers.”
These men, he said, “continue to believe and to preach with courage the Gospel of grace and mercy to men thirsting for reasons to live, to hope and to love.” They are not afraid by the wounds of Christ caused by sin or by “sons of the Church.”
He criticized the spread of individualism and indifference toward others, especially when the situation of the lost does not even prick consciences or is avoided by those who have the greatest responsibility.
“We are not allowed to ignore the flesh of Christ, which has been entrusted to us not only in the Sacrament that we break, but also in the people we have inherited,” he stated. “Even his wounds belong to us.” It is right for these metaphorical wounds to be seen and touched, he said, not just used programmatically as a manifestation “of understandable anger.” Instead, the wounds are where the Church learns what happens when the face of Christ fades in memory, is not kept at the forefront.
“Christ be your joy, the gospel and your nourishment. Keep your gaze fixed only on the Lord Jesus and, accustoming yourself to his light, know how to search [the light] incessantly even where it is refracted, even through humble gleams,” he encouraged.