Concern for Those Who Teach the Faith

Abishop is, among many things, concerned with the handing on of the faith by “priests, deacons, religious, parents, catechists, teachers of theology and other ecclesiastical subjects, teachers of Catholic religion, theologians, schools and other academic institutions.”

Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, head of the Congregation for Catholic Education, cited last year's papal apostolic constitution on the bishop while noting the importance of teaching and the role of the bishop in his Jan. 12 homily during the episcopal ordination of Basilian Father Michael Miller, secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education.

The following are excerpts from the homily.

In today's context of episcopal ordination, the readings [Isaiah 61:1-3, 2 Timothy 1: 6-14 and John 17:6, 14-19] invite us — and almost force us — to pick up again the recent postsynodal apostolic exhortation Pastores Gregis [On the Bishop], published not even three months ago [Oct. 16], and to reread some of its passages.

In the document — almost re-echoing Isaiah's words in the first reading — bishops are invited to be ever more “servants of the Gospel for the hope of the world” (see No. 5). We read in the exhortation, “It is … the task of every bishop to proclaim hope to the world, hope based on the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: a hope — as the Holy Father perspicaciously underlines, quoting the words of the Synod Fathers — that not only concerns penultimate matters but also and above all that eschatological hope that awaits the riches of the glory of God (see Ephesians 1:18), which surpasses anything the human heart has ever conceived (see 1 Corinthians 2:9) and to which the sufferings of the present cannot be compared (see Romans 8:18)” (No. 3).

The Holy Father adds: “The bishop is called in a particular way to be a prophet, witness and servant of hope. He has the duty of instilling confidence and proclaiming before all people the basis of Christian hope (see 1 Peter 3:15)” (No. 3).

This duty of the bishop to be a prophet, witness and servant of Christian hope is today more than ever before of contemporary importance. In fact, we are faced with “a culture of ‘the here and now’ [that] leaves no room for openness to transcendence” (No. 3). We are faced with “the appearance in our world [after the terrible events of Sept. 11, 2001] of grave new situations of uncertainty and fear, both for human civilization and the peaceful coexistence of nations” (No. 4). We are faced with “the failure of human hopes based on materialistic, immanentist and market ideologies that claim to measure everything in terms of efficiency, relationships of power and market forces” (No. 4).

In his earlier [2003] apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Europa [On the Church in Europe], the Holy Father noted that the Churches in Europe — and certainly this is not limited solely to Europe — are “often tempted by a dimming of hope. The age we are living in, with its own particular challenges, can seem to be a time of bewilderment. Many men and women seem disoriented, uncertain, without hope, and not a few Christians share these feelings” (No. 7; see also, for example, Nos. 2, 4, 9, 10, 95, 108). On the other hand, the Pope, together with the Synod Fathers, underlined that “man cannot live without hope: Life would become meaningless and unbearable” (Ibid., No. 10; see also No. 4). The Pope also highlighted, “Christ is the source of hope … for the whole world” (Ibid., No. 18; see also 18-22, 1).

We read the same thing in Pastores Gregis: “We know that the world needs the ‘hope that does not disappoint’ (see Romans 5: 5). We know that this hope is Christ” (No. 5).

The insistent appeal of the Holy Father that the bishops fix their gaze on Christ the Good Shepherd, therefore, takes on a particular urgency. They are to be, with ever greater dedication, “servants of the Gospel for the hope of the world” (No. 5).

The document appropriately notes also that, “Especially in times of growing unbelief and indifference, hope is a stalwart support for faith and an effective incentive for love” (No. 3).

As I have already mentioned, the proclamation of hope is intimately connected with announcing the truth of Christ, the truth of the Gospel. The exhortation emphasizes that “only by the light and consolation born of the Gospel can a bishop succeed in keeping his own hope alive (see Romans 15: 4) and in nourishing the hope of those entrusted to his pastoral care” (No. 3).

When, in chapters 3-5, Pastores Gregis deals with the question of the exercise of the bishop's pastoral duties (the three munera), it deals first with the preaching of the Gospel, recalling the words of the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 9:16): “If I preach the Gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (No. 26).

The document notes, “On the day of their sacred ordination, which places them in apostolic succession, [bishops] assume as one of their principal responsibilities the proclamation of the Gospel” (No. 26; see also No. 29), and that this responsibility “is an outstanding manifestation of [their] spiritual fatherhood” (No. 26) — that is, their begetting in Christ Jesus, through the Gospel (see 1 Corinthians 4:15).

“Precisely because of this constant process of begetting new life in the Spirit, the episcopal ministry appears in the world as a sign of hope for every individual and people” (No. 26; see also No. 27).

Therefore, together with the Synod Fathers, the Pope recalls that the proclamation of Christ, both by words and by witness of life, must have first place in the life of the bishop (see No. 26; also No. 31). “All the activities of the bishop must be directed toward the proclamation of the Gospel” (No. 31), the source of hope that does not disappoint.

The exhortation also highlights the specific value of the teaching of the Gospel, noting that while every member of the faithful must announce the Gospel, this duty is “incumbent … particularly … upon bishops” (No. 26), inasmuch as the bishop has “the fundamental mission of authoritatively proclaiming the word of God. Indeed, every bishop, by virtue of sacred ordination, is an authentic teacher.” Bishops are “endowed with the authority of Christ himself” and, therefore, “when they ‘teach in communion with the Roman Pontiff they are to be revered by all as witnesses of divine and catholic truth’” (No. 29).

The document, moreover, describes a vast array of activities and responsibilities of the bishop in this area, which is not limited solely to the direct announcement of the word, to catechesis and to liturgical preaching, but also includes concern for those who are called to collaborate with the bishop in handing on the faith: that is, for priests, deacons, religious, parents, catechists, teachers of theology and other ecclesiastical subjects, teachers of Catholic religion, theologians, schools and other academic institutions (see No. 29). The other Church documents, too, include this spectrum when they speak of the munus docendi of the Church (see, for example, Christus Dominus, Nos. 12-14; CIC, liber III; CCEO, tit. XV). …

Do not forget the words of St. Paul, which we heard in the second reading: God, through the imposition of hands, “has not given us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control” to serve Christ and his Gospel of hope with courage and dedication.