For the past 41 years—since I received the Sacrament of Confirmation (or there about)—I am the only one in my family of origin who is still Roman Catholic. My parents left the faith in favor of the local Assembly of God where they have worshipped and held membership for umpteen years. Prior to that they had made their home at a local non-denominational community and prior to that it was another Assembly of God community. My only sibling (older) was largely unchurched during her 23 years of marriage to H#2; she and #3 now also attend the same AoG as the folks. Me? I remain in the Church because I love Jesus and I love his Church.
The Role of the Bishop in the Church
One of the primary reasons there are in excess of 40,000 (and climbing daily) religious denominations is the great lack of central leadership. It seems that everyone is caught up in doing their own thing. “The Bible is self-interpreting”, they say. “The Holy Spirit and me”. If the Holy Scriptures really did have the capacity to be self-interpreting then 100% of the people who read them would come to the same exact interpretation, 100% of the time. There would be no divisions: Assemblies of God, Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of God in Christ (COGIC), Lutheran, Mennonite, Congregational, etc. etc. etc. ad nauseam. St. Paul reminds us in his First Letter to the Corinthians (14:33), God is “not a god of confusion but of peace” Paul also gives warning about the myriads of divisions: “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” (1 Cor. 1:12)…today’s communities can fill in the blanks and point to their respective human founders: “I belong to Luther”, “I belong to Wesley”…“to Calvin” and countless others.
In the Catholic Church it is the Magisterium who interprets Sacred Scripture (for an easy-to-read/understand article on the Magisterium read my article here: http://catholiclane.com/what-every-catholic-should-know-about-the-magisterium/.
It was to the apostles and their successors, the holy order of bishops that Jesus gave the power to bind and loose – not just in the forgiveness of sins but in all things: “Whatever (emphasis mine) you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Mt. 18:18). Five chapters later (23:2-3), Jesus clearly exhorted his followers to adhere to those in high office: “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, observe and do all things whatsoever they tell you. Nothing here about checking Scripture to see if whatever the Pharisees mandated was biblical. Note that Jesus clearly says… “Do and observe all things whatsoever”. In today’s Church it is not the seat of Moses from whence comes our authority but from the See (seat) of Peter — “cathedra” — from the Greek word which means “chair” (and whose feast the Church celebrates on February 22).
I love the role of the bishops in today’s Church. My journey through life is greatly enhanced by them. I mean, I just don’t have to figure stuff out all by myself. My salvation, thankfully, does not rely on my own interpretation of Scripture and other things. Bishops are like fathers – they ARE fathers – and they, too, have a commission: “proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching” (2 Tim 4:2).
But the role of the bishop is not just about mandates. Bishops enjoy the fullness of the priesthood of Jesus Christ. All priests have the power to consecrate the sacred elements at Mass whereby bread and wine become the Precious Body and Blood of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. Bishops have this same power, of course, but they also have the power to ordain new priests for the sake of the Eucharist.
The role of the bishop (Επισκοποζ) is that of “the new high priest”, established by God himself in the Old Testament and “in the language of the Fathers of the Church…is the supreme power of the sacred ministry” (Lumen Gentium ¶21, §2). This important document of Vatican II also states that Bishops hold the title of Vicar of Christ (#27).
The mission of the bishop is, therefore, “To be with God through Christ’s mediation and, as Christ’s emissary, to bring God to men — this is the mission of the bishop. ‘He who does not gather with me scatters’ says Jesus (Mt. 12:30): the bishop’s raison d’être is to gather with Jesus” (Ratzinger*).
I find this statement to be powerful and profound. The author of Genesis tells how God…“walked about in the garden in the cool of the evening” with Adam and Eve (3:8). Later “in the fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4) it was God become man who walked among his people in the person of Jesus. Today it is the bishops who walk/minister among us and they are to be “reverenced” according to one of the Church’s greatest bishops, Ignatius of Antioch in his Letter to the Ephesians and “we ought to regard the bishop as the Lord Himself”.
Ignatius further exhorts in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans, “See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father… Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is administered either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is well to reverence both God and the bishop. He who honours the bishop has been honoured by God; he who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop, does [in reality] serve the devil”.
Bishops are guides on life’s journey – pilgrimage, really – they warn of unseen dangers lurking about; they tell which things are safe and unsafe while helping to locate “shelter” and other needs for one’s personal safety. If I decided to climb Mount Everest, I’d better be willing to put down good money for a very professional Sherpa guide – someone who knows the way far better than me. I’d want a guide who tells me that the journey is tough but also assures me that the summit is exhilarating. I’d also want a guide who’s been in business for many years and not someone who’s just set up shop awhile ago. Same with our bishops – I look to them as my guides for this great journey of faith.
The Holy Order of Bishops is, therefore, a great gift of God’s love in the Church. I pray for them daily and remind each and every bishop of St. Paul’s charge to them through the young bishop, Timothy: “O Timothy, guard well what has been entrusted to you” (1 Tim 6:20)…and thank-you, Sweet Bishops, for all you do!
*Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal/Benedict XVI: Called to Communion; Ignatius Press, Chicago; © 1996 p. 96-97