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Quo Vadis – O, Bishops? Print E-mail
By Robert Royal   
Monday, 12 November 2012

I am not a big fan of taking the long view. It may sometimes be wise, even necessary, in human terms. But I’m far more attracted by what is probably the most neglected of Jesus’ sayings: “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Lk. 12:49)

The U. S. bishops are meeting in Baltimore this week for their annual get-together. The scuttlebutt is that they will be mostly discussing matters internal to the Church in America. If they were asking my advice – for some reason, they seem to have forgotten to call – I would strongly urge that they begin with a collective session of lectio divina about kindling fires.

I’d also suggest a few other things. To start with, forget about being nice. It doesn’t work. Be gentlemen. Be kind. But forget nice. As learned Latinists, you no doubt know that the word comes from nescius, which means ignorant. It came, early in modern languages, to mean foolish. Today, an idiomatic translation might be: clueless.

Kindness, of course, is a different matter entirely. Our Lord was kind – kind enough to tell people the truth. His combination of hard and soft is always what we need. Nietzsche, who was brought up among fussing women in a wishy-washy Protestant pastor’s home, emphasized the need to be hard. Like all heretics, he had a point, but rode it a bit too hard to the neglect of other truths.

Christianity, as Nietzsche noted, has been becoming overly feminized, as has the developed world. Mary is the model Christian and the people who have been pushing the Communio theology are right: our first orientation has to be passive, to receive what God is telling us as the Virgin received the Word into her womb.

Women are quite capable at times of some of the masculine virtues, of course. But forget the politically correct notion that there are no specifically male and female virtues. In the normal course of things, when the refrigerator needs to be moved, it’s father and son, not mother and daughter, who should do the heavy lifting.

And in the middle of the night, if there’s a noise downstairs that sounds like a burglar, you don’t nudge your wife and say, “Your turn. I went down to check last time.” Be men. Think big. Act big, too. Play big-league ball.

The LCWR, the media, and other softballers will continue to try to thwart you with talk of patriarchy and the old boys’ club. Be true gentlemen. Listen to all sincerely, but listen to God more.


         Christ Cleansing the Temple by El Greco, c. 1570

Beware of the two great distortions, bordering on heresies, in our time:

–      “Judge not.” Yes, that’s in the Bible, but Christ had no difficulty also stating the difference between right and wrong. In fact, you may have noticed that there’s more than a little holy anger in the Gospels and dire prophetic warnings to individuals and whole groups. Christ is the model. Are you going to follow Him or take the easy way, the one that only seems compassionate? (See “nice” above.)
 
–      “But Jesus welcomed everyone.” Yes, he did, but on His terms, not theirs. If Christianity means just accepting everybody as they already are, indeed as they demand to be accepted – evil capitalists and mean orthodox Christians excepted, of course – why have a Church at all? The politicians are already quite prepared to tell everyone (with the same exceptions just noted) how wonderful, unless it’s “amazing,” they all are. Leave that sort of thing to the snake-oil salesmen.

Be clear about this. The person who invented the phrase, “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness,” was no real Christian. Jesus does both, and Catholics are practitioners of the both/and, not the either/or.

Do you think Mother Teresa would have thought she’d done enough if she had just picked up beggars in Calcutta and not also talked about the callousness of heart and self-indulgence of the wealthy nations who were – safely, legally, and far from rarely – doing away with their own children in the womb?

Be prepared to suffer for the Faith. The world will always play the role it must when it hears the truth. Welcome fair criticism, but accept it in the right spirit. When John Paul II called for a “purification of memory” as we approached the beginning of the new Christian millennium, he was utterly frank about the Church’s past sins. But he never let humility and truth turn into a kind of “Kick Me” sign on the Church’s back.

Know that many Catholics, and non-Catholics, are with you. Seek them out. And the best way to do so is to lead from the front. The apostles knew it was a bad idea, in a sense, for Jesus to go into Jerusalem at the end. But they saw who He was, what He was willing to risk, and they were willing to risk much themselves so that at least they could die with Him.

I know several of you, and know that some of you know all this. But we need you to inspire even more of your fellow bishops.

You have lifetime tenure and jobs that make a real difference. Most people are stuck in humdrum tasks that don’t seem to mean very much. This is an exciting moment in Catholic history that offers opportunities for all the imagination, intelligence, and daring that you can bring to the many challenges at hand.

So make the most of it. Cherish it. Blessed are you.


Robert Royal
is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is
The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, now available in paperback from Encounter Books.
 
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (32)Add Comment
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written by Fr. Bramwell, November 11, 2012
Great column. Well timed. We need a massive amount of education but I don't think that anyone will take the risk.
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written by Ib, November 11, 2012
I agree with much of what you've said, Mr. Royal, but just want to add "Be wary of lecturing the Successors to the Apostles." The long view may not be your cup of tea, but the Bishops are not your students. The tone of respectful disrespect one hears from most academic theologians these days can't be good for the Roman Catholic Church.
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written by Sancti Dei, November 12, 2012
+

Agreed. Great column. Might remind them too of,
Phil Lawler's brilliant "Advice for a new Bishop" (for ALL Bishops)
and
James Hitchcock's "Conservative Bishops Liberal Results"

and beg St. Joseph to pray to God for us.
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written by Willie, November 12, 2012
Excellent article. Words like judgemental and diversity have become euphemisms for moral reletavism. Should I be "non-judgemental and accepting of diversity" to the point of accepting immorality and thus compromising my principles. When Christ spoke of heaven and hell, he wasn't espousing moral reletavism but re-enforcing the compliance with "First Principles." The Church should more boldly do the same.
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written by David WS, November 12, 2012
The root of the "scandals" is still here, the worst is still festering, still unspoken. 55 million dead in this country alone and I still have not heard my bishop or any priest preach on widespread contraception with respect to anything, especially abortion. Lets be real, a sermon like that wouldn't be "nice". But leaving that out is certainly not "loving your neighbor" as yourself, it's more like standing silent, even waving, as people slowly walk to hell.
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written by Dave, November 12, 2012
I suggest that this is a good time for all of us who are concerned about these things to fast and pray for our bishops as they deliberate the path forward. The various comments regarding Paul Ryan's candidacy shown that at times they are deeply divided. The unanimity regarding the HHS mandate shows that at times they are deeply united. They will need abundant wisdom and great savvy to plot the course forward in the light of the emerging national consensus that religion is a private affair and its activities in the public square disenfranchise rights to act in accord with religious values when those values are signs of contradiction. This is not just a matter of this particular Administration -- though it brings the soft persecution of the Church to new heights; the 2nd Circuit judge who overturned DOMA was appointed by George H. W. Bush. Against our national backdrop, the bishops have to consider the worldwide Year of Faith and the recently concluded Synod on the New Evangelization. We would all do well to remember that in times of persecution, it isn't just the bishops, nor just the bishops, priests, and religious, who suffer and are persecuted. It is a good time to pray to St. Joseph, for he is not only protector of the Holy Family and protector of the Church, he is patron of a good death and also of the interior life. And we do well to recall Tertullian's famous maxim, "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." The New Evangelization, and the new springtime of Christianity foreseen by Bl. John Paul II, will come about only if the seed is scattered to the wind.
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written by Deacon Ed Peitler, November 12, 2012
Oh, and by the way, Christ chose twelve MEN to lead his Church. Just, perhaps, He had something in mind.

Bishops, please spend some time this week meditating on what it means to be a man. We've had our fill of 'nuns on a bus.'
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written by W. P Dias, November 12, 2012
Thank you Mr. Royal for hitting the nail on the head. Yes, the Bishops are the shepherds but it is from the "mouths of babes and infants" that the Lord has "drawn a defence against his foe to silence enemy and avenger".
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written by manfred, November 12, 2012
Thank you for an excellent piece, Dr. Royal. May I suggest you ask the Bishops if they are in any way relevant, as the majority of American "Catholics" voted for Obama both in 2008 and 2012? When catechetics are not taught for fifty years it is very difficult to rally people when they have never heard what you are saying before. As Nancy Pelosi said: What's the big deal with contraception in the HHS Mandate? Over 90% of Catholics have been contracepting for decades.
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written by Ray Hunkins, November 12, 2012
I join in the accolades Dr. Royal. And offer this: Today's scripture reading from St.Luke reminds us that before we forgive there must be repentance and until such time as there is repentance we are right to rebuke for wrongdoing. To rebuke requires courage, a manly virtue in short supply in our increasingly androgynous society. Pray that our Bishops summon the courage to speak out, with kindness to be sure, but clearly and with vigor, when circumstances warrant.
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written by Quaecumque Vera, November 12, 2012
I am sorry but as I usually do, i find myself agreeing with Manfred. He seems to be one of the few commenters who looks into the state of the Church in a serious way. That a state, any state, could pass a same sex marriage law, to use a single example of our profound civilizational decline, indicates that the Catholic Church in America has compromised the deposit of faith to get along. Unfortunately, because of original sin this always ends terribly. If I could save myself, as our culture is trying to do now, I wouldn't need a Saviour.
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written by Jacob R, November 12, 2012
I hope they do forget about pleasing the politically correct and turn their intense focus to reinvigorating the educational and other cultural mechanisms of the American Church!
Perhaps that's impossible now, but then again what on earth is impossible for Christ when people believe in him?
People are dying for authenticity and tradition, not a religious version of what secular people want--good riddance guitar rock mass, "multicultural", "social justice" priests and nuns, and "partnerships" with our hostile secularist government!


(As it stands, I'm actually 1 of the 87 remaining devout Roman Catholics under 30 in North America. Small numbers, big faith, am I right?!)
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written by Sue, November 12, 2012
Point of disambiguation (and synechdoche and metonymy) - "the bishops" might mean, the USCCB, or an (unspecified) group of bishops. It might be more legitimate, however, to address this column to the *individual* bishop, which is where the seat of authority resides, not in the collective. This works as a curative against the pernicious tendency for bishops to actually fade into anonymity in the presence of a bishops' conference.

As I noted in an earlier comment: "The Diocese of Lincoln wrote the following on 9/2/2011, "Bishops and Priests", in its Southern Nebraska Register:

"In his 1986 book, "The Ratzinger Report", (published by Ignatius Press), the future Pope Benedict XVI spoke to the journalist, Vittorio Messori, at some length about what he saw as certain drawbacks deriving from excessive and exaggerated importance sometimes being attributed to national or regional Bishops’ Conferences and to their undertakings. He said, for instance, "It happens that with some Bishops there is a certain lack of a sense of individual responsibility, and the delegation of his inalienable powers as shepherd and teacher to the structures of the local (Bishops’) conference leads to letting what should remain very personal lapse into anonymity. The group of Bishops united in the conferences depends in their decisions upon other groups, as for example, upon commissions (committees) that have been established to prepare draft proposals. It happens then that the search for agreement between different tendencies and the effort at mediation often yield flattened documents in which decisive positions, where they might be necessary, are weakened."

He then gave an example from the 1930’s in his native country of Germany. "Well, the really powerful documents against National Socialism (the Nazi doctrines) were those that came from individual courageous Bishops. The documents of the (Bishops’) Conference, on the contrary, were often rather wan and too weak with respect to what the tragedy called for." "
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written by debby, November 12, 2012
dear RR - i must say: FAB-U-LOUS post. truly one of your best pieces of work here. i wish i had the ability to personally hand a copy to each Bishop, along with his favorite home-baked cookies of course. (the woman approach to the MAN, tho he may choke on them while readying. some things never change, ever since eve gave adam an apple...)
i did not find you in the least bit offensive, critical or even judgmental in any of your comments. i believe you spoke "the Truth in Love" as we are all commended to do. if we look back in history, the Bishops and other leaders who left a lasting legacy are those who led the battle (the Church Militant, on the Move, on the Offensive)in front and most often with their blood. as much as people may complain about "education" and "catechists", i often wonder if what is REALLY the dire need isn't personal conversion: radical, no-strings, sold out LOVE for Christ. don't write a book and preach a sermon without your own life shining the Way to Him. those in LOVE cannot walk around hiding their genuine passion - it oozes from them. Archbishop Fulton Sheen comes to mind, along with Cardinal O'Connor, JP2 of course,..)
so.
let's all (at least those of us here together at TCT)make a commitment to our Lord God and to our priests to fast (from something) and pray for our personal bishop (like him or no) one day per week. beg our Lady to go and enfold "Her boy" to Her Heart and overwhelm him in Her Pure Love lived as Fiat and Magnificat. let's do our little tiny part and see what the Holy Spirit does. i mean this as much for myself as anyone. i can't say i've ever been a fan of the local here, but let me suffer for him in any case and trust God with my little pennies offered.

a little note to jacob r - there are WAY MORE than 87 of you. my daughter is friends (quite literally) with a few hundred herself. go to Ave Maria University, Belmont Abbey, U of Dallas, etc., where you will find lots of heroic youth preparing their arms for battle, their fingers for war, their hearts for martyrdom. i want to thank you and your 86 friends for your battle-readiness and desire to be real Saints for our Lord and His Church.
stay close to Our Lady and the Sacraments and your ship will never miss the harbor.
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written by Chris in Maryland, November 12, 2012
Sue is right. National Bishops' Conferences undermine the Body of Christ. Look at Europe...the faith is disappearing under the corrosive effects of "conference katholicism." For heaven's sake...Catholics visiting Rome report back that there are almost no children seen about...there is self-deception going on...and it is well underway here in the US Church. The only effect of conferences is to dilute and undermine The Gospel and The Church. It is not encouraging that some leading U.S. Cardinals and other Bishops place so much emphasis on conferences and collegiality.
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written by Howard Kainz, November 12, 2012
Cardinal Dolan, in this morning's Presidential Address to the USCCB, proposed an agenda highlighting the Sacrament of Penance and perhaps re-instituting mandatory abstinence from meat on Fridays. This is probably not what you had in mind, although reviving meatless Fridays would be "daring" in a way.
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written by G.K. Thursday, November 12, 2012
Meatless Fridays would be an important signal to the broader society that Roman Catholics are different. It should be made a religious obligation (somehow; canonically it may not be easy to do that). But the strengthening of Church discipline must be given immediate attention.

Reviving the Sacrament of Penance is extremely important, but how? Many things have already been tried (including some bad ideas like general absolution at Penance services),yet nothing has worked. New ideas are needed.
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written by Dante, November 12, 2012
Time is running out. Only 30% of Catholics regularly attend mass. It is getting more difficult to hear homilies telling me to live a Christ like life. Catholics are the most biblically illiterate of all Christians. They have no idea what "Christ like" means. I sometimes wonder if priests are ambiguous on purpose. They figure that everyone will come to their own conclusions and the baskets will stay full. It breaks my heart.
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written by Manfred, November 12, 2012
@Quaecumque Vera: Thank you for your nice words.
@Sue: The Ratzinger Report. I am sure you spend some time on pages 109-110 where the Third Secret is discussed and the word "Apocalyptic" appears to describe it (while it is never defined in this book). Penance? There has been no catechetics. What would be confessed, laughing at a transgender person? The reason the practice of Confession stopped is because the confessor as well as the penitent were so confused they could no longer define what a sin was or how serious it was. What sin caused the most confusion? CONTRACEPTION. The confessor would merely state: "Follow your own conscience".Eventually even the dullest Catholics figured out they could do that at home. Who needed a priest?Since if you are in a stste of mortal sin and therefore could not receive the Body of Christ, the host had to become mere bread and the "ALTER CHRISTUS" became a PRESIDER. And that is where we have been for forty-four years. By the way, the Council of Trent defined only two charisms for the Roman Catholic priest: forgiving sins and confecting the Eucharist(Transubstantiation).
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written by Steve Golay, November 13, 2012
Dar Ib (Nov 11th),

The Pope just declared a woman saint as a Doctor of Church - one who took such folks to task (for the sake of the Apostolic Succession one may add).
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written by Maria33, November 15, 2012
May I recommend three saints to help us at this time: St. Thomas More, a lay man; St. Margaret Clitherow, a lay woman; and St. Bishop John Fisher, the only Bishop to stand up to Henry VIII. They will show us how to remain steadfast in the face of tyranny.
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written by Snake, November 15, 2012
The comment of Sancti Dei, was totally out of place for the following reasons

1. The Bishops are men just like us.
2. They have been found by their actions NOT protecting the Holy Roman Catholic Church but taking the easy way out to placate the slimy politicians,
3. 50 percent VOTED for obama. This clearly indicates they are motivated by money and prestige rather then the Moral teachings of the Church.
4. The social justice verses Murder in the womb, Murder is over social justice any day.
5. ST Francis was NOT a Priest but he took the Bishops and Cardinals to task when they were doing wrong.
6. It is the Laity who have been the greater movement of the Church in our history.
7. When is the LAST time you hear of a Cardinal or Bishop excommunicating a pro DEATH suppose catholic politician? - NEVER! It is because they do not wish to upset the apple cart, but by NOT doing so, their actions to the Laity give the wrong message that you can have it both ways. Get some gonads.
8. I do not apologize for this message and I totally approve it. I would tell a liberal cardinal or bishop to his face the very same thing.

Snake USMC
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written by Mar, November 15, 2012
We could sure use all of the Dominican Order of Preachers to step up to plate and preach. Saint Dominic and Saint Catherine of Siena, please raise up your preachers. Amen.
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written by TomS, November 15, 2012
I interpret Royal's article to mean that the bishops must be willing to stand up for the Church, including its teachings and how those teachings must be lived every day. I applaud this idea. I think we need to quit being defensive and constantly apologizing for being Christian and Catholic. But, to no one's surprise, it's not so easy; it's never a case of black and white. The defeat of the bishops' statement on the economy is a perfect example that among the bishops there is a wide range of priorities and an equally large number of ideas about how those priorities can be addressed.

So, while strong, clear statements from the bishops could be effective, they should avoid getting mired in political quicksand and they should make effort to teach and inspire. At all costs they should carefully pick the issues about which to be militant.
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written by Cassandra, November 15, 2012
There is one flaw in your article. To be "Kind" and to be "nice" are synonymous. Both in modern usage mean to be pleasing to the other. What you *really* mean is that the bishops should be *charitable*. That means to give the other what they need, not necessarily what they want. Sometimes what is needed is a swift kick in the ass, or a verbal condemning.
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written by Dusty, November 15, 2012
GK Thurs. said:
"Reviving the Sacrament of Penance is extremely important, but how?..New ideas are needed"

This is the easiest fix in the world: if you offer it, they will come. Confession available for 15 minutes a week, on Saturday night, immediately before mass is a bad joke.
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written by Joannie, November 15, 2012
What is going to be coming up next week? The yearly hateful Catholic Campaign For Human Development asking the Faithful to cough up more money for the Democratic Party Agenda. Abortion. Birth Control and same sex relationships. Until the American Bishops as a body stop this yearly collection which has gone on for over 30 years now with no end in sight, the bishops as a whole can't be taken seriously.
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written by Tg, November 15, 2012
Great article. As far as CCHD, I sent an email to the conference of bishops about the article on Lifesite News. I got chastised by one of their workers. I told him I had tore the envelope and do no plan to give to CCHD or Catholic Relief Services.
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written by Carlos Mejias, November 15, 2012
Jesus came not to condemed no one, he came so all can be save. In Matthew 25 clearly stated how all gonna be judge. Make no mistake, Jesus the Lord did not accussed the adulteress; so do anyone among us will think so much hightly of his/her self to now throw the first Stone....is that be Jesus LIKE? or that is what Jesus will do? ask yourself?
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written by Tony Esolen, November 16, 2012
On Confession:

Sometimes all it takes is a specific and pointed appeal or directive. Put it this way: "People -- we will have confession regularly in this church for 1 1/2 hours, at this time. Every one of you should come as soon as possible. Don't worry about looking 'holy.' We've let this slide too long. If the lines grow, we'll set aside an additional hour. But it is your duty," and so forth.
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written by Margaret O'Hagan, November 17, 2012
We simply have to get behind the good Bishops and support them in every way we can. After all, one need look no further than the English Reformation - which bishop stood up to Henry VIII ?
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written by Margaret O'Hagan, November 17, 2012
Let's recall the Bishops' role in standing up to Henry VIII during the Reformation ....

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