The Catholic Thing
Let’s Fly a Little Print E-mail
By Bevil Bramwell, OMI   
Sunday, 28 July 2013

American culture pressures us to secularize, to diminish religion, particularly religion based on truth. We are supposed to get truth from the culture, otherwise the purveyors of culture lose their power to turn a buck. From sitcoms that never mention religion, to political parties that suppress and reshape religion, to city councils that ignore the presence of religion, to composers with no religion in their music, to media who never mention the relevance of religion to news and events, the list goes on.

Now into this hostile torrent, insert a bishop. The head of a diocese deals with many, many things in committees and meetings away from the public eye. Most Catholics only see the bishop at ceremonial moments. But is this concealed life, this life hidden from the larger culture, what the bishop is there for? Often bishops seem more like vicars-general, lower ranking officials concerned with the internal life of the diocese.

Is there a specific role for a bishop outside of the institution of the Church itself? For the sake of argument, I will assume that the theology of a council has authority. Christus dominus, the Second Vatican Council’s document on the pastoral life of bishops, starts with the line: “Christ the Lord, Son of the living God, came that He might save His people from their sins and that all men might be sanctified.” That phrase “all men” jumps out doesn’t it?

Then: “Christ gave the Apostles and their successors the command and the power to teach all nations, to hallow men in the truth, and to feed them.” Clearly, this goes beyond the world of committees and parishes. There is a whole world of institutions and people beyond the ecclesial community to be hallowed in the truth with the bishop leading the process.

In fact, specifically: “They should show. . .that earthly goods and human institutions according to the plan of God the Creator are also disposed for man’s salvation and therefore can contribute much to the building up of the body of Christ.”

The Council officially expected bishops to have a sophisticated range of conversations with everyone in the culture. Christ is in the background, reaching out to all. Hence, the Council concluded: “Since it is the mission of the Church to converse with the human society in which it lives, it is especially the duty of bishops to seek out men and both request and promote dialogue with them.”

There is no qualification to this statement, not about the time being available, or convenience, or anything else. It is simply a bald statement of fact.

Moreover there is no mention of farming out this work. The clear intent is that the bishop – the individual with the apostolic grace – do it. Another official does not have the same status to stand and speak to what John Paul II called the culture of death.

As to the means of this conversation, the Council said, bishops:

should also strive to make use of the various media at hand nowadays for proclaiming Christian doctrine, namely, first of all, preaching and catechetical instruction which always hold the first place, then the presentation of this doctrine in schools, academies, conferences, and meetings of every kind, and finally its dissemination through public statements at times of outstanding events as well as by the press and various other media of communication, which by all means ought to be used in proclaiming the Gospel of Christ.
So Catholic doctrine, the Catholic understanding of the world is meant to be brought out into the public square through “meetings of every kind.” And the bishop is the one doing it. The bishop’s apostolicity has been translated into the cultural matrix of the twentieth century.

Now we can line up this comprehensive picture of the bishop’s personal outreach to the culture with the Council’s picture of the baptized layperson in the culture. The Council said: “laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth.”

First of all, there is the same wide-ranging expectation placed not only on the individual at the top of the diocesan hierarchy, but also on each baptized person. The difference in their speaking to the culture lies in the places that they are tasked with reaching. Ordinarily this would mean in the family, in one’s place of business, in one’s sports team, in the interactions at the service station or in the supermarket.

But there is more: “With a constantly increasing population, continual progress in science and technology, and closer interpersonal relationships, the areas for the lay apostolate have been immensely widened particularly in fields that have been for the most part open to the laity alone.”

So bishops and laity are each tasked with reaching their own specific areas of the culture. Why don’t we fly a little and give God’s grace a chance in this stubborn and deadly culture in which we live?

Fr. Bevil Bramwell is a member of Oblates of Mary Immaculate and is Undergraduate Dean at Catholic Distance University. He has published Laity: Beautiful, Good and True and The World of the Sacraments.
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Comments (9)Add Comment
written by Avery Tödesulh, July 28, 2013
Here's an example of the role of the laity recently appointed by Pope Francis to "reform" the Curia:

"It is that of thirty-year-old Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui, the only Italian among the eight members of the newly created pontifical commission reporting on the organization of the financial-administrative structure of the Holy See, instituted by Pope Francis on July 18

In the chirograph that institutes the commission its members are authorized to access all of the "documents, data, and information" of every Vatican administrative organism, without any official confidentiality to obstruct them.

An extraordinary coup for an expert in communication like Francesca Chaouqui, who works at the multinational Ernst & Young but is also an assiduous informer for, the number one collector in Italy of leaks and dirt concerning the world of the Vatican.

Not only that. From her Twitter page it emerges that Francesca Chaouqui has a direct connection with Gianluigi Nuzzi, whom she says she admires.

Nuzzi is the journalist who received and published the confidential documents taken from the desk of Benedict XVI by his butler Paolo Gabriele, who was afterward arrested and sentenced."

Sourced from Sandro Magister's Chiesa site ...

On top of the scandal of Bishop Ricca's gay partying in Uruguay and Cardinal O'Brien's perverse escapades in Edinburough, I say we've had quite enough "Flying" in the Roman Catholic Church recently, thank you very much!
written by Manfred, July 28, 2013
In 1976, three years after Roe v. Wade, a delegation of bishops under the leadership of Abp. Bernardin, then head of the Bishops' conference, met with Jimmy Carter and pressed him on a Const. amendment against abortion. They came away "disappointed". They visited the other Pres. candidate, Gerald Ford, on the same issue and came away "encouraged". This led to a firestorm among the US Bishops which resulted in Bernardin having to publicly back away from the entire initiative. It is important to note that the Church had a very good chance of converting Amnerica to Catholicism in the 1950s and after; but the initiative was destroyed by the agendas of many bishops themselves(cf. Russell Shaw). One recalls the "Jadot bishops" who were selected for their affability and discretion rather than their orthodoxy and strength. 22 million Catholics have left the US Church in the last fifty years and converts are rare.
The Battle for the American Church (Msgr Kelly) was fought and lost decades ago. The secular administration is performing the "mopping up" by pushing for sodomite marriage and transgender bathrooms.
written by tom, July 28, 2013
yes, the phrase "all men" does jump out. How about "all people" as a substitute?
written by Ye Shall Know the Truth & ..., July 28, 2013
Last time I checked the Kenedy Directory (2011), there were over 100,000 adults that year baptised, confirmed or otherwise welcomed into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S.A. I checked with CARA online and the most recent data they post is for 2007: they list 48,898 adults baptised and 78,298 otherwise received into full communion for a total of 127,196 recived into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church in 2007.

In fact if one checks, the numbers for "converts" have stayed about 100,000 per year for many years (since the early 90s). Perhaps that's what some mean as "rare" ...

But everyone reading this post should know that in terms of raw numbers (not percentages, which skew larger for smaller membership groups), but actual raw numbers of "converts"), the Roman Catholic Church outdoes any Protestant or para-Christian group in the U.S. (including Mormons).

As for retention, Roman Catholics at 68% outdo every Christian or para-Christian group except Greek Orthodox (73%) and Mormons (70%).

So while it's true, Roman Catholics do wander away, so do members of all Christian and para-Christian goups, and they so by and large at a much greater percentage than Roman Catholics.
written by Fr. Bramwell, July 28, 2013
Avery I must be missing something I cannot see what your post has to do with the column.

Tom, in its context, the usage is correct. It is referring to a species.

Ye - I don't see what posting a pile of numbers has to do with the column.
written by Chris in Maryland, July 28, 2013
Bravo Fr. Bramwell. In the spirit of your column, I note that I am 57, and I believe I have never (i.e., never) heard a priest or Bishop in any of the parishes I have attended (in Long Island, New York, Chicago, Seattle, Boston or Maryland) read from or teach from a Papal encyclical. But in Maryland and Chicago...I have heard priests and leaders of religious orders attack the Pope.
written by Fr. Bramwell, July 28, 2013
Good point. The Catholic media seem loth to acknowledge the situation that we face. There is not much actual reporting on what is going on. I am very curious about the American dedication to avoiding the authority of Catholic teaching but will have to study it further.
written by Romy1, July 29, 2013
Wonderful treatment, Fr. Bramwell. Curiously, I was recently discussing with a three-year convert friend this issue of the responsibilities of the office of bishop. The primary task they vow to fulfill is to teach, and they are given "the command and the power" to do so. But that can be tedious because, you know, teaching involves explaining to "students" the dos and don'ts that lead to righteous living, our salvation through Christ, and ultimate resurrection into a life of joy with God. This message is not as glamorous as, say, fighting to defend corn subsidies or obtaining contracts to perform services that enhance our federal and state governments. Catholic schools and parishes may close for lack of funding and parishioners but there is plenty of funding for the social justice services that the various dioceses contract for. No problem there.

My response to Chris would be that it is not the Catholic media that seems loathe to acknowledge the situation we face: it is the bishops who are loathe to do so. Sometimes I feel like the child of one of those parents who throws fast food on the dinner table before they run out the door to one of their many special interest committees of which they are, of course, on the board.

After some reflection, I have given up on the idea that we live in an evil "culture of death". That's just too easy a rationale for Catholics' bad behavior and the empty pews. That so-called "culture of death" is beginning to look like the "shiny thing" politicians use to distract voters from the real issues.

I put the dilapidation of faith and attendance at Mass squarely in the bishops' corner. If they don't act quickly, the Church in America will begin to look like Detroit.

The word above in your article that jumped out to me is "might", as a conditional word. "All men might be sanctified" does not necessarily mean that all of them will be so. All covenants have conditions.
It would be interesting if all bishops came out to do "Q&A in the Cathedral". That would give them broad access to a curious audience. and the power and command of their office would be on full display in order to teach. God bless you, Father Bramwell.
written by Chris in Maryland, July 29, 2013
Thank you Fr. B and Romy1. I think that Fr. B's point on Catholic media is that it fails to serve the mystical body of The Church. Beatrix Potter might say it this way..."the Catholic Press doesn't want to "disturb the dignnity and repose of the US Diocesan tea-party."

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