Sunday, 12 June 2011

Pentecost and the vocation of a bishop

Today we celebrate the birthday of the Church instituted by Christ. 

Institution of the Church

And the events of Pentecost as recorded in Acts attest both to its hierarchical nature, with Peter's sermon, given while 'standing with the eleven', and the 'priesthood' of all believers, manifested in the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

So a good occasion, perhaps to highlight some important messages about the role of bishops made by Cardinal Pell in his sermon on the occasion of the episcopal consecration of Bishop Peter Camensoli (new Auxiliary of Sydney) last week.  It is worth reproducing in full.

Cardinal Pell on the role of a bishop

"Let us now consider carefully the office of bishop in the Church to which our brother Peter is about to be raised. Our Lord Jesus Christ, who was sent by the Father to redeem the human race, in turn sent twelve apostles into the world. These men were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit to preach the Gospel and gather every race and people into a single flock to be guided and governed in the way of holiness. Because this service was to continue to the end of time, the apostles selected others to help them. By the laying on of hands which confers the sacrament of orders in its fullness, the apostles passed on the gift of the Holy Spirit which they themselves had received from Christ. In that way, by a succession of bishops unbroken from one generation to the next, the powers conferred in the beginning were handed down, and the work of the Saviour lives and grows in our time. [The Catholic Church, in other words, is not something new, but something two thousand years old.  Its fundamental nature is what has been handed down to us, not something that can be invented to suit modern ideas].

In the person of the bishop, with his priests around him, Jesus Christ, the Lord, who became High Priest for ever, is present among you. Through the ministry of the bishop, Christ himself continues to proclaim the Gospel and to confer the mysteries of faith on those who believe. Through the fatherly action of the bishop, Christ adds new members to his body. Through the bishop's wisdom and prudence, Christ guides you in your earthly pilgrimage toward eternal happiness.[In short, without bishops (and priests) there is no church.]

Gladly and gratefully, therefore, receive our brother whom we are about to accept into the college of bishops by the laying on of hands. Respect him as a minister of Christ and a steward of the mysteries of God. He has been entrusted with the task of witnessing to the truth of the Gospel and fostering a spirit of justice and holiness. Remember the words of Christ spoken to the apostles: "Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me, and those who reject me reject the one who sent me." [This important but tricky in the current environment!  The current UK debate on the cancellation of Cardinal Burke's visit, not to mention the Toowoomba saga, illustrate the challenges in striking a prudent balance between respecting the Office of bishop, and calling individual bishops to account when they fail to witness to the truth, or worse, actively lead their flocks astray.] 

Tonight therefore the Church of Sydney welcomes Bishop-elect Peter as a new auxiliary bishop from the Diocese of Wollongong. Our gain represents a significant loss to Wollongong but offers new opportunities for service and leadership; and, after all, Sydney did give Wollongong your much loved bishop of today, Bishop Peter Ingham!

We have heard how the apostles were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit to preach the Gospel and tonight, as we approach the feast of Pentecost, we pray that the Spirit will enter into you, once more and abundantly, as you take up your new task.[We should pray especially for Bishop Camensoli this Pentecost, but also for all our bishops, that they might be filled with the Spirit needed to renew the Australian Church.]

The readings you have chosen spell out the core of your Episcopal duties. Above all you are a teacher, as well as a servant, a leader and a sanctifier. Just as St. Peter retold the story of Jesus and his life work to the household of Cornelius so too in season and out of season you will be telling and retelling the story of how the one true God, who loves us, sent Jesus to the people of Judaea and Jerusalem to preach and to heal, to suffer, die and rise triumphantly. This message is congenial even to outsiders, but you are also called to remind gently that Christ will be the just and loving judge of everyone, of the living and the dead. This is not so much a threat as a promise, because you will also be preaching about the extraordinary gift of God's forgiveness for our sins, which Jesus explained to us. [Souls are at stake.  There is such a thing as hell.  These are important messages.]

Your task will be to teach and explain that Jesus is the Son of God as well as Son of Mary, possessing a divine as well as a human nature, which enables him to redeem us. No mere man could do this. Surveys show that even some priests, and certainly more people, Catholics too, are unsure about the bodily resurrection of Jesus and even of the Virgin birth, of Christ's divine fatherhood. This must mean that their faith in the divinity of Christ is under extreme pressure and this means that their faith in the redemption too is pressured. [The lack of faith of our priests is a continuing scandal.  Souls are at stake.  There is such a thing as hell!]

Paul told the Corinthians that it was Christ who reconciled us and the world to God, not holding our faults against us. As an ambassador of Christ, as a successor of the apostles, you will urge your people to be reconciled to God.

Your life as a bishop will be a continuation of the life you lived as a layman and as a priest. You will be driven along by the love of God and your love and service of others will continue to be shaped by the Father's commandments. You are commissioned tonight in a new way to offer your life in service and so bear much fruit; fruit that will benefit society in the here and now and in eternity.

You are committing yourself to defending and explaining the apostolic tradition of teaching which our predecessors nearly two thousand years ago received from Christ and which has been transmitted to us by generations of witnesses across the centuries. It is a precious and demanding inheritance, where the secrets of the good life, of human flourishing, are contained and revealed. [This is an important reminder.  Bishops are not free to just make it up.  Rather they are committing themselves to teaching the Tradition.  Souls are at stake...] 

Through the wisdom of a succession of bishops and through your own hard work you are unusually well qualified academically, as well as pastorally, to provide leadership in the struggle between good and evil, between the light of faith and the gathering darkness. You are called to be courageous, because Christian truths do not always win majority approval, but every stand for truth, justice and charity, for life and for goodness will strengthen your brothers and sisters in faith, and often in the wider society and inspire them to stand firm and make sacrifices too. [Too many of our bishops do keep quiet, avoid saying what needs to be said!  Where are the calls to confession, or even provision of adequate times for confession!  Where is the insistence that sex outside of marriage is a sin?  That contraception and abortion are sins?  Last year few of our bishops even managed to arrange the Advent Vigil called for by the Pope for the unborn, let alone to give it adequate publicity and make it a genuine teaching moment!]

If we bishops dodge every confrontation, or even most of them, we should not be too surprised when others go missing also.[Yes!]

I know you will answer these calls and rise to these challenges. The years ahead beckon and are rich with promise. May God continue to be with you and bless you for many decades, through the Spirit, in your new Episcopal role as teacher, priest and shepherd.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen

1 comment:

DN said...

"There is such a thing as hell"

According to a very recent homily by our parish priest a loving God would want no-one is hell, therefore none go there. He strongly hinted that only the mean-spirited would believe anyone goes to hell!