Wednesday, June 18, 2008


The ordination class 1998 of the diocese of Cleveland got together this week to celebrate 10 years, enjoy each others company, pray, learn, and have some fun. Actually, they are still there. I left early since I am moving in a couple of days and am anxious about getting my life together.

One day was devoted to prayer and reflection. Bishop Lennon provided his priests with the book, “Priests for a New Millennium”. Each of us took a chapter and gave a 50-minute reflection on it for the rest of the class. My chapter was, “Collaborators in Ministry: The Bishop and His Priests” by the Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, bishop of St. Petersburg. What follows is an outtake from the presentation.

It would be nice if obedience were easy. It would be nice of each of us saw ourselves as loyal sons to worthy fathers. It would be easy if we were all philosophically, ecclesially, and theologically of a single mind. But we are not. Every time we get together with brother priests there is a debate about the bishop and whether or not we like him or not. In the end it does not matter one jot if we like him or not, he is our bishop and the fourth commandment is as equally binding on us in our relationship with our bishop as it is between true sons of paternal fathers. We are called to obedience. We promised it.

It is not blind obedience however but intelligent obedience. We are not brainless twits merely doing what is programmed in us from on high. God does not ask us to have that kind of slavish obedience to anybody on earth. There are limits to authority on earth. Not even the pope can declare that all priests must stick their finger in their eyes. But when a bishop, within his authority, asks us to do something, we have promised to do so. There are proper channels in which a man may make his objection known to a certain proposal, but to do so publicly can be disastrous. (Reader: If you become uncomfortable with any part of this reflection, re-read this paragraph first before making a comment.)

I’ve lived in rectorys where there priests even when they disagreed still respected the authority of the pastor and the house hummed. This is almost instantly read by the parish and whole parish enjoys the positive, holy energy. Unfortunately I’ve also lived in a parishes where one of the vicars not only disagrees with the pastor, but does so in a very public and derisive way. As a result, the rectory becomes divided, the staff becomes divided, and the congregation begins to take sides.

The same thing can happen with inappropriate dissention from a bishop. And when we model dissention on the diocesan level, we in turn show others how to divide the community at the parish level, perhaps recoiling on ourselves. To that end I propose this course of action for us. It is not easy, perhaps impossible at times, but an ideal toward which we should reach.

1. Never speak ill of your bishop. Now, we will have discussions and will disagree with him (or anybody for that matter), but we need not tear the man apart himself. That not only harms our pledge of obedience, it is just plain not Christian.

2. Be careful how you implement a directive from “down town.” Though at times it may be necessary to state that we must do a particular action because it has been mandated, we should not act as though we are hard put upon ourselves, but try to do what is asked of us in as positive manner as possible.

3. Intentionally pray for your bishop. If he is acting contrary to what you think is in the best interest of the diocese, pray for him. Maybe he will change. Or maybe you will.

4. Practice with the bishop how you want others to react to your directives.

5. Do not expect the bishop to be your father figure. If he is: Great! If not, we are not in this vocation to be coddled by the bishop. The Church at its core is not an institution, but there are definitely institutional aspects to it. Institutions do not love you. Do not expect it to.

6. Help each other. The bishop cannot do everything for you. Let us reach out to each other.

7. Give the benefit of the doubt to the bishop. There are things he cannot tell you just as there are things you are not free to tell people about situations in which you find yourself. "If they only knew," we think. It may be the bishop is in a similar pickle.

8. Pray that you will be a good priest as his representative to his people.

Idealistic? Perhaps. But it beats just being angry all of the time. And working toward unity, cooperation and collaberation will come closer to solving problems that constantly nagging toward division. It may make for an unsavory meal from time to time, but in the long run most of our problems will have been forgotten – nobody will care – and the only thing there will be to show for it is that we did not grow in Christian love as much as we could have.


Anonymous said...

I think Catholics everywhere need to follow these directives when it comes to priests and bishops. Having a healthy discussion about your disagreements with them is one thing, but publicly denouncing them is totally different.

Also, Fr. Bline came and spoke at Grounds for Faith, last Friday. I wish I knew he was celebrating his 10 year anniversary, because I would have mentioned that to the group. Congratulations to the class of 98!

Anonymous said...

You thought this might make us uncomfortable? That was gorgeous! What an outstanding attitude.

Very insightful for you to recognize the "if they only knew" thing. Even lay people suffer in this way, over confidences they must keep.

Obedience is a gift from God. He knows what we're up against when obedience forces us to postpone doing good things. I'm sure in your new position you will be radically unleashed and you will be happier, wiser, and more effective because of the time you had to spend obediently waiting.

Anonymous said...

Awesome, and so true and a message EVERYONE needs to read/hear!

We all have to be obedient to our Bishops.

And glad you had some time with your class. That's a great photo.


knuckledragger said...

Outstanding presentation, Father! You've done a great job explaining an essential, yet often overlooked, component of leadership: followership.

One can't be a good leader without first being a good follower.

Anonymous said...

We have a Bishop who has been involved in some ways in very serious matters.. so very serious, our pastor felt moved to come right out and ask us (even the rather unsuspecting RCIA group) to be kind when he soon was to visit us...because he is our bishop. Nothing could've made him more uncomfortable than having to make that request--but indeed, he likely had to. We all just nodded. Excepting the Bishop of Rome in his greater capacity as Supreme Pontiff, the Church neither stands nor falls upon the actions of a bishop, tho' it can certainly either plummet or soar upon them.

Great photos, great post. Happy 10th.

Elena LaVictoire said...

Very nice presentation.

I am however, grateful that Bishop Lynch is not my bishop! (I still think St. John Chrysostom might have been right!)

Cathy_of_Alex said...

Father: Great post.

Weight Loss Warrior said...
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Anonymous said...

If the pastor is incompetent due to illness or advanced age, the associate's responsibility is complicated. If a culture of denial exists whereby the family problem is like the proverbial elephant in the living room, the associate's complicity is not helpful to the people, since it enables the charade to go on unchanged. It cheats the members of a parish when the effective mission is preserving at all costs the glorified retirement of a senior priest who is no longer capable of leadership.

Anonymous said...

Father, Thank you for your blog and your post. Elena, thank you for understanding, as Bishop Lynch is my Bishop. I do pray for him, but I am sure I should pray more and with Mary's Maternal Heart. Father, I have wondered how Priests struggle with the directives and balance the desire for the freedom of perfect obedience and fidelity to the Holy Father and the Magesterium when the Bishops are implimenting other actions and initiatives not moving in the same direction as the Holy Father's.
We all wish we never had to examine the words and actions of our Priests and Bishops to be certain they are doing and saying the fullness of the truth. It is a hardship for us, but harder for Priests themselves, and your responsibilty for this is even greater so we must pray for you. This whole sad thing with scandals is heartbreaking but coverups further wound the Church and the trust we should be able to have. Thank God for giving us Pope Benedict and more and more Priests like him. God bless you for saying yes to Jesus each day as His Priest and Victim.
We all need to pray daily for all of of our Bishops and Priests and our Holy Father. Happy Feast of St. Benedict.

Please pray for me and us here.
p.s. LOVE your header picture of the Holy Father!