The best way to help the Catholic Church, Pope Francis told new bishops, is not by pointing fingers and creating scapegoats, but by working together doing God’s will.
Do not be embarrassed to talk to the faithful, to answer their questions, he told them, and pay “specific attention” to the priests and seminaries in the diocese.
“We cannot respond to the challenges we have regarding them without updating our processes of selection, accompaniment, evaluation,” the Pope said.
However, he said, all efforts will be fruitless if the responses do not address “the spiritual abyss, which, in many cases, permitted scandalous weaknesses, if they do not expose the existential vacuum that (the weaknesses) nurtured and if they do not reveal why God was made voiceless like this, hushed up like this, removed like this from a certain way of life as if He didn’t exist.”
The Pope’s remarks came in a lengthy speech Sept. 13 to 144 recently appointed bishops from around the world, including Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City.
Bishop McKnight was attending a Sept. 3-14 required course organized by the Congregation for Bishops, for bishops newly ordained within the past year.
Just one day previously, the Pope announced he was convening a global gathering of the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences to discuss the prevention of abuse and the protection of minors and vulnerable adults in the wake of ongoing revelations of abuse and its cover-up by clergy, bishops and other Church members in the United States, Chile and other countries.
In his address to the new bishops, the Pope urged them not to let themselves be “tempted by stories of catastrophes or prophesies of disasters, because what really matters is persevering, not letting love grow cold, but standing upright, heads raised toward the Lord because the Church is not ours but is God’s! He was here before us and will be here after us!”
“Each one of us,” he said, must humbly and deeply reflect on “what can be done to make more holy the face of the Church, which we govern in the name” of God.
“It is useless just to point fingers at others, create scapegoats, rend garments, delve into the weakness of others,” he said.
“It is necessary here to work together and in communion,” the Pope said.
But at the same time, the bishops must remember that “authentic holiness is what God works in us, when — docile to His Spirit — we return to the simple joy of the Gospel” so that His blessings may come to others through the choices the bishops make and the way they live their lives.
The fate of the Church, this “tiny flock,” the Pope said, can be found in the cross, and their fate is in God’s hands.
Therefore, he told the bishops, do not waste valuable energy “listing failures and rubbing in bitterness,” letting their hearts shrivel and horizons narrow.
“May Christ be your joy, the Gospel be your nourishment. Keep your gaze fixed only on the Lord Jesus,” he told them, so that as they get used to Christ’s light, they will know how to seek it constantly, even in the most diverse or humble places.
The bishops, he said, will find Christ’s light in families where the gift of life is cherished and nurtured with “tenacious patience and nameless generosity,” and where consecrated men and women and other ministers of God silently persevere, “oblivious to the fact that often the good doesn’t make any noise, is not the topic of blogs nor makes the front pages.”
Many men and women, he said, continue to believe, courageously preach and offer mercy unafraid of the wounds of the world, “the flesh of Christ, always afflicted by sin and often by the children of the Church.”
Christ’s light, he said, also can be found in hearts holding the “fragile but indestructible certainty that the truth shall prevail, that love is not in vain, that forgiveness has the power to change and reconcile, that unity always wins over division, that the courage to overlook oneself for the good of others is more rewarding than the intangible primacy of the ego.”
The Pope underlined how even though the world may be awash in indifference, individualism and abandonment, “we are not allowed to ignore the flesh of Christ,” the millions of men, women and children in need, but whose fate has not moved anyone’s conscience, even the conscience of those who carried the biggest responsibility, “but guiltily reject them.”
Christ’s wounds “also belong to us. It is imperative to touch them,” not to turn them into manifestos of “understandable rage,” but for the Church to learn just how disfigured she can become when she lets Christ’s image fade from her, Pope Francis said.
And the Church can learn from these wounds how to start over “in humble and scrupulous fidelity to the voice of her Lord.”
Be vigilant, he told the bishops, especially when the temptation is to retreat and “the evil one, who is always lurking, subtly suggests that, at this point, dawn will never come.”
The way to be holy, he said, is to abandon oneself to God, “like a weaned child that does not need to demand proof his mother is near,” and to let the beauty, security and fullness of God shine through.
“God is not tamable,” the Pope told the new bishops. “He doesn’t need fences for defending His freedom and He does not get contaminated as people come close. Rather, He sanctifies what He touches.”
At the end of the meeting, the Pope told them to “go forward full of joy, not bitterness, serene, not distressed, consoled and not desolate,” with hearts like lambs, “who, even when surrounded by wolves, know they will win because they count on the help of their Shepherd.”