New USCCB president: Bishops suffer from damaged unity. But the Gospel shows how to resolve our disagreements.
At the beginning of my service to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, I am reminded of the important role that the conference can play in facilitating the ministry of every bishop. The theological and juridical nature of a conference was well illustrated by St. John Paul II in “Apostolos Suos”: “The authority of the Episcopal Conference and its field of action are in strict relation to the authority and action of the diocesan Bishop and the Bishops equivalent to them in law. Bishops ‘preside in the place of God over the flock whose shepherds they are, as teachers of doctrine, priests of sacred worship and ministers of government.’ (“Lumen Gentium,” No. 20)”
Consequently, I view the work of the conference in terms of its service to the pastoral ministry of the bishops, successors of the Apostles, in their care of those entrusted to them. Pope Francis has spoken in similar terms. That service takes many forms. It is fitting that my first act as president of the conference was to appoint Archbishop Nelson Pérez of Philadelphia, as chairman of the board of directors of Catholic Relief Services, the outreach of the church in the United States to those outside our borders who are in need. We have been very blessed as a nation, and we must never forget the Gospel imperative, which will also be the terms of our final judgment, to see Christ in those in need.
While every diocese engages in that care, it is fitting that we act in concert to respond to needs in other lands. It has been my privilege to serve almost eight years as a member of the board of directors of C.R.S.
I am not suggesting that we ignore disagreement, but that we handle it in an evangelical fashion.
During the prayer of ordination for a bishop in the Latin Church, the Word of God is held open above the head of the ordinand. It is a reminder that he is to be filled with the Gospel and will be its first teacher in his area of responsibility. Together we want to ensure that our teaching is born from the Word of God, that it reaches the women and men of our time in a way that allows them to welcome and live by that Word, which must come alive in our worship.
The Eucharistic Revival, which is a part of the way forward for the U.S.C.C.B., also expressed in our strategic planning, offers an opportunity for all to deepen faith in Jesus Christ present body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist and to cultivate our hunger to receive him worthily and often. We are a people that celebrates the eucharistic sacrifice, the source and summit of our faith. As bishops, we must ensure that our faithful know and celebrate this unique gift. It is a privilege to be a part of this revival.
The Eucharist is also the sacrament of unity. We do suffer from a damaged unity. “Apostolos Suos,” cited at the beginning of this reflection, speaks often of the importance of episcopal unity. We have a responsibility to cultivate that unity, which does not mean that we are carbon copies of one another or always have the same approaches to a problem. It does mean that, if we disagree, we first speak among ourselves. We are not obliged to imitate the society around us by contributing to diatribes about others.
We must turn down the volume of dissent so as to hear the voice of the Lord...
The Lord Jesus reminds us in several places in Scripture how we are to deal with disagreements, dissension and sin. It is helpful to consider his teaching before we set out on a course of action that might exacerbate the tensions in the church and the world. I am not suggesting that we ignore disagreement, but that we handle it in an evangelical fashion.
At the height of the debate about a document on the Eucharist at the spring meeting of 2021, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, then conference president, found a way to allow every bishop who so desired to take the floor and express his concerns to the body of bishops. The resulting document might not have answered all concerns, but it was approved by an overwhelming majority of bishops!
As teachers of the faith, we must first instruct by the example of our charity, fraternity and moderation of speech. We must cultivate the silence that Pope Francis so often advocates. We must turn down the volume of dissent so as to hear the voice of the Lord, who knocks at the door and invites us to communion with him also through communion with others, first of all in the college of bishops.
Preaching the Gospel also includes filial attention to the teaching of the bishop of Rome. As a church under and with Peter, we respond to his urging to care for the poor, to cultivate protection of our common home and to reach out to the margins with the healing message of the Master. The U.S.C.C.B. has many committees, subcommittees and departments that pursue inserting the Gospel in our society, making our concerns known to legislators and government, and keeping the public aware of the message of Pope Francis.
There is much more to say about the role of our conference and its current officers. Personally, I pray that the Lord might inspire me to be effective in proclaiming the Gospel in this new role and not preventing others from making the Word of the Lord resound in today’s world.
Editor’s note: Text has been edited according to America’s style guide.