Today is the memorial of St John Neumann, the great Bishop of Philadelphia. Here’s a link to his shrine. Damian Thompson’s blog links to Fr Blake in Brighton who has criticized the English Bishops. After waiting ten years in England to be ordained, and having nothing happen, I tend to be sympathetic. I could say a good bit myself about episcopal incompetence, lack of imagination, mediocrity, corruption and idiocy. Worst of all, (as Fr Blake points out) is what seems to be a complete lack of the Catholic faith in their ministry. The ones I’m thinking about are all about making the world a better place and being nice to one another. Wonderful aims to be sure, but the Catholic faith is something more than that.
St John Neumann
But why spend time criticizing the bishops? What good does it do? All it does is spread discontent and division and tempt people to detraction and gossip. In thinking about the life of St John Neumann it struck me that in every age there are very few bishops who are courageous, saintly, pure and learned. In every age Bishops have been seduced by the Spirit of the Age, they’ve compromised, been corrupt, betrayed the faithful at worst, and at least they’ve been shallow, confused careerists, mediocre men who mistake ecclesiastical promotion for holiness. But at the same time, in every age, God has raised up great bishops: quiet, holy and strong men who are the true shepherds of his people. We should focus on the good ones and accept the bad with a spirit of forgiveness.
For do not the bishops simply represent the whole church? If they are mediocre, vain, corrupt and confused, aren’t we all? Are they any different from the Apostles themselves?–some great saints, others minor saints, and among them a Judas and ambitious James and John and Peter who denied the Lord? The whole church is a collection of sinners. Why should the bishops as a group be different?
The call is for each one of us in our own vocation and calling to be the courageous, learned, noble and true Christians we wish the bishops to be. I want to be a saint, and my own broken down, stumbling attempt at this goal is not furthered by pointing out that others too have fallen.