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Pope Tells New Bishops to be Close to God and People

‘Closeness to God is the source of the Bishop’s ministry’

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Pope Francis on September 12, 2019, told a crowd of recently ordained bishops to be close to God and to the people.

His remarks came in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Vatican Palace, where he received the bishops ordained in the last year, participants in the Course of Formation organized by the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.

«Closeness to God is the source of the Bishop’s ministry,» the Pope reminded those present. «God loves us, and He made Himself closer than we can imagine; He took our flesh to save us. This proclamation is the heart of the faith; it must precede and animate every initiative of ours. We exist to render this closeness palpable.

«And from closeness to God to closeness to His people…The Bishop’s closeness isn’t rhetorical. It’s not made of self-referential proclamations, but of real availability.»

Here is a translation of the Pope’s address, during the course of the audience, to those present.

* * *

The Holy Father’s Address

 Dear Brothers, good morning.

I welcome you to this conclusive meeting of your pilgrimage to Rome, organized by the Congregations for Bishops and for the Oriental Churches. I thank Cardinals Ouellet and Sandri for their commitment in the organization of these days. Together, as new members of the Episcopal College, you went down a short while ago to Peter’s tomb, “trophy” of the Church of Rome. There you confessed the same faith of the Apostle, which is not a theory or a compendium of doctrine, but a person, Jesus.  His face renders us close to the look of God. Our world seeks, even unconsciously, this divine closeness. He is the Mediator. Without this proximity of love the foundation of reality falters. The Church herself gets lost when she loses the vivifying tenderness of the Good Shepherd. Here you entrusted your Churches, for them you repeated with Jesus: “Body offered and Bloodshed for you.” We know no other strength than this, the strength of the Good Shepherd, the strength to give life, to approach Love through love. Behold our mission: to be for the Church and for the world  “sacraments” of God’s proximity. Therefore, I would like to say something to you on closeness, essential for every minister of God and especially for Bishops. Closeness to God and closeness to His people.

Closeness to God is the source of the Bishop’s ministry. God loves us, and He made Himself closer than we can imagine; He took our flesh to save us. This proclamation is the heart of the faith; it must precede and animate every initiative of ours. We exist to render this closeness palpable. However, the proximity of God can’t be communicated without experiencing it, without experiencing it every day, without allowing oneself to be infected by His tenderness. Every day, without saving time, it’s necessary to be before Jesus, to take the people to Him, the situations, as channels always open between Him and our people. With prayer, we give citizenship to the Lord where we dwell. Let us feel, like Saint Paul, tentmakers (Cf. Acts 18:3); apostles that enable the Lord to dwell in the midst of His people (Cf. John 1:14).

Without this personal confidence, without this intimacy cultivated every day in prayer, also and above all in the hours of desolation and aridity, the nucleus of our episcopal mission breaks down. Without closeness to the Sower, the effort of scattering seeds will not seem very satisfying without knowing the time of the harvest. Without the Sower, it will be difficult to accompany with patient trust the slowness of the maturation. Without Jesus, mistrust comes that He will not bring His work to fulfillment; without Him, sooner or later one slides into the pessimistic melancholy of one who says: “all is going badly.” It’s awful to hear a Bishop say this! Only by being with Jesus are we preserved from the Pelagian presumption that the good stems from our skill. Only by being with Jesus that peace reaches our heart, which are brothers and sisters seek from us.

And from closeness to God to closeness to His people. Being close to the God of proximity, we grow in the awareness that our identity consists in making ourselves close. It’s not an external obligation, but an internal exigency of the logic of gift. “This is my Body offered for you,” we say in the loftiest moment of the Eucharistic offering for our people. Our life springs from here and leads us to become broken bread for the life of the world. Then the closeness to the people entrusted to us isn’t an opportunistic strategy, but our essential condition. Jesus loves to approach His brothers through us, through our open hands that caress and console; through our words, pronounced to anoint the world with the Gospel and not through ourselves, through our heart, when we take on the anguishes and joys of our brothers. Even in our poverty, it is up to us to see that no one perceives God as distant, that no one takes God as a pretext to raise walls, pull down bridges and sow hatred. It’s also awful when a Bishop pulls down bridges, sows hatred or mistrust, is a counter-Bishop. We have to proclaim with our life a different measure of life than that of the world: the measure of a love without measure, which doesn’t look to its own profit and its own advantage, but at the boundless horizon of God’s mercy.

The Bishop’s closeness isn’t rhetorical. It’s not made of self-referential proclamations, but of real availability. God surprises us and often loves to upset our agenda: prepare for this without fear. Proximity knows concrete verbs, those of the Good Samaritan: to see, namely, not to look the other way, not to feign anything, not to leave people waiting and not to hide problems under the carpet. Hence, to make oneself close, to be in contact with people, to dedicate more time to them than to one’s desk, not to fear contact with the reality, to know it and embrace it. Then, to bandage wounds and take charge, to take care, to spend oneself (Cf. Luke 10:29-37). Each one of these verbs of proximity is a milestone in a Bishop’s journey with his people. Each one is asked to get involved and to dirty his hands. To be close is to identify oneself with the People of God, to share their sorrows and not disdain their hopes. To be close to the people is to trust that the grace that God faithfully pours on us, and of which we are channels, also through the crosses we carry, is greater than the mud of which we are afraid. Please, don’t let fear prevail at the risk of the ministry, retreating and keeping your distance. Your Churches mark your identity because God has joined the destinies, pronouncing your name together with theirs.

The thermometer of closeness is the attention to the last, to the poor, which is already a proclamation of the Kingdom. Your sobriety will also be so, at a time in which in many parts of the world all is reduced in half to satisfy secondary needs, which flood and stiffen the heart. To have a simple life is to witness that Jesus is enough for us and that the treasure with which we want to surround ourselves with is constituted rather by how many, in their poverty, remind us and represent Him: not abstract poor, social data and categories, but concrete persons, whose dignity is entrusted to us in as much as their fathers — fathers of concrete persons; that is, paternity, ability to see, concreteness, ability to caress, ability to weep.

It seems that today there are stethoscopes that are able to hear the heart at a meter’s distance. There are Bishops capable of hearing the beating of their communities and their priests, even at a distance: they hear the beating. Pastors that are not content with formal presences, of table meetings or dialogues of circumstance. There comes to mind Pastors so self-clean that they seem like distilled water, which knows nothing. Apostles of listening, who are able to lend an ear also to what is not pleasing to hear. Please, don’t surround yourselves with lackeys and yes men . . . priest “climbers” who always seek . . . no, please. Don’t yearn to be confirmed by those that it is for you to confirm. There are so many forms of closeness to your Churches. In particular, I would like to encourage regular pastoral visits: visit frequently, to meet the people and Pastors; visit on the example of Our Lady, who lost no time and rose to go in haste to her cousin. The Mother of God shows us that to visit is to render Him who makes joy begin, it’s to bring the Lord’s comfort who does great things among the humble of His people (Cf. Luke 1:39 ff.).

Finally, I ask you again to reserve the greatest closeness to your priests: the priest is the neighbor closest to the Bishop. Love your closest neighbor. I ask you to embrace them, thank them and cheer them in my name. They are also exposed to the storms of a world that, though tired of darkness does not spare hostility to the light. They are in need of being loved, followed <and> encouraged: God doesn’t want half measures from them, but a total yes. In shallow waters, one stagnates, but their life is made to go into the deep, as is yours. Therefore, courage dearest brothers! I thank you and bless you. Please, remember to pray every day also for me. Thank you.

© Libreria Editrice Vatican

[Original text: Italian]  [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]
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Jim Fair

Jim Fair is a husband, father, grandfather, writer, and communications consultant. He also likes playing the piano and fishing. He writes from the Chicago area.

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