Pope Francis has warned new bishops against rigidity.
Speaking to over 100 bishops who were appointed during the course of this year and are in Rome participating in an annual course of formation for new bishops, at times affectionately referred to as ‘Baby Bishop School,’ Francis reminded them to be creative, and to ground themselves in prayer and listening to God’s direction.
He began noting that bishops ought to remember that not through their own merits, but “by pure divine benevolence” they are entrusted with testifying the Gospel of the grace of God and ministering the Spirit.
A central task of being a bishop, Francis reminded them, is offering to “the flock” that spiritual and pastoral discernment necessary for it “to reach the knowledge and fulfillment of God’s will in which all fullness resides.”
Identifying What Is Pleasing to God Through Prayer
Highlighting that the Holy Spirit is protagonist of any authentic discernment, the Pope noted that only if one is led by God, can one have the title and authority to be proposed a leader of others.
“One may teach and grow in discernment only if familiar with this inner teacher who, like a compass, offers the criteria to distinguish, for himself and for others, the times of God and His grace; to acknowledge His passage and the way of His salvation; to indicate concrete means, pleasing to God, to accomplish the good that He predisposes in His mysterious plan of love for each and for all.”
This wisdom, the Pope stressed on this feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, is the practical wisdom of the Cross.
Prayer Is the Key
“Discernment is born in the heart and mind of the bishop through his prayer,” Francis said, especially “when he puts the people and situations entrusted to him into contact with the Divine Word pronounced by the Spirit.”
It is in such intimacy, he noted, that the Pastor matures the inner freedom that makes him firm in his choices and behavior, both personal and ecclesial.
“Only in the silence of prayer can one learn the voice of God, perceive the traces of His language, have access to His truth.”
The bishop’s discernment is always a community action, which requires listening and openness, Francis suggested.
“I invite you to cultivate an attitude of listening, growing in the freedom of renouncing one’s own point of view (when it is shown to be partial and insufficient), to assume that of God.”
“Without letting oneself be conditioned by the eyes of others, make efforts to get to know with your own eyes the places and the people, the spiritual and cultural “tradition” of the diocese entrusted to you, to respectfully enter into the memory of its testimony of Christ and to interpret its concrete presence in the light of the Gospel outside which there is no future for the Church.”
Discerning therefore means humility and obedience, Francis said, “noting humility with regard to one’s own projects and obedience with regard to the Gospel, the ultimate criterion; to the Magisterium, which conserves it; to the norms of the universal Church, which serve it; and to the concrete situation of people.”
Discernment, the Pope said, is a remedy for the immobility of “it has always been so” or “let us take time.”
“It is a creative process that does not just apply schemas. It is an antidote against rigidity, because the same solutions are not valid everywhere.
“It is always the perennial today of the Risen Lord that demands that we do not resign ourselves to the repetition of the past, and have the courage to ask ourselves whether the proposals of yesterday are still evangelically valid,” Francis said, adding: “Do not let yourselves be imprisoned by the nostalgia of having only one answer to apply in all cases.”
God, Pope Francis told the bishops, was already present in their dioceses when they arrived and will still be there when they are gone. In the end, the Pontiff said, “we will all be measured not by counting our works but on the growth of God’s work in the heart of the flock that we keep.”
True discernment, though definitive in every step, is an always open and necessary process that can be completed and enriched. .
An essential condition for progressing in discernment is to educate ourselves in the patience of God and His times , which are never ours.
“I beg you to keep scrupulously before your eyes Jesus and the mission that was not His but of His Father, and to offer to the people – confused and lost today, just as they were yesterday – what He was able to give: the chance to encounter God personally, to choose His way and to progress in His love.”
Pope Francis concluded reminding them to keep their gaze fixed on the Lord today, the Feast of the Holy Cross.
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