The role of the Bishop as Shepherd

As Christians the bishop or the priest are the ones that most resemble Christ especially in the ministry of Christ as Shepherd. As we know ―a bishop is the leader or shepherd of his local church, his diocese. As a bishop, his primary responsibility is to his local flock, the diocese he ministers to and governs.‖71 What is the office of a bishop? It is a noble one Thomas J. Reese says,

The primary teacher of the faithful, charged with the task of preaching the Gospel with authenticity, the bishop bears a grave responsibility for the spiritual comfort of the priests and people of the diocese. He is their shepherd, leader, directing them on the road to holiness through the priestly ministry of the sacraments, and guarding them against evil.

In order to shepherd the people of God ―Bishops are ordained, as their name suggests (episkopos means ―overseer‖), to guide the work of the church, to govern the community, and to coordinate the various ministries of the body. Canon 375 mentions the vital role of bishop in the Church are, ― Bishops, who by divine institution succeed to the place of the Apostles through the Holy Spirit who has been given to them, are constituted pastors in the church, so that they are teachers of doctrine, priest of sacred worship and ministers of governance. (cf. Lumen Gentium, no. 20). As Rev. Raymond L. Burke writes,

The ministry of governance flows directly from the bishop‘s service of teaching and sanctifying God‘s flock. The bishop, who teaches the doctrine of the faith with integrity and celebrates the sacred liturgy for the salvation of God‘s flock, also assists and guides the flock in following Christ faithfully, whom they have come to know through the teaching of the faith and with whom they have communion through the celebration of the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist.

The minister should always remain as a disciple of the Lord as he answers to the Lord‘s call and given the divine mission that was entrusted by Christ to the apostles. The Gospel which they are to teach is the source of all life for the Church. And for this reason ―the apostles, appointed as rulers in this society, took care to appoint successors.

As being shepherd of his own diocese Bishops also become part of the worldwide college of bishops, sharing responsibility with all other bishops for the welfare of the universal church. The new bishop‘s acceptance into the college of bishops is symbolized by the presence of at least three bishops for his ordination and the imposition of hands by all the bishops celebrating. As the synod of Bishops states, The Bishop in communion with the Pope is called to fulfill this task together with all members of the church. Though each is to be a witness of the Gospel of Christ in the World, the bishops, as successors of the apostles, have ‗the noble task of being the first to proclaim the ‗reason for hope‘; that hope which is based on the promise of God, on fidelity to his word and which has its unshakeable certitude the resurrection of Christ, his definitive victory over evil and sin.

During the ordination of the new bishop, he is told that ―In the Church entrusted to you, be a faithful steward, moderator, and guardian of the mysteries of Christ.
Lawrence E. Mick clearly explains, ‘As one chosen by the Father to rule over his family, be mindful always of the Good Shepherd, who knows his sheep and is known by them and who did not hesitate to lay down his life for them…..Never forget that you are joined to the College of Bishops in the Catholic Church, made one by the bond of charity, and therefore you should have a constant concern for all the Churches and gladly come to support of Churches in need (no.39), one symbol of this order‘s ministry is the crozier, signifying the bishop‘s role as a shepherd.

For by divine institution and the rule of the apostolic office, each one together with all the other bishops is responsible for the Church. They should especially be concerned about those parts of the world where the word of God has not yet been proclaimed or where the faithful, particularly because of the small number of priests, are in danger of departing from the precepts of the Christian life, and even of losing faith itself. The bishop needs to follow the parable of Jesus as the good shepherd, who lays his life for other people, even it‘s not easy way to work, but bishops should realize that they are bound together and should manifest a concern for all the churches.

Understanding what a bishop was in earliest times was different from what we understand as a bishop in our contemporary times. Joseph O’Callaghan writes,

In earlier times the bishop was chosen from the community by the clergy and people who knew him just as he knew them. As a faithful servant, he usually remained in their midst until death. Just as Christ was described as the spouse of the Church, so the bishop was said to be wedded to his see. The ring given to him at his consecration symbolized that union, and his pastoral staff signified his role as shepherd and manifested his care for his flock.

Looking at the bishop of our contemporary time there are a lot of differences.

The bishop does not know each one as Jesus the Good Shepherd knows each one of the members of the flock. As we see the model of the modern bishop often seems to be the corporate executive of the world of business, moving from company to company, these images clash with the reality of being a shepherd. The traditional notion of the bishop as shepherd is the one who know his flock and who is known by them. The bishop lives at a very distance from the parishioners how can he be a Good Shepherd like Jesus?. It is a challenge for a bishop to take up a responsibility for the spiritual welfare of hundreds of souls to be a shepherd who knows his sheep.

Hamilton states, ‘The question arises then is whether the Pope’s vision of mission and governance will shape the Catholic future, or whether his image of church leaders coming back from the bad lands smelling like lost sheep will give way to sheep waiting in line in the designated paddock where their shepherds can feed them on sharp food and protect them from danger.

In our catholic churches, we know that the whole rite of ordination of Bishop is replete with the image of the bishop as the true shepherd of the flock as mentioned in the Canon Law that the bishop governs most of all through example and exhortation, through teaching and counsel. When misunderstandings or abuses creep into the life of the portion of God‘s flock entrusted to his care, he must set forth publicly the teaching and discipline of the Church. It generally tells us that the diocesan bishop is to protect and to care for the unity of the universal church.

The bishops are called to imitate the way of Jesus Christ as the good shepherd by offering their life for the flock confided to him. Through the pastoral ministry of Jesus, the Bishop humbly serves God‘s people, helping them to follow the way of Jesus Christ.

The bishop must govern the local Church in such a way that it expresses faithfully its unity with the universal church. The most important way for a bishop to fulfill his responsibility for God‘s flock is by providing worthy priests who, by virtue of their ordination, serve in the person of Christ the good Shepherd in every local community.

The bishop is a shepherd of all those entrusted to his care, but he carries out his pastoral ministry on their behalf through his co-workers, the priests. Therefore, the bishop must be constantly attentive to promote and foster vocations to the priesthood, and to provide for those who respond to the call to the priesthood a sound and fitting preparation for their future priestly ministry.

It is important to build up good shepherds in the Church as John Paul II writes, ―The formation of future priests, both diocesan and religious, and lifelong assiduous care for their personal sanctification in the ministry and for the constant updating of their pastoral commitment is considered by the Church one of the most demanding and important tasks for the future of the evangelization of humanity.

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