Personal Holiness Must Underlie a Bishop's Authority, Says Pope

Receives Prelates From Provinces of Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 30, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II told visiting bishops from the United States that "the exercise of episcopal authority must be built upon the testimony of personal holiness."



In his address to the prelates from the provinces of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., who were on their five-yearly visits to Rome, the Pope referred to the mission of sanctification of all bishops, whose source "is the indefectible holiness of the Church."

"Because 'Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her,' she has been endowed with unfailing holiness and has become herself 'in Christ and through Christ, the source and origin of all holiness,'" the Holy Father said Thursday.

This is "a fundamental truth of the faith" that "needs to be more clearly understood and appreciated by all the members of Christ's Body," the Pope said.

Although "the holiness of the Church on earth remains real yet imperfect," it is "both gift and call, a constitutive grace and a summons to constant fidelity to that grace," he said. In fact, the Second Vatican Council reaffirmed "God's universal call to holiness," the Holy Father noted.

"The challenge set before us and before the whole Church" is that "the life of every Christian and all the structures of the Church must be clearly ordered to the pursuit of holiness," an activity that must be "central to the life and identity of every bishop," he said.

"I am deeply convinced that, in a Church constantly called to interior renewal and prophetic witness, the exercise of episcopal authority must be built upon the testimony of personal holiness," John Paul II stressed.

He pointed out that a bishop must "recognize his own need to be sanctified as he engages in the sanctification of others."

In addition, John Paul II said that a bishop "is first and foremost a Christian ... called to the obedience of the faith," who in virtue of his ordination "stands in the place of Christ himself and acts in his person," and thus "is called to progress along a specific path of holiness. The soul of his apostolate must be that pastoral charity which conforms his heart to the heart of Christ in a sacrificial love for the Church and all her members."

Thus, a bishop must be an "attentive hearer of the word of God through daily prayer and the contemplative reading of Holy Scripture," the Pope said.

"Indeed, for the renewal of the Church in holiness, it is essential that the bishop must not only be one who contemplates; he must also be a teacher of the way of contemplation" without forgetting that his prayer "should be nourished above all by the Eucharist," in addition to "regular recourse to the sacrament of penance and ... the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours."

In regard to "the adoption of a lifestyle which imitates the poverty of Christ," the Pope invited the bishops to undertake "a discernment with regard to the practical exercise of the episcopal ministry in your country, in order to ensure that it will be seen ever more clearly as a form of sacrificial service in the midst of Christ's flock."

"The great challenge of the new evangelization to which the Church is called in our time requires a credibility born of personal fidelity to the Gospel and to the demands of Christian discipleship," John Paul II concluded.

The bishops' five-yearly "ad limina" visit to Rome has three parts. The first is a personal meeting between the bishops and the Pope. In the second part, the bishops pray together at the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul in Rome. The third part offers the bishops the chance to meet with Roman Curia officials.