Who’s going to save our Church? It’s not our bishops, it’s not our priests and it is not the religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes and the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that the priests act like priests, your bishops act like bishops, and the religious act like religious. – Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
Dear Bishop __________:
I write to you in a spirit of charity and encouragement with a sincere sense of urgency about the severe crisis of faith Catholics face. I am heartened by my duty, under Canon 212 S 3, to express these concerns not only to you, but to the rest of the faithful, for the good of the Church. I am also emboldened by the example of great lay and religious saints who voiced their opinions and counsel to bishops, cardinals, and even the Pope after they witnessed the visible and invisible spiritual landscape of ignorance and error in the Church as well as signs of hope and possibility.
I could not remain silent when hundreds of thousands of lost souls no longer attend Mass, are no longer in a state of grace, and no longer believe that the Eucharist is Jesus. The Faith which has been passed down for thousand years on every continent, surviving trials, disasters and persecutions is now being extinguished, with a whimper, due to both external reasons and a failure to teach, sanctify and govern. It is the bishop’s task to teach and guide:
The teaching office
Bishops, with priests as co-workers, have as their first task “to preach the Gospel of God to all men,” in keeping with the Lord’s command. They are “heralds of faith, who draw new disciples to Christ; they are authentic teachers” of the apostolic faith “endowed with the authority of Christ.” (CCC 888 ).
Jesus spoke in parable so He could convey deeper truths in a manner that resonated with both the simple and the wise.
There was a regional manager of a great multinational institution, who was responsible for all of the institution’s locations within a certain geographical area. He installed and oversaw junior managers at each of the institution’s locations in his area. This great institution was the oldest in the world, not because of its management, but because it alone had the key to happiness, and satisfied the deepest longings of all mankind.
Until very recently, it enjoyed an unparalleled market share of 80% of its patrons visiting one of its locations every week. Yet due to a number of internal problems and external changes, this institution suffered a cataclysmic loss of 75% of its market share, with only about about 20% of the population visiting one of its locations every week.
The reasons for this death-spiral decline were many, including scandals among its managers, an unwillingness to address these scandals, a failure to punish the offenders and a refusal to be contrite and transparent to its customers. Another reason for the devastating loss in market shares was a plethora of other options which attracted peoples’ interest and occupied their time. However, the primary reason for this unimaginable fall was the failure of the managers to inform and explain to their customers exactly what an incredible treasure they were offering, why it was necessary, what awe-inspiring benefits came from it, and what calamitous effects result from refusing it.
Even though they possessed the most precious goods and service in history, the regional managers allowed their junior managers to do their own thing; these junior managers rarely taught their consumers, they diluted the message and even changed the formulas, so that in each of its locations the goods and services seemed different, without the basic, strict quality controls and expectations of uniformity of any lowly, fast-food restaurant.
Rather than addressing abuses and teaching the truth about their company’s product, the regional managers tended to busy themselves with matters ancillary or even antithetical their primary responsibility and became involved with divisive societal and political issues. Had the regional managers simply focused on and performed the one job they were given by their boss, getting people to return, not by programs but by unleashing the very source of her power, the institution would not be in this current crisis with many of her regions filing for bankruptcy.
These regional managers seemed to forget that were installed by and served at the pleasure of their CEO, and it should be him alone who they should seek to please, obey and faithfully serve. For what CEO, who is intimately involved with the institution he founded and compassionately concerned about would deal favorably with reckless regional managers whom he had entrusted with his universal franchise?
Bishops Are Not Managers
Fortunately, you are a bishop; not a regional manager. For what multinational institution would install a philosophy and theology major without any education, training or business experience to run a 20, 30 or 50 million dollar branch?
You were not put in charge of a diocese because of your business acumen or managerial skills, as neither of these are among the requirements of bishop listed by St. Paul in his letters to Timothy and Titus. For you are leading a divine/human institution, not a corporation, and unlike any mere manager in the secular sphere, you have, by your ordination to your office, been endowed with incomprehensible, supernatural gifts sufficient to teach, sanctify, and govern the hundreds of thousands entrusted to your care, and for whom you likely will be held to account.
There will be accountability when Jesus asks what have you done with the great treasure and responsibility He entrusted to you. I implore you for your sake and for the sake of all those in your diocese, both the 20% who for the moment remain, and the 80% who have left, to be a bishop, not a manager. Utilize your supernatural gifts and weapons in this spiritual war for souls, and do your divine duty, given to you by Christ Himself through the apostles and their successors, teaching what is the source and summit of our faith (CCC 1322) and source of the Church’s power.
Catechesis and liturgy
“The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the font from which all her power flows.” It is therefore the privileged place for catechizing the People of God. “Catechesis is intrinsically linked with the whole of liturgical and sacramental activity, for it is in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist, that Christ Jesus works in fullness for the transformation of men.
Liturgical catechesis aims to initiate people into the mystery of Christ ( It is “mystagogy.” ) by proceeding from the visible to the invisible, from the sign to the thing signified, from the “sacraments” to the “mysteries.” Such catechesis is to be presented by local and regional catechisms. This Catechism, which aims to serve the whole Church in all the diversity of her rites and cultures, will present what is fundamental and common to the whole Church in the liturgy as mystery and as celebration (Section One), and then the seven sacraments and the sacramentals.” (CCC 1074- 1075).
Any renewal based upon prepackaged, programs, human strategies, or the wisdom of men will fail, as any authentic and effective renewal of the Church will be Eucharistic.
How are you renewing the faith in your diocese, specifically, in addressing the greatest problems we face – Mass attendance and belief in the Real Presence? How are you going out to get those lost sheep to return to Mass and the Eucharist, which are, respectively, the font of the Church’s power, and the source and summit of our Faith?
Leadership is not a title given, it is earned, by being a model of prayer, virtue, and holiness, by reflecting the self-sacrificial, servant leadership of Jesus and aligning one’s will to the will of God which is attractive, and which alone can provide the miraculous results we need. As bishop you are not to be a manager, but our spiritual father, a vocation which is in short supply among the episcopacy and presbyterate as well as the laity.
This is an incredible opportunity. People are starving for fatherhood and spiritual leadership which by your office you could and should provide, providing encouragement and requiring accountability. Nobody’s looking for a mere manager. Please be that leader we all need by utilizing the spiritual weapons you received at your ordination – take courage and use them – for all our sake – before it’s too late.
The bishop is “the steward of the grace of the supreme priesthood,” especially in the Eucharist which he offers personally or whose offering he assures through the priests, his co-workers. The Eucharist is the center of the life of the particular Church. The bishop and priests sanctify the Church by their prayer and work, by their ministry of the word and of the sacraments. They sanctify her by their example, “not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock.” Thus, “together with the flock entrusted to them, they may attain to eternal life” (CCC 893).
John Vrdolayk is a Catholic father of five, a graduate of University of Notre Dame and University of Chicago Law School who has worked for his parish (Founder/head of Evangelization Committee), and diocese (Diocese of Joliet Catholic School Task Force). He has recently written the cover story, Mass Exodus, for his diocesan magazine (Christ Is Our Hope) reprinted in Homiletic and Pastoral Review here: https://www.hprweb.com/