‘Christ, shepherd and bishop’ helps us understand our new auxiliary bishop’s ministry
The joyful arrival in Seattle of our new shepherd and auxiliary bishop, Daniel Mueggenborg, is a good moment to reflect on the episcopal ministry in light of the episcopate of Jesus himself. It is common to focus our attention on the priestly ministry of Christ. But it is a fact that episcopate is precisely priesthood in fullness. It is helpful to think not only on “Christ the priest” but also on “Christ the bishop” to better understand our new auxiliary bishop’s ministry.
Let’s look at the First Letter of St. Peter. He calls Christ “the shepherd and bishop of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:25) The word in Greek used by Peter, epíscopos, may be translated as “overseer” or “supervisor,” even “guardian.” Don’t confuse it with the custodian who oversees the prisoners. He is rather a shepherd who looks upon his flock from within, looking at the very souls of his sheep, as Peter says.
Jesus being the “bishop of his souls,” he watches them with the eyes of God. Through his divine lens, he can look at the very essence of his children. He can watch in order to preserve it, as a good guardian, and protect it from anything that threatens its integrity: sin, lukewarmness, sadness, discouragement, confusion, bad advice, relativism, contempt, persecution, discrimination. Christ, “bishop of souls,” is at the same time the Good Shepherd, who knows all his sheep by name as he looks upon each from within.
In his first letter, Peter remarks that Christ is in fact the “chief Shepherd.” (5:4) Therefore, he is the model of all bishops. Bishops then must be “examples to the flock.” (5:3) It is with this purpose that Jesus shares with bishops the fullness of his priesthood and makes them successors of his Twelve Apostles. Through their episcopal ministry, bishops make the testimony of the apostles new, being to their flock a model of Christian life that sprouts from the first Twelve gathering around Jesus.
By being successors of the apostles, bishops also have the gravest responsibility of preserving alive the treasure of our faith, which is “more precious than gold.” (1:7) The apostles bore witness to their faith — to our faith! — even amidst persecution and giving up their life. Today, when our Catholic faith is put to the test, attacked and despised day after day, being an archbishop, a bishop, a coadjutor or an auxiliary bishop in any diocese and defending our faith becomes a capital challenge. But each one holds in his hand a staff, not only to guide his sheep, but also to grab firmly and not fall when the road turns stony.
Being a successor of the apostles. Guarding our faith even amidst persecution. Becoming an example to their flock. Being shepherds and bishops of souls like the Chief Shepherd. Immense responsibility Jesus has entrusted on our bishops, Peter, Eusebio and Daniel, sharing with them his own episcopate, as he did with the first Twelve!
Let us pray to the Lord that his divine spirit sheds his light upon our bishop Daniel Mueggenborg, so together with our archbishop J. Peter Sartain and our bishop Eusebio Elizondo, he may always be a good shepherd, “not by constraint, but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly, being example to his flock.” (5:2-3)
Be passionate about our faith!
Read the Spanish version of this column.
Northwest Catholic - July/August 2017