This editorial “Don’t forget to pray for our bishops as they meet in Baltimore” published online Nov. 2 by Our Sunday Visitor, a national Catholic newsweekly based in Huntington, Indiana. It was written by the editorial board.
For the first time since November 2019, the U.S. bishops will convene in person as a body on Nov. 15-18 to discuss, debate and vote on matters in the life of the local church.
The gathering, which has either been canceled or held virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic, will have its usual moments: addresses from leadership, including Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to the United States; votes on new leadership positions; and discussion and updates on a variety of initiatives.
The item commanding the most interest will be the continuation of the discussion, and subsequent vote, on a statement on the Eucharist called “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of Church.”
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, who is chair of the doctrine committee, which is drafting the statement, said the statement received much feedback over the summer from regional meetings of bishops, showing great engagement on an important topic.
When the matter was discussed in June, approximately three-quarters of the bishops voted to move forward with the drafting of the document. A vocal minority, though, stated that they disagreed with the inclusion of a section on eucharistic coherence, which outlined the discipline of the church’s teaching on who can and cannot worthily receive Communion.
As Bishops Rhoades told Our Sunday Visitor in June, this portion of the document simply highlights church laws that “are ordered to the salvation of souls” and “have a medicinal, rather than punitive, purpose.”
Further discussion is expected at the general assembly in Baltimore, and it will be interesting to observe whether or not the bishops have reached a point of consensus over the past few months.
As Russell Shaw wrote recently: “When the U.S. bishops gather for their fall general assembly, the big issue before them will be unity. And not unity with somebody else but among themselves.”
He continued: “Having had five months to think things over, the bishops are likely to seek to soften the sometimes confrontational tone that marked their debate in June, threatening to shatter the appearance of collegial consensus much prized by the hierarchy.”
Shaw wrote: “Students of the episcopal conference know bishops have been divided before on issues, to say nothing of conflicting styles and personalities. But it would be hard to recall a previous occasion when they disagreed quite so publicly as they do now.”
As laypeople called to participate in the life of the church, we have the opportunity in the coming days to pray in a special way for our bishops. While clergy are called to build up, care for and pray for the laity, the laity, too, have the important task of building up, caring for and praying for our leaders, from our parish priests up to the pope himself.
Right now, our bishops are tasked with the important and challenging role of governing in a time of great division, not just among themselves, but within the church as a whole.
While we, of course, offer our prayers as they develop and discuss this important document on the Eucharist, we also pray for them as they navigate an ever-increasing secular society, as they sadly continue to deal with cases of clergy sexual abuse and as they wrestle with the reality of laypeople leaving the church.
It is no easy task to be a bishop in the United States or elsewhere.
An ideal way to begin this focused time of prayer for our episcopal leaders is in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Another initiative to be discussed during the bishops’ general assembly is the continuation of the planning for a National Eucharistic Revival within the church in the United States.
Planning for the start of the revival is underway, but there’s no reason we can’t start praying more frequently in the presence of Jesus even today. While there, we can make it a point to ask the Holy Spirit to empower the successors of the apostles with its great gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord as they seek to govern and guide the church.
May the Lord bless and protect our shepherds as they convene in Baltimore. May they, and we, keep the Eucharist at the heart of our prayer and all that we do.