Francis: the bishop and the flock

The bishop has to be among his people in three ways. In front of them, pointing the way; among them, keeping them together and preventing them from being scattered; and behind them, ensuring that no one is left behind, but also, and primarily, so that the flock itself can sniff out new paths.

– As quoted in an NCR editorial

This is beautiful.

It harmonizes with the beautiful description of the relationship between the bishop and the local church in Lumen Gentium 27.

I love the fact that it describes multiple, simultaneous relationships between the bishop and the flock, and multiple modes in which the bishop exercises leadership.

It is something I can imagine St. Augustine saying, who preached on the anniversary of his ordination

Believe me, brothers and sisters, if what I am for you frightens me, what I am with you reassures me. For you I am the Bishop; with you I am a Christian. ‘Bishop,’ this is the title of an office one has accepted to discharge; ‘Christian,’ that is the name of the grace one receives. Dangerous title! Salutary name!

Let us pray for our church, and for the bishop of Rome, and for the whole college of bishops, and for our own local bishop, that the Holy Spirit will shepherd them into this way — these ways — of shepherding their own flocks.

Gracious God, we pray for your holy catholic church.
Fill it with your truth;
Keep it in your peace.
Where it is corrupt, reform it.
Where it is in error, correct it.
Where it is right, defend it.
Where it is in want, provide for it.
Where it is divided, reunite it;
for the sake of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

For completeness, here is the same statement as quoted in the official transcript:

But the work of a bishop is wonderful: it is to help one’s brothers and sisters to move forward. The bishop ahead of the faithful, to mark out the path; the bishop in the midst of the faithful, to foster communion; and the bishop behind the faithful, because the faithful can often sniff out the path.

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