Benedict XVI: Bishops must be courageous, expect to be repeatedly beaten

But, inevitably, we will also be beaten by those who live lives opposed to the Gospel, and then we can be grateful for having been judged worthy to share in the passion of Christ.

This is what Pope Benedict said today, Epiphany 2013, in his sermon for a Mass during which he consecrated four new bishops.

Here is the sermon, with my emphases and comments.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

For the Church which believes and prays, the Wise Men from the East who, guided by the star, made their way to the manger of Bethlehem, are only the beginning of a great procession which winds throughout history. [Keep in mind that, for Benedict, as he explained in his newest volume (US hardcover HERE.  Kindle HERE), the Magi or Wise Men are historical figures.  The Gospel are also historical documents.] Thus the liturgy reads the Gospel which relates the journey of the Wise Men, together with the magnificent prophetic visions of the sixtieth chapter of the Book of Isaiah and Psalm 71, which depict in bold imagery the pilgrimage of the peoples to Jerusalem. Like the shepherds, who as the first visitors to the newborn Child in the manger, embodied the poor of Israel and more generally those humble souls who live in deep interior closeness to Jesus, so the men from the East embody the world of the peoples, the Church of the Gentiles – the men and women who in every age set out on the way which leads to the Child of Bethlehem, to offer him homage as the Son of God and to bow down before him. [and so, I think, by implication, those who are not so humble!] The Church calls this feast “Epiphany” – the appearance of the Godhead. If we consider the fact that from the very beginning men and women of every place, of every continent, of all the different cultures, mentalities and lifestyles [“modi… di vita”], have been on the way to Christ, then we can truly say that this pilgrimage and this encounter with God in the form of a Child is an epiphany of God’s goodness and loving kindness for humanity (cf. Tit 3:4).

Following a tradition begun by Pope John Paul II, we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord also as the day when episcopal ordination will be conferred on four priests who will now cooperate in different ways in the ministry of the Pope for the unity of the one Church of Jesus Christ in the multiplicity of the Particular Churches. [Even if they are now only titual.] The connection between this episcopal ordination and the theme of the pilgrimage of the peoples to Jesus Christ is evident. It is the task of the Bishop in this pilgrimage not merely to walk beside the others, but to go before them, showing the way. But in this liturgy I would like to reflect with you on a more concrete question. [classic Ratzinger] Based on the account of Matthew, we can gain a certain idea of what sort of men these were, who followed the sign of the star and set off to find that King who would establish not only for Israel but for all mankind a new kind of kingship. What kind of men were they? And we can also ask whether, despite the difference of times and tasks, we can glimpse in them something of what a Bishop is and how he is to carry out his task.

These men who set out towards the unknown were, in any event, men with a restless heart. [ENTER (stage right): St. Augustine] Men driven by a restless quest for God and the salvation of the world. They were filled with expectation, not satisfied with their secure income and their respectable place in society. They were looking for something greater. They were no doubt learned men, quite knowledgeable about the heavens and probably possessed of a fine philosophical formation. But they desired more than simply knowledge about things. [Can you hear the scientia and sapientia pairing behind this?] They wanted above all else to know what is essential. They wanted to know how we succeed in being human. And therefore they wanted to know if God exists, and where and how he exists. Whether he is concerned about us and how we can encounter him. Nor did they want just to know. They wanted to understand the truth about ourselves and about God and the world. Their outward pilgrimage was an expression of their inward journey, the inner pilgrimage of their hearts. They were men who sought God and were ultimately on the way towards him. They were seekers after God.  [Though visible signs, too.]

[QUAERITUR:] Here we come to the question: What sort of man must he be, upon whom hands are laid in episcopal ordination in the Church of Jesus Christ? We can say that he must above all be a man concerned for God, for only then will he also be truly concerned about men. [There is a hierarchy to our relationships, at which God is the summit.  If that relationship is disordered, all other relationships will be disordered, less than they ought to be.] Inversely, we could also say that a Bishop must be a man concerned for others, one who is concerned about what happens to them. He must be a man for others. But he can only truly be so if he is a man seized by God, if concern for God has also become for him concern for God’s creature who is man. [There is more to this than meets the eye.  Read that in the light of the Holy Father’s 2012 address to the Roman Curia in which he spoke about the problems that confront society today, including the problem of scrambled “gender”.] Like the Wise Men from the East, a Bishop must not be someone who merely does his job and is content with that. No, he must be gripped by God’s concern for men and women. [Not his own concern… or rather, he subordinates his concern and harmonizes it to God’s concern.  And what does God want for us? Salvation.] He must in some way think and feel with God. Human beings have an innate restlessness for God, but this restlessness is a participation in God’s own restlessness for us. Since God is concerned about us, he follows us even to the crib, even to the Cross. “Thou with weary steps hast sought me, crucified hast dearly bought me, may thy pains not be in vain”, the Church prays in the Dies Irae. [Again, classic Ratzinger.  Here he is at Epiphany and, after bringing in an Augustinian theme, he quotes the Dies Irae.] The restlessness of men for God and hence the restlessness of God for men must unsettle the Bishop. This is what we mean when we say that, above all else, the Bishop must be a man of faith. For faith is nothing less than being interiorly seized by God, [This is the fides qua, the gift.] something which guides us along the pathways of life. Faith draws us into a state of being seized by the restlessness of God and it makes us pilgrims who are on an inner journey towards the true King of the world and his promise of justice, truth and love. On this pilgrimage the Bishop must go ahead, he must be the guide pointing out to men and women the way to faith, hope and love.  [Augustine in his Confessions describes, according to ancient notions of gravity, how the heart strives to go to the place where it will be at rest.  That is why, away from God, the heart is restless.  Augustine says, amor meus pondus meum… my love is my weight.]

Faith’s inner pilgrimage towards God occurs above all in prayer. Saint Augustine [and there he is…] once said that prayer is ultimately nothing more than the realization and radicalization of our yearning for God. Instead of “yearning”, we could also translate the word as “restlessness” and say that prayer would detach us from our false security, from our being enclosed within material and visible realities, and would give us a restlessness for God and thus an openness to and concern for one another. The Bishop, as a pilgrim of God, must be above all a man of prayer. He must be in constant inner contact with God; his soul must be open wide to God. He must bring before God his own needs and the needs of others, as well as his joys and the joys of others, and thus in his own way establish contact between God and the world in communion with Christ, so that Christ’s light can shine in the world. [There is a liturgical implication for this.  Prayer which detaches us from our false security is, supremely, Holy Mass.  Holy Mass, celebrated properly, should detach us from our false security, leave us restless. It should, ideally, leave us unsettled to the point even of being filled with awe at transcendence, an awe that verges on the holy fear that is the beginning of wisdom (sapientia).  During Mass we should be brought through the outward signs and the spaces between the signs to encounter the mystery which is tremendum et fascinans.  Yes, should detach us from false security.  How can it not, if it is truly prayer?]

Let us return to the Wise Men from the East. These were also, and above all, men of courage, the courage and humility born of faith. Courage was needed to grasp the meaning of the star as a sign to set out, to go forth – towards the unknown, the uncertain, on paths filled with hidden dangers. We can imagine that their decision was met with derision: the scorn of those realists who could only mock the reveries of such men. [How many bishops today, courageous bishops who speak with clarity, are derided in the mainstream media?] Anyone who took off on the basis of such uncertain promises, risking everything, could only appear ridiculous. But for these men, inwardly seized by God, the way which he pointed out was more important than what other people thought. For them, seeking the truth meant more than the taunts of the world, so apparently clever.

How can we not think, in this context, of the task of a Bishop in our own time? The humility of faith, of sharing the faith of the Church of every age, will constantly be in conflict with the prevailing wisdom of those who cling to what seems certain. Anyone who lives and proclaims the faith of the Church is on many points out of step with the prevalent way of thinking, even in our own day. Today’s regnant agnosticism has its own dogmas and is extremely intolerant regarding anything that would question it and the criteria it employs. [You can say that again!] Therefore the courage to contradict the prevailing mindset is particularly urgent for a Bishop today. He must be courageous. And this courage or forcefulness does not consist in striking out or in acting aggressively, but rather in allowing oneself to be struck and to be steadfast before the principles of the prevalent way of thinking. The courage to stand firm in the truth is unavoidably demanded of those whom the Lord sends like sheep among wolves. “Those who fear the Lord will not be timid”, says the Book of Sirach (34:16). The fear of God frees us from the fear of men. It liberates.  [Remember the Holy Father’s first sermon as Bishop of Rome?  “My dear friends – at this moment I can only say: pray for me, that I may learn to love the Lord more and more. Pray for me, that I may learn to love his flock more and more – in other words, you, the holy Church, each one of you and all of you together. Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves. Let us pray for one another, that the Lord will carry us and that we will learn to carry one another.”]

Here I am reminded of an episode at the very beginning of Christianity which Saint Luke recounts in the Acts of the Apostles. After the speech of Gamaliel, who advised against violence in dealing with the earliest community of believers in Jesus, the Sanhedrin summoned the Apostles and had them flogged. It then forbade them from preaching in the name of Jesus and set them free. Saint Luke continues: “As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonour for the name of Jesus. And every day… they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah” (Acts 5:40ff.). The successors of the Apostles must also expect to be repeatedly beaten, [!] by contemporary methods, if they continue to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that can be heard and understood. Then they can rejoice that they have been considered worthy of suffering for him. Like the Apostles, we naturally want to convince people and in this sense to obtain their approval. Naturally, we are not provocative; on the contrary we invite all to enter into the joy of that truth which shows us the way. [On the other hand, the invitation is a provocation.] The approval of the prevailing wisdom, however, is not the criterion to which we submit. Our criterion is the Lord himself. If we defend his cause, we will constantly gain others to the way of the Gospel. But, inevitably, we will also be beaten by those who live lives opposed to the Gospel, and then we can be grateful for having been judged worthy to share in the passion of Christ.

The Wise Men followed the star, and thus came to Jesus, to the great Light which enlightens everyone coming into this world (cf. Jn 1:9). As pilgrims of faith, the Wise Men themselves became stars shining in the firmament of history and they show us the way. The saints are God’s true constellations, which light up the nights of this world, serving as our guides. [classic Ratzinger] Saint Paul, in his Letter to the Philippians, told his faithful that they must shine like stars in the world (cf. 2:15).

Dear friends, this holds true for us too. It holds true above all for you who are now to be ordained Bishops of the Church of Jesus Christ. If you live with Christ, bound to him anew in this sacrament, then you too will become wise men. Then you will become stars which go before men and women, pointing out to them the right path in life. All of us here are now praying for you, that the Lord may fill you with the light of faith and love. That that restlessness of God for man may seize you, so that all may experience his closeness and receive the gift of his joy. We are praying for you, that the Lord may always grant you the courage and humility of faith. We ask Mary, who showed to the Wise Men the new King of the world (cf. Mt 2:11), as a loving mother, to show Jesus Christ also to you and to help you to be guides along the way which leads to him. Amen.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. acardnal says:

    This Mass and homily will be rebroadcast today, Sunday, at 10 am CT on EWTN.

  2. jameeka says:

    Absolutely beautiful. May the Spirit continue to dwell in Pope Benedict and his successors.

  3. acardnal says:

    I hope every bishop reads this homily!

  4. Gail F says:

    I said it first, ha ha!
    Great talk, as usual. But I don’t see anything in there about how gay bishops can have exclusive but celibate relationships with other gay men, which sort of renders them not gay. Oh wait, that’s the Anglicans…

  5. HighMass says:

    HOW BEAUTIFUL! THE HOLY FATHER Clearly has shown us over and over the beauty in the N.O.
    and all the vestments that are used only makes the liturgy MORE Sacred and Reverent.

    No mistake this old boy still loves the Mass in the E.F.

    Benedict XVI is Clearly a Holy Man!

  6. SegoLily says:

    There are no wolves here in our diocese. There’s nothing to see, nothing to get concerned about. We mind our own catholic business, rant a little about those oh, so unfair immigration issues and make sure all those “peace and justice” groups are on display , but of course that doesn’t concern justice for the unborn or for children in homosexualists households, the children of divorce, the children of artificial reproduction created and left in a deep freeze. I cringe when I see it is the bishop who will give the homily–we have deacons who have an infinitely better grasp of what is at stake in society.

  7. wmeyer says:

    SegoLily, I had a teacher many years ago who was fond of saying that ignorance is sometimes bliss. It is heartbreaking, as we watch the self-destruction of our society, to be in the care(?) of a bishop who seems oblivious to the realities. One who continues to support CCHD, and cares but little for the EF, much less for the hordes of EMHCs dashing to serve in many of the parishes. Today, at a Mass with 6 priests concelebrating (perhaps understandable in light of the main celebrant being freshly ordained, and all the concelebrants members of the same order) I saw new fewer than 8 EMHCs, in a church seating perhaps 500.

    The world has gone mad, and I can accept that, but what I cannot accept is any bishop who will not rail against the storm.

  8. FloridaJoan says:

    God bless our Holy Pope Benedict XVI, a true shepherd of His flock. The words in this sermon bring much hope and joy. Thank you Holy Father. Please pray for our Bishops and clergy; that they will accept the Holy Father’s wisdom and truth and that they will never cease to labor leading the sheep home to the Master’s house.

  9. FloridaJoan says:

    correction … to the Father’s house

  10. Laura98 says:

    May God continue to Bless Pope Benedict XVI.

  11. SegoLily says:

    After I wrote my original post today, I went to our diocesan website to see what, perhaps, existed in regards to a public communication on marriage from our bishop. I listened (it was painful) to a talk our bishop gave on “Marriage”. He prefaced it by saying something largely to the effect of as marriage is being redefined around gender issues in our society, it is the Catholic teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman. As if it is a foregone and laudable conclusion and good for society that society is redefining marriage. He didn’t preach about the grave implications of a move in this direction and in fact, the viewer is left with the impression that what’s the big deal, we as Catholics still believe marriage is between one man and one woman. It could have been a wonderful teaching moment, as was Bishop Paprocki’s recent letter to his flock on this matter. The video continued with the most boring interview with a septugenarian couple drone on about their courtship, their two children and their accomplishments, etc. Nothing provocative, nothing revealing, nothing insightful–who would watch this for 16 minutes!?–perhaps the couple themselves and a few interested parties within their own family. Instead of opening the treasure trove box of marriage issues that confront faithful Catholics today–contraception, divorce, online dating services for married couples–aka “cheating sites” which are exploding, he had a boring interview with a couple well beyond their reproductive years. Why not feature a vibrant, young, Catholic couple with several children and the challenges they face?! Instead, it’s all geared toward the Vatican II set and even they are not watching. Again, going through the motions with little of substance to offer the flock.

    Wmeyer, I appreciate your comments, but remind me, what is CCHD and EF?

  12. Pingback: Benedict XVI Consecrates Four New Bishops Roman Vestments | Big Pulpit

  13. Skeinster says:

    CCHD: Catholic Campaign for Human Development
    EF: Extraordinary Form (of the Mass) aka, the Traditional Latin Mass

    Fr. made the same point about the Shepherds and the Magi in his sermon this morning… and about persecution, b/c America is now, for all intents and purposes, a pagan country. Not surprised that he and the Holy Father are of the same mind, but good to hear just the same.
    That is going to be my new second favorite photo of him. Thanks, Fr. Z!

  14. SegoLily says:

    Thanks Skeinster, I was having a brain cramp. I guess I’m more familiar with TLM. As for CCHD–what an oxymoron!

  15. SegoLily says:

    I shudder to think how all these bishops will respond when asked why they did so very little, why so many souls were lost. Shepherds???

  16. benedetta says:

    I am praying for our Holy Father and these new Bishops. Indeed, what is needed now is courage.

  17. Archicantor says:

    Two and a half years ago, Father, on June 29, 2010, this Anglican wrote in response to a post of yours on another of Pope Benedict’s sermons (SS. Peter and Paul, Imposition of the Pallium), “Much more from this pope and I’m going to have to convert…”

    Boy, he’s not making it easy for me to stay put.

  18. BaedaBenedictus says:

    Father, I was thinking the same thing today when I came across this 13th-century sculpture of St. Fermin at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York:

  19. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Father, in this wonderful passage you add a comment: “As pilgrims of faith, the Wise Men themselves became stars shining in the firmament of history and they show us the way. The saints are God’s true constellations, which light up the nights of this world, serving as our guides. [classic Ratzinger] Saint Paul, in his Letter to the Philippians, told his faithful that they must shine like stars in the world (cf. 2:15).”

    Could you (or any other reader(s)!) say more about this imagery? I just encountered something like it in the prologue of St. Bonaventure’s Life of St. Francis – with special reference to St. John the Baptist and in language which sounds a lot like ‘O Oriens’ (and the Old English Exeter Book paraphrastic translation of it)!

  20. catholicmidwest says:

    Classic Christianity, very clear, very profound. I love this pope.

  21. Stumbler but trying says:

    A catholicmidwest:
    I love him too. Thank you Jesus for giving Papa Benedicto to us in this hour. May you grant him many more years so that we all benefit and grow in faith, courage, and fortitude.

  22. John Fannon says:

    I too pray to God, to give our beloved Holy Father more years for him to teach us and bring us to Christ.

    Archicantor, you might like this quote from G K Chesterton which caught my eye a few weeks ago

    “It is impossible to be just to the Catholic Church. The moment men cease to pull against it they feel a tug towards it. The moment they cease to shout it down they begin to listen to it with pleasure. The moment they try to be fair to it they begin to be fond of it. But when that affection has passed a certain point it begins to take on the tragic and menacing grandeur of a great love affair.”

  23. JonPatrick says:

    Hasn’t it been this way many times in the Church – remember how St. Athanasius stood practically alone defending orthodoxy against the Arians. We are fortunate that we have this Holy Father and that orthodoxy seems to be on the rise after the church’s flirtation with the modern variety of Arianism.

    Archicantor I pray for you and all of the faithful Anglicans, that you “jump ship” as the Barque of Canterbury continues to take on water.

  24. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    John Fannon: Could you pass on the source of the GKC quote (and if you know whether it can be read online)? It seems to pit proper pleasure, fondness, and love against justice in a curious, untypically Chestertonian way!

    To supplement my earlier request for help, I find Daniel 12:3 in the Septuagint to be part of the background (even sharing a noun with Phil. 2:15), but what of the tradition(s) of use?

  25. joan ellen says:

    Beautiful. I also love the Holy Father. And thank you Fr. for your comments. Very helpful

  26. John Fannon says:


    It seems to comes from GKC’s book The Catholic Church and Conversion 1926

    Here’s a reference to it from the Hebdomal Chesterton, about halfway down the page under the topic Romanus Civis Sum.

    When I first read it , it just blew me away as it seemed to sum up the antics I have gone through during my life.

  27. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    John Fannon,

    Thank you! It is a book I have on my shelf, but not (so to say) at my fingertips! I’ll follow the link – and hope to go further rereading, soon!

  28. Rosary Lady says:

    Absolutely Beautiful. This homily is also a reminder for the laity to PRAY FOR OUR CLERGY. Pray for Papa, our Bishops and our Priests. They are on the front lines of the battle with the enemy. We are all on the front lines so to speak, but THEY are being particularly pummled by the enemy. Strike the shepherd and scatter the sheep.

  29. John Fannon says:


    My pleasure.!
    I have been collecting inspiring quotations to install on our parish website ( with the agreement of my ;parish Priest). Every day a new one comes up.

    They range from Einstein and Solzhenystin to GKC and Benedict XVI. As you might imagine, there are many quotations from our Holy Father. He is so wise and has such a way with words.

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