Fortuitously, the first reading for this Monday, which is the day that the annual fall meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Baltimore begins, speaks to the qualifications of a bishop. The full reading from Titus is as follows:
Paul, a slave of God and apostle of Jesus Christ for the sake of the faith of God’s chosen ones and the recognition of religious truth, in the hope of eternal life that God, who does not lie, promised before time began, who indeed at the proper time revealed his word in the proclamation with which I was entrusted by the command of God our savior, to Titus, my true child in our common faith: grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our savior. For this reason, I left you in Crete so that you might set right what remains to be done and appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you, on condition that a man be blameless, married only once, with believing children who are not accused of licentiousness or rebellious. For a bishop as God’s steward must be blameless, not arrogant, not irritable, not a drunkard, not aggressive, not greedy for sordid gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, temperate, just, holy, and self-controlled, holding fast to the true message as taught so that he will be able both to exhort with sound doctrine and to refute opponents (Titus 1:1-9).
From this passage, note the following qualities of a good bishop:
The Bishop is Submitted and Sent. St. Paul writes to Titus, Paul, a slave of God and apostle of Jesus Christ …
In this matter St. Paul reflects on his own relationship to Christ, but because he is of the rank of bishop, his reflections apply to bishops whom he will soon describe. Paul sees his rank as that of a slave. He is not his own man; he belongs to God and is under His authority. Paul is accountable to the Lord. In our current crisis, many wonder to whom the bishops are accountable. Juridically, bishops are not accountable to one another but to the Pope. However, even if they never answer to the Pope, thy will one day have to answer to Christ!
St. Paul speaks of himself as a slave to Christ. Some may wince at the use of the term slave, but we who are in Holy Orders at any level are indeed slaves to Jesus. We are taken up by Him in Holy Orders as He wills, not as we will. When we lay down upon the cathedral floor, we gave our whole lives to Christ and said, “If you can use anything, Lord, you can use me!” Yes, we are slaves of Christ, and He will use us as He sees fit.
St. Paul also says here that he is an apostle. That is, he is sent, commissioned by Christ, to whom he owes his first allegiance. No priest or bishop can have an authority above Christ or in place of His. The Church is Jesus’ bride; the people are His. Bishops are “slaves” to whom He entrusts oversight—an oversight for which they will have to account.
The Bishop should be Saving and Strong. The text says that bishops should teach … for the sake of the faith of God’s chosen ones and the recognition of religious truth, in the hope of eternal life …
The bishop ministers for the sake (i.e. the salvation) of God’s chosen ones through his proclamation of the faith. He is called to instill the faith by the grace of God, a faith that saves not just pleases. The word translated here as “religious” is εὐσέβεια (eusebeia) and refers to a faith that is pious, godly, or devoted. Hence, the bishop’s role is to keep God’s faithful in a close, pious, and devoted relationship with God through the proclamation of the truth of the gospel.
The bishop must also, by this proclamation, instill hope. Hope is the confident expectation of God’s help in attaining eternal life. Hence, the bishop is courageous and summons others to courage and to the confident expectation of God’s help.
Too many bishops and priests today fall short when it comes to proclaiming he gospel courageously. They avoid subjects that they think are “too hard” for God’s people. Many seldom preach about or teach of sacrifice. Long gone are any real demands from the pulpit for things such as fasting or turning away from sin to live a life of virtue and obedience to Christ even at high cost. But hope is the confident expectation of God’s help. A bishop should confidently and courageously summon God’s people to walk in the truth!
The Bishop should be Steady in Speaking. The text says, … that God, who does not lie, promised before time began, who indeed at the proper time revealed his word in the proclamation with which I was entrusted by the command of God our savior …
The bishop has been entrusted with God’s word, which he is to speak. This is not something to be used simply to further his own projects; it is the word of truth from God, who cannot lie.
It is God’s “revealed” word, meaning that it is unveiled and should not be treated as strange, remote, or unfathomable. It is plainly disclosed and should be plainly spoken.
Finally, the word is “entrusted by the command of God.” Thus, the bishop is under command to preach and teach the word entrusted to him. As St. Paul says elsewhere, For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (1 Cor 9:16)
The Bishop should Stabilize and Secure. The text says, … to Titus, my true child in our common faith …. For this reason, I left you in Crete so that you might set right what remains to be done and appoint presbyters in every town …
A bishop must put in order the local Church that has been entrusted to him. Even if elements of the truth are already present, there must be a purifying of that Church so that it is more complete in the truth and the virtues and so that there is order, that things are “set right” and improved upon.
A bishop is also to appoint priests in every town to help him to keep order, to teach and insist on what is right. As St. Paul says elsewhere: But let everything be done in a fitting and orderly way (1 Cor 14:40).
The Bishop must be Steadfast in Sanctity. The text says, For a bishop as God’s steward must be blameless, not arrogant, not irritable, not a drunkard, not aggressive, not greedy for sordid gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, temperate, just, holy, and self-controlled …
I think this list speaks for itself. I will not add to it except to say that that the bishop and his priests and deacons should themselves be chaste and insist that others be chaste as well. It seems that in our times this must be specifically stated, for there has been too much unchastity among the clergy and it has been knowingly been tolerated.
The Bishop must be Sound and Sure. The text says, … holding fast to the true message as taught so that he will be able both to exhort with sound doctrine and to refute opponents.
A bishop must not only hold and teach the faith, he must refute opponents and dissenters. There is far too little of this today among bishops and priests. Too often, even if they are personally orthodox, they stand by silently while wolves confuse the faithful, deceiving them and leading them astray.
St. Gregory the Great lamented that too many of his priest were “dumb dogs” who would not bark, who would not drive away the wolves and warn the faithful. Too rare today are bishops who will rebuke dissenters and deceivers. Too often dissenters, deceivers, and liars are allowed easy access to the faithful. Our universities teem with false notions; often the truth itself is banished. Parishes are permitted to stray seriously from Catholic norms on laity and Catholic teachings on morality.
Bishops must get back into the business of refuting error and refusing to allow access to the faithful to those who would deceive them. He must refute with sound doctrine not merely with his own opinion. He must protect his flock from the wolves in sheep’s clothing, with their pernicious errors rooted in presumption and false tolerance.
Here, then, is just a brief commentary. As our bishops gather in Baltimore, please pray for them and for all the clergy of the Church!