Bishops, a spirituality to the test


“The risk of activism is that it leads to the dramatic absence of God. “

Bishops, a spirituality to the test

Bishop Jean-Marc Eychenne, Bishop of Pamiers (Ariège)

“For a bishop, the risk is to see his spiritual life swallowed up by administrative and economic realities… After all, if we observe the situation of the Church with a human gaze, the institution is not at best. its shape. Faced with this situation, the task sometimes seems endless. So what to do? First of all, remind myself that I am a child of God, called with my weaknesses.

I believe that doing too much – besides the risk of overwork – would ultimately amount to acting as if everything depends on me, when everything depends mainly on Him. The risk of activism in religious affairs is that it leads to the dramatic absence of God. So I take the time for gratuity and prayer. This is how I preserve my interior and spiritual life. It’s a proactive choice in my busy schedule. This does not mean that I am easily satisfied with my laziness. But these times put me back in my rightful place and I hope that this serenity is transmitted around me. Without these free times of meeting and discernment, how can I know that my actions respond to God’s will and not mine? I like to wake up early, when the city isn’t awake yet. It is in these moments that I am most attentive to the presence of God. Then I celebrate lauds with the Vicar General and lay people.

When I’m in Pamiers, I go for a coffee at the local bistro, I chat with the people who set up their stalls for the market. It is for me a real place of spiritual life. I marvel at conversations with ordinary people who have extraordinary life stories. They tell me something from God, including those who are far from the Church. I also try to take time, for literature or philosophy, they are also places of encounter with God. Sometimes good literature is better than bad theology!

When I became a bishop, a profound change took place in my being: the learning of spiritual fatherhood to exercise with my priests. It took me a little time to put on the habit of the office and succeed in maintaining a closeness, while sometimes maintaining a distance that can be useful: I try to be a brother who loves them, a father who protects them, corrects them, comforts them. What a challenge. Perhaps the greatest challenge of the episcopal office. “

“The field of my prayer has widened. “

Bishops, a spirituality to the test

Bishop Laurent Ulrich, Archbishop of Lille (North)

“My mornings begin with a long personal prayer time, a time of prayer, which ends with Mass, unless I have another occasion later to celebrate the Eucharist. Then there are the times of office and prayer hours of the day, alone or with someone. Finally, there are all the thoughts that I turn to the Lord in moments of latency between activities – in the car, on foot… – before meetings, important moments. Since I have been a bishop, the field of concerns expressed in my prayer has widened. Beyond the affairs of my diocese, there is the whole mission of the Church!

In my ministry, Saint François de Sales, bishop of Geneva at the beginning of the 17th centurye century, is a great spiritual guide. In Savoy, I regularly deepened his thought, his way of exercising his responsibility, of working for the unity of the Church, then in quarrel with the Protestants. He was a man of great spirituality, but who said that his diocese was “A torrent of worries”, that his spiritual life was like “A broken clock” (1), traversed by deep questions. Very often I have the feeling that I experience the same thing in my life, cut off by concerns that overlap, stop, but which nonetheless remain joyful because of Christ.

I have chosen as my episcopal motto “The joy of believing”, according to the title of a posthumous book by Madeleine Delbrêl. She says how happy I am to be a believer in a world that is no longer so spontaneously, in a God who comes close and takes on the situations of humanity. The figure of my patron saint, Saint Lawrence, servant of the Church to the poor, also holds a very strong place: I have the feeling that my ministry is made so that the poor have the right, in addition to consideration and material help, to real spiritual help.

As a bishop, I have also known troubles related to responsibilities. Sometimes, we can be touched by heavy things, feel lost… At that moment, we must find the path of the spiritual accompanist, try to rebuild – this is not always easy – the taste of being alone in prayer. These “desert crossings” have never been very long, but they have existed, they exist. When I experience discouragement, I like to sing praises inwardly that bring joy to the heart. After twenty years of episcopacy, I am not satisfied, but I tell myself that it will also be good for me, once the responsibilities are finished, to be satisfied with a simple Christian life. “

“To be a bishop is to deepen the meaning of the cross. “

Bishops, a spirituality to the test

Bishop Xavier Malle, Bishop of Gap and Embrun (Hautes-Alpes)

“I was appointed bishop in 2017, at a time of intense turbulence and major crises for the Church, as well as for society, in which I perceive a general rise in the level of violence. This atmosphere of tension is also found in the parishes. Often, the parish priest or bishop is the perfect scapegoat in the event of frustrations or disagreements.

Because spirituality is embodied in the events of our time, our mission is to make the word of God resonate there. But our position is not easy to maintain. When we express ourselves on topical subjects and that displeases (reception of migrants, bioethics…), we are referred to the sacristy. When we stand back, we are criticized for our supposed lukewarmness by the faithful. My spiritual life helps me enormously to face up to forge my daily discernments. I have two outlets: the rosary and adoration.

These are two places where I deposit what is too heavy. I am not alone. I made the choice to live in the bishopric with a retired couple from the Emmanuel community, their support is very precious to me. It is with them that I begin my day of prayer, with praise, lauds and three quarters of an hour of adoration, before celebrating mass in the chapel of the bishopric.

There are two areas of my spirituality that I have been able to deepen since I became bishop. I have always had a Marian spirituality, but before my ordination I had never succeeded in saying my rosary every day. I have hardly ever missed it since I became bishop. I also deepened the spirituality of the cross: we often take blows, and I learn to place it at the foot of the cross, united with Christ, for the salvation of the world. The life of a bishop is heavy in workload, the days stretch from 7 am to 11 pm. Half of my office is loaded with books that I receive and that I don’t have time to read, yet this is part of my episcopal mission! I am trying at the moment to transform this charge into prayer. So how do you be a Christian for a whole day of meetings? What word of God can help us come out on top of a situation? I no longer have the joy of assuming the pastoral responsibilities of the priest, but I keep a permanence where I receive the faithful of the diocese on Saturday morning for three hours. It helps me to keep in touch with my diocese. Because in the end, the wonder most often comes from my pastoral visits to the territory, where I meet wonderful landscapes and people. “

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