40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #6 Bishops

The Archbishop and the Cardinal. Archbishop Robert Carlson and Fredbird

If priests are cool then bishops must be cooler.  Right?  Again, this is not a scholarly dissertation on these men who are directly descended from the twelve Apostles.  There are plenty of places to find that kind of material.  This is about why bishops are cool and we’re lucky to have them.  However, I am going to throw one big word at you:  subsidiarity.  It means that the Church has determined that the best place to make decisions is as close to the people as possible.  The really big stuff, the stuff that affects all Catholics all over the world, is decided in Rome.  The things that affect the local diocese are decided by our bishops.

Remember, we have a Code of Canon Law that directs everything that goes on in the Church, but there’s still plenty of wiggle room for the local ordinary (the bishop) to put his personal touch on his diocese.  More important, part of the bishop’s responsibility is to deal with the secular world on our behalf.  The current kerfuffle about the government’s birth control mandate is a good example.  The Pope could jump into the middle of this issue, and at some point he may.  But for now, the United States bishops are at the forefront, both as a group and individually.  The vast majority of our bishops have written pastoral letters to their flock urging us to oppose this violation of our Constitution.

For most young Catholics, it’s quite a thrill at confirmation time when they get to meet the bishop, either at their own parish or at the Cathedral.  While the bishop is a local cleric, most of us associate him with the universal Church.  He’s our direct line to the Vatican.  While we most often see our bishop performing on the big stage with all the pomp and pageantry that the office deserves, most of them are very down-go-earth guys who would rather sit down with you one-on-one and have a cup of coffee.  Unfortunately for us, they’re so busy that they don’t get to do that very often.

I don’t think I can finish a post on bishops without mentioning the president of the United States bishops, Timothy Cardinal Dolan.

Cardinal Dolan distributes food to the poor in New York City.

This Health and Human Services fiasco has brought His Eminence into the national spotlight and we should all be glad it has.  I could be wrong, but I’ve always pictured Jesus as man very much like Cardinal Dolan.  I believe Jesus had a sense of humor (otherwise I wouldn’t be a deacon), I believe He was friendly and outgoing, and I believe that when it was necessary, He was tough as a bulldog.  (Remember the moneychangers?)  Isn’t that how we’d like all our bishops (and priests and deacons) to be?

Face it, most of us are lost sheep and we need a shepherd.  Our parish priests fill that role most of the time, but they do it on behalf of the bishop.  When you go to mass this weekend and the priest prays for our Benedict our Pope, and for our bishop and for all the bishops, say a quiet prayer of thanks for your local shepherd.  As I said yesterday concerning priests, our bishops have been under attack in recent years.  Did some of them mess up?  Clearly they did.  Did they do it out of malice, or a desire to break the law?  No, I don’t think so.

Remember on the very night that Jesus created the presbytery one of His bishops sold him out for a few pieces and another, the one who would become the first Pope, denied that he knew Him, not once but three times.  Bishops are human, just like you and me.  They’re subject to the same faults and failings as we all are.  I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My archbishop, Robert Carlson, and your bishop, whoever he may be, is way cool!

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #30 Subsidiarity

The word for today is subsidiarity.  Chances are it’s not a word you use every day.  It sounds like it might be something from the new translation of the Roman Missal.  In fact, it’s a principle that’s very relevant to our 21st century world, even if you don’t often hear the actual word.

Subsidiarity is the principle that decisions should be made as close to the individual level as possible.  In its simplest form, let’s say I’m about to go to lunch.  Where I eat is a decision that’s best made by little ol’ me.  I don’t need any help choosing between a burger joint and a Mexican place.  But what if my wife and I are going to lunch?  Then it’s most likely a joint decision between her and me.  We don’t need to bring in a third party for their opinion and we certainly don’t need the government telling us where to eat lunch.

To put it into Biblical terms, remember what Jesus said about settling a dispute? ”

If your brother sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.  If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.  If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that every fact can be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.”  Mattthew 18:15-17.

That’s subsidiarity.

Church decisions are to be made at the lowest level where they can be effectively made.  The Pope, through the teaching office of the Church makes the big decisions; the ones that effect the whole world.  Anything less is delegated to the individual bishops.  The bishops make decisions which affect their (arch)diocese alone.  Smaller, more local decision making power is delegated by the bishops to their priests, and even to their deacons.

For example, if you and your Catholic high school sweetheart live in the same parish and you want to get married in that parish, that’s strictly between you and your pastor.  If you want to marry someone from another parish, then both pastors have to approve.  But, if you plan on marrying a Lutheran, then the bishop has to give his permission.

In my personal assignment, I’ve been delegated the operation of a Catholic chapel.  I have a letter from the Archbishop that says so.  I don’t need his approval to pay the gas bill, or to buy hosts, wine, candles, or anything else involved in running the church.  Recently we had to spend a large amount to replace the boiler in church.  For that I got the Archbishop’s permission.

This sounds like a lot of legal mumbo-jumbo.  What’s cool about that?

Here’s the thing.  Decisions that affect your faith are made as close to you as possible.  You’ll probably never, in your entire earthly life, have to write a letter to the Pope.  If you’re unhappy about something, talk to your pastor (or even your deacon).  If you’re still not happy, take it to the Bishop.  If you’re still not satisfied, you always have the option of taking your issue to Rome, but keep in mind that as the leader of one billion Catholics, the Pope’s a pretty busy guy.  Chances are, you’ll get satisfaction much quicker closer to home.

Here’s another example that might clarify subsidiarity.  For many years my church has celebrated midnight Christmas mass at 4:30 in the afternoon on Christmas Eve.  Supposedly our people don’t like to come out at night.  Recently I’ve been asked to have midnight mass at midnight!  I haven’t decided what I’m going to do yet.  I’ll probably discuss it with some other clergy and with parish leaders, but in the end, it’s my call.  I don’t need the Archbishop’s permission, especially since I believe midnight mass is supposed to be celebrated, if not at 12:00, at least after dark.  A reasonable request, made at the lowest level of the hierarchy (namely me) will get the consideration it deserves.

And that’s why subsidiarity is cool.