Continuing her series on the liturgy, AnneMarie Miller shares how she and her children pray with their bishop.
“The archbishop patted my head!” A smile stretched across my three-year-old’s face. This is why we’re here, I thought. I had hauled my kids across town to a daily Mass with the archbishop so that we could offer prayers for him—and so we could pray (and be) with him.
Growing up, the bishop never seemed relevant to my life. He was a photograph in the diocesan newspaper and a petition at Mass; a distant supervisor. Yet, I have to wonder if this view fully captures what a bishop does.
A bishop carries a crosier; a staff which evokes images of a shepherd, guiding his sheep. A shepherd’s relationship with his sheep is not solely administrative; it is personal and loving.
This crosier can remind us that the bishop is called to model Christ, the Good Shepherd, who calls his sheep by name and leads them (cf. John 10:3). Our bishops have an important role, and we need to follow as they guide us closer to Christ.
St. Ignatius of Antioch emphasizes this in his letter to the Smyrnaeans, which he penned around 107 or 110 A.D. He writes:
You must all follow the lead of the bishop, as Jesus Christ followed that of the Father; follow the presbytery as you would the Apostles ... Where the bishop appears, there let the people be, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church." (Letter to the Smyrnaeans, no. 8)
Bishops may look like administrators who zoom from meeting to meeting, but they are much more than this. In fact, when the Catechism of the Catholic Church outlines key elements of the bishop’s ministry, it states: “Bishops, with priests as co-workers, have as their first task 'to preach the Gospel of God to all men,' in keeping with the Lord’s command.” (888) The bishop’s first job isn’t to govern or administrate, it is to preach.
The bishop’s threefold office of “teach, sanctify, and govern” goes far beyond office work. He instructs us about faith and morals, and he sanctifies the Church through his life, ministry, and celebration of the sacraments (see Catechism nos. 892-893).
Bishops are important, but many of us don’t personally know them. We may pray for them occasionally, but give little thought to their work. Yet, at a friend’s encouragement, I began taking my kids to Mass once a month at the archdiocesan offices, so we could pray particularly for our archbishop and those he works with.
One time, we were surprised when the archbishop celebrated Mass. We sat in the first pew, directly in front of the presider’s chair, where my young children could see the bishop up close. He was no longer a photograph in the diocesan newspaper; he was standing there, with us, offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. After this happened again, I realized that our archbishop’s public calendar mentions when he celebrates daily Mass. If possible, I try to arrange our schedule accordingly.
I think back to St. Ignatius’s exhortation that “where the bishop appears, there let the people be.” We need to be prayerfully and sacramentally united with our bishops, but there is also a great gift in being physically present to pray with them. Over the past several months, my children and I have gotten to pray with our archbishop, be blessed by him, and hear him reflect on the Scripture readings of the day.
I also wonder if our presence can help the archbishop, too. Even if he doesn’t know us personally, he can still see us praying for—and with—him. I don’t know what he thinks of us, especially since my young toddler always picks inopportune moments to fling herself into a meltdown. Yet, I hope that our presence, even if it’s noisy, can be a reassurance to him: a reminder that the Church is alive and young, and that his flock is with him in prayer.
Our bishops are successors of the apostles, and we need to pray for them. It may be inconvenient, especially for those in rural areas, but what would happen if we all made an effort to pray with our bishops? What are some ways we can pray for and with our bishops in the upcoming months?
Copyright 2022 AnneMarie Miller
Images: copyright 2019 Holy Cross Family Ministries, all rights reserved.
About the Author
A bibliophile, wife, mother of young children, and lover of the Liturgy, AnneMarie Miller enjoys exploring the manifold—and quirky—ways in which God speaks. She can often be found reading books to her kids, burrowing her toes in the red Oklahoma dirt, or sipping black coffee. Her reflections on Catholicism, literature, and hope can be found on her blog, Sacrifice of Love.