Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Bishop and Unity

Today in the Roman calendar is the memorial of St. Josaphat, Bishop and Martyr. For some he was a "thief of souls" and the Catholic Church classes him the martyr of Christian Unity. I remember as a young man of 22 years of age being surprised by his altar in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. This September (so almost 40 years later) I wanted to stop and pray at his altar, entrusting my mission here in Ukraine to his patronage, only to find the altar hidden behind scaffolding, as can happen because of the ongoing maintenance of that grand edifice (my timing was off). In any case, let it be said that the martyr bishop not only laid down his life for the flock entrusted to his care but in his solicitude for the Church throughout the world he did so seeking unity with the See of Peter.

Hardly a day passes here in Kyiv where I don't read of efforts or longing on the part of many to restore Christ's seamless garment, the witness of oneness in the Lord which should be for all the world to see. Everyone, I think, out of faithfulness to the Lord affirms the need for Christian Unity; each one visualizes it a bit differently and strives in his own way to attain that prize. To my mind, apart from our fervent petition to the Lord Himself, I think it important to underline/insist upon that special responsibility or solicitude bishops carry by reason of their office and the grace of the same for the sake not only of restoring oneness, but thereby for striving to hasten the coming of God's Day.

While aspiring to martyrdom, as did even the Little Flower, is a good thing, I wish to look elsewhere for the  more persuasive model for promoting the cause. I wish to go back to the first millennium, to the patron of my episcopal ordination, to yesterday's saint, Martin of Tours. There is hardly a church or an ancient city square in central and western Europe without an image of young Martin, the catechumen, a soldier astride his horse, dividing his military cloak with a poor beggar. Youthful generosity is captivating and rightly so, but Martin lived a long life and his witness is as multiform as the ages of his life; my Martin is the elderly bishop and monk, already near death, sacrificing his preparation to meet his Lord for the sake of restoring unity to a church where the clergy were fighting among themselves and would not be reconciled without him. In the Office of Readings we have the account of this work of Martin's from a letter of Sulpicius Severus:

"Meanwhile, he found himself obliged to make a visitation of the parish of Candes. The clergy of that church were quarreling, and he wished to reconcile them. Although he knew that his days on earth were few, he did not refuse to undertake the journey for such a purpose, for he believed that he would bring his virtuous life to a good end if by his efforts peace was restored in the church... Peace was restored, and he was planning to return to his monastery when suddenly he began to lose his strength... Here was a man words cannot describe. Death could not defeat him nor toil dismay him. He was quite without a preference of his own; he neither feared to die nor refused to live. With eyes and hands always raised to heaven he never withdrew his unconquered spirit from prayer."

Which is the path to peace? Let Martin show us the way by his love and prayer!


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