2 Timothy 4:1-5; Psalm 96; John 10:11-16
It is appropriate that after the readings on the Good Shepherd, we celebrate the first Bishop of Quebec City and the patron of the bishops of Canada. Some may ask, why do we worship a saint when we are to worship God only. We do not worship St Francois de Laval, but we commemorate him for what the Lord has done through him, just as we remember heroes of society. St Francois was born of a noble family in France but became a priest despite the power and influence of his family in their society. He was appointed appointed bishop of what at that time was New France. As part of overseeing the spiritual needs of his new diocese, St Francois set up a seminary which is now called Laval University. He looked after the welfare of settlers and the First Nations which often conflicted with the civil authorities.
St Francois exemplified in what Jesus said in today’s Gospel: the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd … sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away. Today’s Bishops are the successors of the Apostles and they are the shepherds of their diocese. When the Apostles were electing a replacement of Judas as narrated in Acts 1, Peter said their main purpose is to be a witness to the resurrection of Jesus. This is why Bishops have the full authority to preach and teach and govern their diocese. All preaching and teaching in the diocese come under the authority of the Bishop. We should expect therefore, that our bishops should be a witness to the resurrection of Christ, through their fidelity to the teaching of the Church handed down from the Apostles. Granted there had been, and still are, bishops who have preached error, we will know the true teaching of the Apostles by learning what the Church has taught through the centuries. The Gospel message will not change because Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever. Bishops are guardians of this treasure and are not the masters of it. They have no authority to change the teaching of the Church, despite what many would want the Bishops to do.
Which is why the words of St Paul in the First Reading is very applicable today: For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. Our Bishops need our prayers. They are under pressure to change the teaching of the Church because many do not put up with sound doctrine. They want to hear what they want rather than what they need. Many are persecuted because of this. Bishops are arrested in China, precisely because they do what St Paul said to Timothy: be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
Pray for persecuted bishops, that they may continue to be faithful and not waver, so they will receive their reward from their Lord, Jesus Christ. Pray for bishops who are not faithful to their ministry, who teach error to make people feel good rather than desire the good of the people. Pray that they may repent and turn back to the Lord. Pray that they may do what the Psalm tells us: tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, tell of his marvelous works among all the people. Pray they may say among the nations, “The Lord is king! The world is firmly established, it shall never be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity”. If a bishop does not do this, his flock will be misled and they will die. And he will be made responsible for the lost souls.
Pray also for those who are ordained to preach the Gospel, namely priests and deacons, that we may have courage to speak the truth, no matter how unpopular it may be, no matter what the cost. Pray we may proclaim the unchanging Gospel of the Lord, clearly and boldly, for the glory of the Father.
Pray for lay preachers and teachers that they may have the humility to submit to the authority of the Church and preach what is true and will lead to the growth of those who hear them.
Lord, through the intercession of St Francois de Laval, I pray for our Bishop. Bless him and give him courage to remain faithful to you. Bless him and let him remain steadfast in you. May we learn from him and hear the Gospel so our hearts will turn to you and recognize you as our Lord. In Jesus’s name we pray.