The Most Rev. Kevin C. Rhoades
Sad news permeated the Diocese of Harrisburg this morning. Pope Benedict XVI appointed our beloved bishop to take over the Diocese of South Bend-Fort Wayne, Indiana. Just a few weeks ago, Bishop Rhoades was celebrant at Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. There were at least FOUR THOUSAND (4,000) souls from the Diocese at the Shrine, one of the largest ever. Bishop Rhoades and Fr. Ray LaVoie (Vocation Director) brought our seminary census to over 45, beating the archdiocese of Philadelphia for the first time ever.
A native son from Lebanon, PA, Bishop Rhoades had been a pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Harrisburg and then taught as a professor and finally became rector of Mount Saint Mary Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland. During his short five years here in our diocese, we have seen a stable and permanent Extraordinary Form parish (Mater Dei) erected under the care of the Fraternity of Saint Peter; lots of vocations to the priesthood; restoration of the permanent diaconate. When the Cathedral was renovated, Bishop Rhoades insisted the Tabernacle be restored to its proper place in the middle and center of the sanctuary. At only 52 years of age, Bishop Rhoades will most likely be promoted again in the near and foreseeable future to become an archbishop and probably cardinal of a major see in the USA.
We are praying to the Holy Spirit and Our Lady, Mother of the Church, that we be sent another gem like Bishop Rhoades. Not an accountant or manager bishop, but a teacher/pastor bishop who also knows how to shepherd rather than relinquishing authority to sycophant bureaucrats who have political agendas and not the good of Holy Mother Church in their minds. PRAY FOR US.
Most of us priests consider ourselves blessed if our our bishop is at least friendly toward us. But even if he is not, it is far more important and necessary that he be a just, honest, orthodox, reverent, compassionate and courageous bishop. Just like parents should not seek to be 'friends' to their children, bishops do not need to be 'friends' they need to be pastors. Friendly, yes; friends, maybe; pastors, always. Bishop Rhoades is a pastor bishop. Friendly but still in charge. I went to seminary with a bishop (he wasn't one then, but became one later, of course) Byzantine Bishop William Skurla of the Eparchy of Passaic for the Ruthenians. We were friends and schoolmates. But he is not my boss. My boss was one of the few bishops who despite his fullness of priesthood and his episcopal authority, nevertheless showed appreciation and respect to his brother priests. That goes a long way. Like the Captain or Admiral, Colonel or General in the military, you have the authority to give orders but the respect of your men is something you earn by the way you treat them. Bishop Rhoades is the first bishop to personally thank me for the books on religion I wrote and for the shows I taped for EWTN. He is the first bishop to show enthusiastic support for the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy (a national association of priests and deacons committed to ongoing spiritual, theological and pastoral formation in a fraternal setting). Previous bishops simply said nothing. I was grateful they never ordered me to stop doing what I was doing on my own free time, but he was the first to actually AFFIRM and THANK me and my colleague (Father Ken Brighenti) for utilizing our time and talents, first in the parish and then for Holy Mother Church at large.
Fortunately, there are more bishops like Bishop Rhoades who do not see their mission as accountant, business manager or politician. They see the diocese as a pastor sees his parish. Pope John Paul the Great told us that pastors must love their parishioners like a groom loves his bride (like Jesus loves the Church). It does not matter if the guy is a scholar or academic, a great orator or preacher, or an efficient organizer. What the People of God want and what the priests, deacons, religious and laity deserve is a man of God, loyal to the Roman Pontiff; strong enough to do what has to be done and say what has to be said (especially to his clergy and to Catholic politicians); and humble enough to know he makes mistakes like the rest of us but can also learn from them and do better again and again. Like the Apostles, bishops as their successors need to support their priests, challenge us, guide us, correct us, and love us. We promised respect and obedience to the bishop and his successors. The bishop swears an oath of fidelity.
God has blessed us with great popes in recent history and with some phenomenal bishops as well. It is easy to take pot-shots and gripe about the bad or mediocre ones. The same can be said of us priests and pastors, too. Better for us to identify and support the good ones and let the others become extinct on their own. In this YEAR FOR PRIESTS we priests need to pray for one another but we also need to pray for our bishops. It is not public opinion polls or legal advice that our shepherds need, it is divine grace from Holy Orders and their personal commitment to place the common good of the diocese before all else
I hope and pray (and trust) the Lord will bless us again with another superb, competent and wonderful bishop to shepherd our diocese.