Years ago, some wise person told me that the greatest struggle for most ordained priests will not be with celibacy (like many might think) but with obedience. Would this be true for me? I can remember the day of my ordination to the priesthood when I placed my hands in the hands of Bishop George H. Guilfoyle and he looked at me and asked “Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors?”
I responded, “I do.” (Even after four subsequent bishops my response still holds true.)
Obedience to my bishop is really an interpretation and determination of the will of God for me. Non-believers (and even some who claim to be “faithful Catholics”) might question how God can speak to anyone through another human being. Isn’t the bishop just another man? Because we profess to be an apostolic church, we hold that our current bishops are indeed successors of the apostles just as the pope is the successor of St. Peter. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#77) teaches:
“In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own position of teaching authority." Indeed, "the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time.”
The Catechism (#857) also adds the following:
(The Church) continues to be taught, sanctified, and guided by the apostles until Christ's return, through their successors in pastoral office: the college of bishops, "assisted by priests, in union with the successor of Peter, the Church's supreme pastor."
We believe that Christ is true to His word and that He remains present and active in His Church. “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt. 28:20) Christ speaks to us (the Church) through its current teachers—the bishops in union with the pope.
Is Christ teaching, sanctifying and guiding me—indeed all of us—through our current bishop and pope? I have lived my life trying to be faithful to my promise of obedience at ordination. This promise clearly relies on the belief in an apostolic church. It follows the example of Christ who surrendered his will the will of His Father: "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will." (Mt.26:39)
Obedience is often difficult and even painful at times. But if we look at the original sin and what is deemed the sin of Satan himself (“NON SERVIAM—I will not serve”) it is choosing to follow one’s own will rather than total submission to the will of God that has led to man’s downfall and Satan’s damnation.
Such a choice will always be ours to make because of our free will. Pray continually to be able to discern and to choose God’s will for your life.
I, too, hope and pray that I will choose obedience to God (a dying to self) as it is spelled out for me by my bishop--a successor of the apostles--here on earth.
Fr. Ed NamiotkaPastor