From bishop to parishioner, we are connected in God’s salvation plan

Published: August 26, 2006

By Father Erik Pohlmeier

This time of sede vacante (literally “vacant seat”) in the Diocese of Little Rock is a good time to understand better the role of bishop in the Church. I recently joined the celebration of an ordination of a bishop for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The ceremony was magnificent. It was a celebration of the Church’s splendor. The cathedral was beautiful, the music well performed, the ritual without flaw. With 400 priests and 40 bishops, including five cardinals, it was a grand display, a privilege to witness. Tourists on the streets snapped pictures as the procession made its way around the block and into the cathedral. After more than two hours of rites that highlighted the role and responsibility of a new shepherd for the Church, the power of the Holy Spirit was clear. As the ceremony was coming to a close I was reminded of another ceremony from the week before. It was the funeral of a Lithuanian immigrant in Hot Springs. The woman had spent her final years in a nursing home and had no living relatives. The few who came to the funeral were members of the parish who had visited and taken Communion as part of the ministry to shut-ins. It was a ceremony that caught the attention of no one and seemed a far cry from the ordination of a bishop in Philadelphia. The connection, however, is important and helps clarify the role of bishop. In the plan of God these two celebrations are connected. God’s first concern is the salvation of souls. Every part of God’s work on earth is focused on achieving that goal. The very existence of the Church serves the purpose of bringing God’s grace to his people. The role of bishop is part of the God-given structure that allows the Church on earth to continue. In the Church no one is alone. Even someone known by very few is precious to God and deserving of every grace. In order for that Lithuanian immigrant to be sent to heaven with the sacraments of the Church, she needed a priest to offer the Mass. In order for that priest to be available he needed a bishop to ordain him. In order for that bishop to ordain, he need first be ordained. And so it goes all the way back to the Apostles, and so it will continue until the end of time. The structure of the Church is a great gift to the world. The ministry of the newest bishop of Philadelphia will provide care for many souls over the years. It is the fulfillment of the promise of Jesus. The external splendor of the ordination of a bishop, as striking as it is, pales in comparison to the splendor of a soul filled with the grace of God. That splendor includes the soul of the man ordained for service to the Church and the souls of those who will be served. In the Diocese of Little Rock, our prayer for a bishop continues. We pray for the man who will be chosen, that he will be a worthy instrument of God’s grace. We pray also for the faithful of this diocese, that we will see in our shepherd nothing less than God’s love for his people. Father Erik Pohlmeier is the theological consultant for Arkansas Catholic and pastor at St. John the Baptist Church in Hot Springs.