Pope Francis has called for the bishops of the United States to gather for a 7-day retreat at the start of the new year. This period of prayer and reflection will commence on January 2nd and conclude on the 8th. Father Raniero Cantalamessa, a Capuchin Friar and the Preacher to the Papal Household, will direct their retreat. Its theme is taken from Mark 3:14 – “He appointed twelve to be with Him and to be sent out to preach.”
This is a very unique episcopal gathering because it will be solely devoted to prayerful reflection. No business of any kind will be conducted during this retreat! Instead of business discussions, break-out sessions or workshops, the bishops’ schedule will consist entirely of daily Mass and Vespers, silent meal times, communal and personal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, and ample time for reflection and Reconciliation.
Cardinal DiNardo, President of the USCCB, had this to say about the retreat:
“I am grateful to the Holy Father for calling the bishops and me to step back and enter into this focused time of listening to God as we respond to the intense matters before us in the weeks and months ahead. I also humbly ask the laity, our priests and religious for your prayers for my brother bishops and me as we join in solidarity to seek wisdom and guidance from the Holy Spirit. Pray also for the survivors of sexual abuse that their suffering may serve to strengthen us all for the hard task of rooting out a terrible evil from our Church and our society so that such suffering is never multiplied.”
It is encouraging to hear Cardinal DiNardo seeking prayers not only for himself and his brother bishops, but also for the survivors of clerical sexual abuse. None of the Church’s efforts to address this crisis will be fruitful if they are not imbued with deep respect and true compassion for survivors along with an uncompromising commitment to truth and justice on their behalf.
Please join me in fasting and praying for our bishops as they gather for this most unique and very important retreat. Scripture tells us that some demons can only be conquered through prayer and fasting. Surely the demons of clerical sexual abuse are some of the worst imaginable and thus much prayer and fasting is in order. After the feasting of the recent holidays, many of us may be naturally thinking of cutting back as we begin the new year. Let us bring those efforts into the spiritual realm by offering our fasting to God along with our earnest prayers for our bishops.
During the course of this bishops’ retreat, we will celebrate the feast days of two saints with special ties to the United States: St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. John Neumann.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was born in New York City in 1774 and went on to live a life of heroic virtue as a wife, mother, widow, and founder of the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph. She and her Sisters laid the foundation of Catholic Education within the United States. Mother Seton was the first United States citizen to be canonized and her feast day is January 4th.
St. John Neumann was born in what is now known as the Czech Republic. At age 25, he came to New York and joined the Redemptorist Order several years later. He was an indefatigable missionary throughout New York, Ohio, Maryland and Virginia. St. John Neumann has special significance for our Buffalo Diocese as he founded and pastored several parishes within our region. Upon becoming bishop of Philadelphia, St. John Neumann established the first diocesan school system in the United States. He was the first male saint of the United States and is the only US bishop to be canonized. His feast day is January 5th.
Let us particularly pray to these two wonderful saints that they might intercede on behalf of our United States bishops during their retreat!
Another important saint’s feast day will be celebrated during this retreat: St. Raymond of Penafort. St. Raymond is the patron saint of canon lawyers and thus another significant intercessor at this time. In 1230, Pope Gregory IX called St. Raymond, a Dominican priest and contemporary of St. Thomas Aquinas, to the Eternal City and gave him a mammoth task. He was to assemble and organize all the laws and rules of the Church into one systematic collection! (I like to think that the expression on his face in this painting is very similar to the expression with which he received the Pope’s request: “You cannot be serious, Your Holiness.”) St. Raymond produced a 5-book collection that was the basis of the Church’s legal system for many centuries. His feast day is January 7th.
As you’ve likely realized over the past few months, canon law will play a significant role in the Church’s response to the clerical sexual abuse crisis. At the press conference at the start of the USCCB Assembly last November, Cardinal DiNardo noted that there were “some points in one or two of the documents where the canon law needed further precision.” The documents he was referring to pertained to the Code of Conduct for Bishops and the lay-led commission that the US Bishops planned to discuss and vote on during their assembly. Canon law is the ecclesiastical law that governs the Catholic Church and thus is an unavoidable element in the Church’s response to this crisis. We would do well to pray to St. Raymond since he is essentially the Father of Canon Law though not known as such formally.
There aren’t many prayers written specifically for bishops or at least not many that I am aware of or could locate. Here is one that I composed to be prayed just for our bishops during their retreat:
Good and gracious God, we seek your blessing upon our bishops as they gather for prayer and reflection during this time of crisis within the Church. Grant that they may be strengthened and healed by the power of the Eucharist they will celebrate and receive. May they likewise be strengthened by the time they will spend before the Blessed Sacrament. May the Gospel and Scriptures they meditate on give them courage and wisdom. Please send your Holy Spirit to enlighten and guide them during this time of retreat. Help them to be shepherds filled with conviction, courage and compassion. Mary, Mother of the Church, and Saint Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, pray for these shepherds of our Church within the United States. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. John Neumann, great saints of our nation, intercede for our bishops at this critical time. May their time of retreat bear much fruit for them individually and collectively for the renewal of our Church, the healing of survivors, the salvation of souls and the glory of God. Amen.
Bishop Malone (and Bishop Grosz) will be attending this retreat. Some people have asked me if it is difficult for me to pray for Bishop Malone. It is much easier to pray for him than it is to think of him or to recall difficult interactions or distressing memories. He may no longer be my boss, but he is still my bishop and thus I must pray for him. I particularly like this prayer of his patron, Saint Richard of Chichester:
Thanks be to you, my Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits you have given me,
for all the pains and insults you have borne for me.
O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother,
may I know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly, day by day.
I offer this prayer for Bishop Malone, for myself and for all of you that each day of 2019 might bring us closer to Jesus.