Volume > Issue > Bishops as Signs of Compassion, Fidelity & Contradiction

Bishops as Signs of Compassion, Fidelity & Contradiction


By Pope John Paul II | November 1983

The below constitutes an abridged version of the remarks Pope John Paul II made on September 5 in front of 23 U.S. bishops, then making their ad limina visit to the Vatican.


The experience of the whole post-conciliar life of the church confirms just how much the renewal willed by the Second Vatican Council depends on the ministry of bishops: on the way this ministry is conceived, on the way it is exercised. As bishops gathered collegially in the Holy Spirit, let us reflect together on certain aspects of this ministry of ours.

It is clear that the incarnational economy of salvation is continued through us as servant pastors chosen to lead God’s people to the fullness of life that exists in Jesus Christ, the incarnate word of God. To understand the church of the incarnate word, in which all grace is dispensed through the sacred humanity of the Son of God, is to under­stand how important it is for every bishop in his own humanity to be a living sign of Jesus Christ (cf. Lumen Gentium, no. 31). We who are invested with the mission of the Good Shepherd have to make him visible to our people. We must respond in a specific way to the cry that comes from every corner of the world: “We wish to see Jesus” (Jn. 12:21). And the world wants to see him in us.

Our effectiveness in showing Jesus to the world — the final effectiveness of all our pastoral leadership — depends to a great extent on the au­thenticity of our discipleship. Our own union with Jesus Christ determines the credibility of our wit­ness. Precisely for this reason we are called to ex­ercise prophetically the role of holiness: to antici­pate in our own lives that state of holiness to which we are striving to lead our people.

In order to be a living sign of Jesus Christ in holiness of life, we bishops experience the need for personal conversion — deep conversion. Sustained conversion, renewed conversion. And I, John Paul II, your fellow apostle and your brother bishop in the See of Rome, in order to be faithful to the full­ness of my mandate, to confirm my brothers (cf. Lk. 22:32) while being conscious of my own weak­nesses and sins, feel the need to speak to you about conversion — the conversion to which Jesus invited you and me. And you, on your part, in the name of Jesus, while still desiring ever greater per­sonal conversion, must call your people to conver­sion. No one of us is exempt from this call, this in­vitation, this summons to conversion that comes from the Lord Jesus. Only through conversion and the holiness of our lives can we succeed in being living signs of Jesus Christ. Our whole humanity will communicate Christ only if we live in union with him, only if, through conversion, we “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 13:14).

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