To be called to be a bishop,
is to be called
to follow more closely
the footsteps of the apostles.
The vocation to be a Bishop in the Catholic Church, is a very particular call. The Bishop is called to be the leader and pastor of his people. It is a special vocation because a man cannot "discern" that he is called to become a bishop... he is called forth by the Church to be a bishop. In one way, it is the fullest obedience to accept to become a bishop.
Every bishop will tell you of the moment he received his call to be a bishop.
It will have stamped itself on his memory, never to be forgotten.
Unlike most callings that others receive to serve God in his church
this one comes out of the blue and isn’t the result of a process
of discernment or preparation, at least by the new bishop.
After the initial shock I felt a sense of relief because this call or vocation
was clear and came, via the papal nuncio, from the highest authority
on earth. It had nothing to do with my feelings or what I wanted out of
life. There was also little prospect of refusing the call unless I was hiding
a serious illness or something that would hurt the church.
The only response I could make was, ‘Yes’. It was clear that God was
calling me personally to a particular ministry.
Although I joined the Dominicans after a very short few months of discernment, and I had received positive votes from my brethren through novitiate, profession and ordination there remained for me an element of doubt. This was my weakness which I lived with for many years.
Is this really what God wants me for? I coped with this by throwing myself into the work the order asked me to do, and I found fulfilment and happiness. Looking back, I can see that being a Dominican is what God wanted of me. Stepping aside from the everyday life of a Dominican as a bishop has brought this into even sharper focus.
One of the many gifts I received from the order was to develop an inner freedom which didn’t tie me to a place or a particular work. There is no stability in Dominican life, and this is a literal fact. The answer to the question regarding the difference between a friar and a monk, is that friars do not take a vow of stability unlike monks. My call to be a bishop meant I had to move away from the order and to live a life without the support of living in community. In canon law, I am still a Dominican and I am who I am because I was formed by the various communities in which I lived. Thankfully, the priests, religious and people of the dioceses I have served have filled the gap through their friendship, prayers and good humour.
I have learnt much from them since I have been a bishop, but one thing stands out and that is a deeper awareness of the vocation of the baptised. The universal call to holiness took on a new meaning for me when I saw it in action in the lives of people. The Latin word for bishop can also mean ‘overseer’. One of the graces of a being a bishop is being is to have that overview of the church. No longer do I see things from my own narrow perspective but because of the many people I meet and get to know, the contact I have with them in their joys and sufferings, and the life which they live in the spirit of God, my eyes have been opened.
Archbishop Malcolm McMahon OP