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Bishop Skylstad's Address to U.S. Bishops' Fall Meeting

11/13/2007 - 07:55 PST

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"We Cannot Shrink From Our Calling to Be Shepherds, to Be Leaders"

BALTIMORE, Maryland, NOV. 13, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is the address delivered today by Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, president of the U.S. episcopal conference, to the opening session of the fall meeting of the U.S. bishops, being held in Baltimore through Thursday.

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Your Eminences and Excellencies, esteemed friends gathered with us this morning, brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus:

It was three years ago that I stood before you, my brother Bishops, humbled and with a bit less than fullness of undaunted courage. You had shortly before placed upon me your trust to serve as the President of our Conference of Bishops. Since then, each time I sat before you to chair our gatherings, I looked with admiration upon all the faces of you, the Bishops, the very force and life of this Episcopal Conference, keenly aware of the task of service I held in support of each of you and all of you. That has been a source of my daily prayers for our strength, prayers for patience for our weaknesses, but most of all prayers of thanksgiving for the grace and goodness that, from long experience, I know characterize this body.

Over the last three years, together, we have continued to live through challenging times in the life of the Church. Our religious liberty is constantly challenged and needs vigilant defense. Our voice for the unborn, the poor, the stranger, the abused -- for peace and for justice -- is strong, but not always welcome. Our commitment to evangelization and catechesis, so that our people lead lives faithful to all the moral teachings of the Church, confronts the material and spiritual challenges of our time. And our efforts to protect the young and defenseless entrusted to our pastoral care are needed now more than ever. Those challenges have been more than met by your support as a body of brother Bishops, by the experienced and prayerful advice of the various committees dealing with so many questions, and by the excellence of our wonderful staff.

For all of this, then, my desire this morning is to say, Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve as your President for the past three years. To serve you, especially in support of your ministry to God's people, has been an honor and a spiritual fulfillment.

As I complete my own service of leadership to this body, it seems to me that one of the great challenges to our society and culture is increasingly one of just that -- leadership. Or perhaps better said, it is a misunderstanding of the meaning of leadership: on the part of many who aspire to it, and also on the part of some who look for leadership. That is probably not a surprise. Leadership has taken a beating in recent years. Our collective history during the past few decades and years is one marked heavily by divisions. Our politics have been very closely contested, and the resulting bitterness has been palpable. In our age of exploding communications, the rhythm of discourse, of reflection, and of expression has heightened the scrutiny and sometimes the bitterness surrounding many issues and decisions. This, to be sure, is characteristic of both the left and right, believers and not. It has led to a conception of leadership in certain circles, not as a service to the common good, but as a means to victory and dominance. At times, those looking for leadership then become frustrated because their cause or issue is not advanced fully or given clean and total victory.

But here is precisely the paradox we face in our time. Today, Americans often have an image of leadership that equates it to power. We often hear calls in society for strong and decisive leadership. At the same time, however, there is resentment toward those who seem to "lord it over" others -- who use power and influence in a manner that conflicts with the strong current of individualism that characterizes our time and place. Still, the power of leadership is both a reality and a necessity.

And so, the questions for us as Bishops are these: What is the nature of our leadership and authority, and how do we exercise it? To answer, we must look to the true model of leadership: that of Jesus of Nazareth. And we must ask: how did Jesus lead? How did he use his authority? For us as Bishops, a deep and Christ-like vision of leadership must be at the heart of our service. Christ has called us, as successors of the Apostles, to be his voice in our time. And our time needs to hear the voice of Christ. The Old Testament reminds us of a basic truth: without a vision the people will perish (see Proverbs 29:18). That vision is Christ's. It is carried by the Church; and we, like Jeremiah, must cry out and not hold back. Indeed at a time like this it should be all so clear to us: We cannot shrink from our calling to be shepherds, to be leaders.

Of course the source of Christ's ...

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