Two Key Tasks Await the Next President of the U.S. Bishops

The next president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will be elected at the upcoming fall general assembly (November 14-17. (CNS Photo/Bob Roller)


When considering a name for our firstborn, my wife and I faced a dilemma: we liked the name Frederick, but couldn’t think of a well-known saint that we could reliably claim. to be his patron-name (claiming the global stupor for inspiration seemed to border literally and figuratively on heresy). After a little research on the internet, I came across St. Frederick, a ninth-century bishop of Utrecht in what is now the Netherlands.

According to William of Malmsbury’s account, St. Frederick was stabbed to death by hitmen after celebrating Mass, martyred because of his frequent public denunciations of the Carolingian Empress Judith’s extramarital affairs. Not exactly the stuff of children’s book hagiography, but he was a bishop, a martyr and a saint. Saint Frederick of Utrecht would do.

It is, God willing, unlikely that the next president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who will be elected at the upcoming fall general assembly (November 14-17), will face such opposition. violent than St. Frederick. Nevertheless, whoever is elected, he will face a formidable set of challenges well known to readers. As the Barque of St. Peter navigates the growing swell of modern culture, I would like to ask two additional questions for the discernment of the next President of the American Episcopal Conference, corresponding to two axes of the Church today: lay leadership and participation in the Church, and the vital work of Eucharistic revival.

What does lay participation really mean?

The Second Vatican Council’s affirmation of the “universal call to holiness” and its emphasis on greater lay participation in the life of the Church encouraged a great outpouring of lay energy in favor of the ‘Church. The recent and ongoing Synod of Bishops on Synodality has continued the conversation on this important issue.

For example, the recent synod working document asks: “Many groups would like to see greater lay participation, but the leeway is not clear: what concrete tasks can lay people do? How does the responsibility of the baptized relate to that of the parish priest? The document continues: “When it enters into the concrete life of the Church, the theme of ministeriality inevitably encounters the question of its institutionalization. This raises the question of the structures through which the life of the Christian community unfolds.


You can watch the live stream of the USCCB General Assembly, Nov. 14-17, by visiting:

On the one hand, these are reasonable questions and concerns. The day-to-day activity of the “institutional” Church consists of the work of priests and bishops — the administration of the sacraments, the management of the Church’s finances, goods and social services, and the pastoral work of conducting the herd. What is the reasonable place of the laity in these activities?

At the same time, these questions miss a substantial part of how lay people see their role in the Church, especially in America, where lay people are already busy starting and developing Catholic organizations that advance the fundamental work of the Church to proclaim the Gospel of Christ to the world.

In well-meaning deliberations and initiatives, church leaders may default to assuming that lay participation in the church means lay involvement in formal church structures, hierarchies, and ministries emanating from parishes and chanceries. . And although I have known a fair number of lay people who bring their enormous gifts of faith and leadership to the Church in this way – serving on parish councils, leading religious education, volunteering in some number of capacities – many dynamic lay people participate in and lead Catholic organizations that exist outside the ecclesial structures of the Church.


Franco Watts, a missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, or FOCUS, prays the rosary at the University of Mary in Bismarck, ND, June 13, 2018. (CNS Photo/Grant Whitty, courtesy FOCUS)

Catholic evangelical organizations such as FOCUS; academic institutes such as the Lumen Christi Institute, the Collegium Institute, the da Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture, the McGrath Institute for Church Life and the Portsmouth Institute for Faith and Culture (which I direct as an apostolate of two Benedictine abbeys and their affiliated school); classical Catholic schools, often founded, staffed and run by lay people; lay Catholic teachers and campus pastors working in parochial or diocesan schools; professors teaching and researching in Catholic and secular universities; lay-run Catholic colleges like the University of Dallas, Wyoming Catholic College, Thomas Aquinas College, Thomas More College, Magdalen College, and Christendom College; lay members of the boards of Catholic schools and colleges; benefactors who support Catholic organizations and charities; lay-run Catholic publishing houses like Ignatius Press, Cluny Media and OSV; magazines from the Commonweal to the Catholic Herald to The Lamp owned and run by lay people; Catholic authors and journalists; even vibrant ministries led by Catholic priests and prelates, such as Word on Fire and the Thomistic Institute, which rely heavily on lay staff and donor leadership; and last but not least, moms and dads raising their children in the Faith: all of these and many more are examples of existing lay leadership and participation in the Church.

Rather than asking, therefore, how to encourage lay people to participate in the life of the Church, the incoming President of the USCCB could rather ask: how can the episcopal structures of the Church support, encourage, collaborate and rely on these lay people? directed Catholic institutions, which are already part of the life and leadership of the Church?

How can the Church encourage a Eucharistic imagination in young people?

Once, while on vacation, I attended Mass at a parish in Hanover, New Hampshire, with my wife and two young children. While the priest was consecrating the Eucharist and drinking from the chalice, one of my sons, who was 4 years old at the time, whispered in a mixture of shock and fascination: “He drinks the blood!

The National Eucharistic Revival is one of the most exciting initiatives of the Church today, precisely because it represents an enormous opportunity to invite all people – practicing Catholics, ex-Catholics, non-Catholics – to deepen the Catholic faith and dating may not be entirely different from what my son experienced during this Mass. The announcement made by Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, outgoing president of the bishops’ conference, at the start of the eucharistic revival beautifully captures the movement’s goal of “restoring the vision of the Eucharist to the heart of Catholic identity and our experience as disciples of Jesus Christ.

There is no doubt that Eucharistic renewal emphasizes confidently proclaiming the truth of the Eucharist, not only to non-Catholics, but also to Catholics who often do not know what the Church teaches. on actual presence. Anecdotally, this focus is already working: a close family member of mine has renewed and grown in his Catholic faith through the teaching of Bishop Robert Barron on the Eucharist through his Word on Fire ministry.

And while clear teaching on the Eucharist is much needed, so are deep and meaningful experiences of the “mystery of the Eucharist,” as Bishop Gomez wrote.


John Fiene, 11, a member of St. Edwards Parish, Lowell, Ind., prays before the Eucharist during the children’s holy hour at his church. (Northwestern Indiana Catholic photo by Karen Callaway)

This is especially needed among young people – children the age of my young children, but also up to the age of the high school students I teach. As captivating as TikTok and Instagram can be, young people I know use it with a certain irony. They know it’s trivial and silly and they’re wasting too much time using it, but there are too few meaningful experiences to capture their attention otherwise. On the contrary, one of the most moving experiences of my adult life was to attend Eucharistic adoration at a FOCUS SEEK conference, where more than 10,000 teenagers and young adults knelt in a reverence silent and humble before the Eucharist.

The mystery of the Eucharist is precisely the kind of transcendent experience for which our young people yearn – and not just to learn the logic of transubstantiation (as important as that may be) but to be invited into awe, majesty and the sanctity that the Eucharist is in itself, through Eucharistic devotions and respectful celebrations of the liturgy.

So, as the Church continues its national Eucharistic revival and considers initiatives to refocus the Eucharist in the lives of the faithful, what can the Church do to facilitate these deep, meaningful, and mysterious experiences of the Eucharist for young people? Whether it is opportunities for Eucharistic adoration in parishes and schools, clear and confident teaching about the Eucharist, pilgrimages to sites associated with the Eucharist, stories of saints transformed by Eucharist and stories of Eucharistic miracles, we have such a rich treasure of Eucharistic life to invite young people to experience.

And, despite the challenges facing the Church today, the Eucharistic Renewal represents an exciting opportunity to witness to the richness of the Faith – an opportunity that whoever the new USCCB President will do its possible to exploit.

Christopher Fisher is Executive Director of the Portsmouth Institute for Faith and Culture and a teacher in the Department of Humanities at Portsmouth Abbey School, a Roman Catholic and Benedictine boarding school in Rhode Island.

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