Addressing bishops from the ecclesiastical provinces of Baltimore and Washington who end their ‘ad limina’ visit today, the Holy Father underscored the pursuit of personal holiness as the first duty of a bishop and key which enables him to fulfill his ministry and build up the Church.
“The pursuit of personal holiness must be central to the life and identity of every Bishop. He is to recognize his own need to be sanctified as he engages in the sanctification of others,” said the Pope. “Each Bishop stands in the place of Christ himself and acts in his person” and thus is called to conform his heart in charity “to the heart of Christ in a sacrificial love for the Church and all her members.”
The bishop is called to serve as “a herald of the Gospel, a steward of the mysteries of God, and the spiritual father of the flock entrusted to his care.” The task set before bishops is to see that "the life of every Christian and all the structures of the Church must be clearly ordered to the pursuit of holiness.”
The Holy Father said that the “unifying principle of the Bishop’s ministry will be his contemplation of the face of Christ and his proclamation of his Gospel of salvation: a dynamic interplay of prayer and work which will spiritually enrich both his outward activity and his interior life.”
He emphasized the need for the bishop’s prayer life to be nourished by recourse to the sacrament of penance, the Liturgy of the Hours, and the Eucharist, "not only when he stands before the People of God as sacerdos et pontifex, but also by spending a fair amount of his time in adoration before the tabernacle."
Commenting on the need for the bishops to give testimony to their sacrificial service to the Church, the Pope stressed the importance of adopting “a lifestyle which imitates the poverty of Christ.”
“The great challenge of the new evangelization to which the Church is called in our time requires a credibility born of personal fidelity to the Gospel and the demands of Christian discipleship,” he said.
The Holy Father expressed the hope that his reflections will become part of the bishops’ personal meditation will help them in building up the Church in the United States.
John Paul II concluded by recalling America’s “outstanding model of episcopal sanctity in Saint John Neumann, whose life was spent in generous and unassuming service to his flock,” and commending the bishops present to his intercession.