Throughout their ministry's ups and downs, bishops can draw encouragement from St. Paul, said Bishop Michael C. Barber of Oakland, California.
After reaffirming their unity in the church at the tomb of St. Peter, the bishops were renewing their mission "to go out to the ends of the earth and preach the Gospel" by gathering and praying at the tomb of St. Paul, the bishop said during his homily Jan. 31 at Rome's Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.
Bishop Barber was the principal celebrant and homilist as the bishops of California, Nevada and Hawaii celebrated Mass at the basilica as part of their "ad limina" visits Jan. 27-31 to report on the status of their dioceses.
After their last Mass together in Rome, he said, bishops from U.S. Region XI will now "go forth to do the same" as many before them did: "Preach the Gospel to those who may have never considered it and to reclaim those who have fallen away from Christ and his church."
"It's a pretty tall order," Bishop Barber said. "It is fearful, and it is difficult and it is exasperating."
"I don't know about you, but I need some encouragement. And I draw great encouragement from St. Paul," he said.
"I've made a little reader's guide to St. Paul for us bishops," said Bishop Barber, who recalled the way some Protestant missionaries would distribute a small card to help people find an appropriate Bible verse to read whenever they were feeling a particular way, like when they were happy or sad.
Bishop Barber listed a string of scenarios and feelings a bishop might face and offered a corresponding verse from St. Paul's many letters, offering the apostle's wisdom and encouragement.
"When we don't see the results of our programs and plans," he said, "we can hear Paul say, 'Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.'"
"When we are depressed," he said, St. Paul talks of carrying Jesus' death in his body "so I can carry his resurrection."
"When we feel inadequate to the task," he said, St. Paul explained "when I am weak, then I am strong, for then I can feel Christ's power working in me."
"When we are criticized in the press," remember that St. Paul declared, "Now, I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake," he said, and "when we're summoned to appear in court to clean up a mess we did not create," St. Paul says, "I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I that lives, but Christ living in me."
When afraid to speak out because of a fear of criticism, St. Paul says to preach the word and be persistent whether it's convenient or not.
And "when our prayers have been answered and a 1 million-dollar check arrives in the mail," he said to laughter, St. Paul says, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again, rejoice."
But if "all these things happen to you on the same day," he added, "and we wonder if we can go on, I hear St. Paul, 'I can do all things through him who strengthens me.'"
Bishop Barber said, the bishops, like St. Paul, have the same mission to preach the Gospel, "and we have the same Lord who loved me and gave himself for me."