The Archbishop of Liverpool has said that being a bishop is dangerous during the ordination of Mgr Marcus Stock as Bishop of Leeds.
Speaking during his homily at Mgr Stock’s installation Mass on Thursday, Archbishop Malcolm McMahon, said: “Being a Bishop is dangerous because it might go to your head.”
He continued: “More importantly, you could mistakenly lead the Church away from Christ – ‘God forbid,’ you might say, but a lot of well-meaning Bishops have done it in the past. Or, more likely, you might neglect yourself in serving others so that you can no longer serve them as best you can. But being a danger is not sufficient reason to refuse the office of Bishop – and thank God, for all of us, you didn’t. There is virtue in obedience, a lesson that you can only teach if you have learned it and practised it for yourself.”
Mgr Marcus Stock, former general secretary to the Catholic Bishops Conference for England and Wales, was ordained at a Mass at St Anne’s Cathedral on Thursday.
During his sermon, Archbishop McMahon said that the new bishop didn’t “do things by half.” He said: “famously he begins his day at 4.30 am – although I wouldn’t suggest getting into the habit of ringing Bishop’s House at that time of day – and everything he does is marked by a great sense of devotion and prayer, considerable thought and a real concern for others. Although he is hard on himself, he is always, unfailingly tender with others; this means that you can be sure he will never fall into the trap of being a dictator over the group which is put in his charge, but will always be an example that the whole flock can follow.”
The full text of Bishop McMahon’s homily is pasted below:
My dear friends in Christ and dear Bishop-Elect Marcus,
The great theologian St Augustine of Hippo tells us that being a Bishop is dangerous! That is quite shocking for someone who has responded positively to the Holy Father’s appointment as Bishop of Leeds – although I don’t suppose that Leeds is any more dangerous than any other diocese!
St Augustine was a good and holy Bishop – although, in fairness, it took him a while to get to that point! But when talking to his flock, he said:
When I am frightened by what I am for you, then I am con¬soled by what I am with you. For you I am the Bishop, with you I am a Christian. The first is an office, the second a grace; the first a danger, the second salvation. (Sermon 340.1)
So, Marcus, you are not going to get to heaven by being a Bishop; in fact – believe you me – there is very little advantage in it! You could say that it is all of the responsibility, with none of the fun – or at least not much of it.
Being a Bishop is dangerous because it might go to your head. More importantly, you could mistakenly lead the Church away from Christ – ‘God forbid,’ you might say, but a lot of well-meaning Bishops have done it in the past. Or, more likely, you might neglect yourself in serving others so that you can no longer serve them as best you can. But being a danger is not sufficient reason to refuse the office of Bishop – and thank God, for all of us, you didn’t. There is virtue in obedience, a lesson that you can only teach if you have learned it and practised it for yourself.
So why do we thank God today that you are embracing this danger which you are facing? Precisely because you will be a Bishop for others and not for yourself, so that the people whom God entrusts to your care today may experience the grace of salvation.
This is the third time that you will receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. In addition to the grace of service that you received as a deacon, and the grace of sanctification as a priest, you will now receive the grace of governance. You will not only be empowered by God through this sacrament to guide and shepherd the Church of Leeds as its Bishop, but you will share in the governance of the Universal Church as a member of the College of Bishops in communion with Pope Francis.
You will be wedded to this Diocese, as the Groom of the Bride, symbolised by the ring you will soon wear. You will be its teacher, as symbolised by your mitre; you will be its high priest, symbolised by the Oil of Holy Chrism poured on your head as once again you are consecrated to God’s glory; and you will be its shepherd, symbolised by the crozier, the shepherd’s crook, which you will carry – the Good Shepherd among Christ’s flock; the symbol of unity of Christ’s Body, the Church in all its beautiful, God-given diversity; with the people you will be a Christian, for them you will be their Bishop.
These symbols of episcopal authority which will be handed over to you will express the reality of the Ordination which, by then, you will have received; however, they should also act as a warning that you are to model your life and ministry on Christ, who laid down his life for his sheep. In God’s image and likeness you were made, in God’s image and likeness you must govern the holy Church of God.
And in this sacrament, you will receive the grace to steer your ship as a helmsman – that’s what the word governor means. The helmsman stands at the back of the vessel, using the tiller to steer the boat through rough waters and calm, to avoid grounding the vessel and the hidden rocks until it arrives safe in the harbour. Calmly and gently, passionately and faithfully, you are called to steer the Church of Leeds, guided by Christ’s light, into the waters that lie ahead.
Pope Francis reminds us frequently about the dangers of clericalism and other temptations, or dangers, that can be very real for the Church’s ministers. Not for us Christians is the secular model of power, with its ideologies and parties, with its factions and cynicism; the Lord was quite specific about this when speaking to the disciples in the passage from the Gospel we have just heard:
Among the pagans the rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. (Mt 20:25-26)
Rather, Marcus, if you are to be a good Bishop, you must do as Jesus did, and get on your hands and knees to wash the feet of those whom you serve – true greatness lies in humble service, for the glory of God and the good of our brothers and sisters. The ritual of Maundy Thursday is not an empty gesture, but an example for you to follow each and every day.
Another great theologian, the mediaeval Scholastic St Thomas Aquinas, describes a Bishop as a thing of beauty – I bet you never thought about yourself in this way! It may seem an odd turn of phrase, but he is saying that that the Church is not complete without her Bishops, and there is a lack of symmetry and order when a diocese doesn’t have a Bishop – there is something missing, because the Bishops, the Successors of the Apostles, are integral to the life of the Church on the universal and local level. This reflects the teaching of St Ignatius of Antioch back in the first century:
Let no one do anything connected with the Church without the Bishop. […] Wherever the Bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. (Epist. ad Smyrn. 9)
The Church gives worship and praise to God, and it does this better if it is complete: people, religious, deacons, priests and Bishop. Maybe that is why you have felt sad here in Leeds after two and a half years without a Bishop, and we are all grateful to Mgr John Wilson for holding the fort so ably since Archbishop Arthur left us for warmer climes.
Well, dear friends, now you have a Bishop who will make you beautiful again! To paraphrase the words of the Prophet Isaiah from the First Reading, the mourning robe has been exchanged for the oil of gladness, and despondency has given way to praise (cf. Is 61:3). After a long wait, there is one thing of which you can be sure: Pope Francis has given you a good man and a holy priest to be your Bishop. You have been given someone who will dedicate himself to the priests and people of the Diocese of Leeds wholeheartedly and without reservation.
Bishop-Elect Marcus doesn’t do things by half; famously he begins his day at 4.30 am – although I wouldn’t suggest getting into the habit of ringing Bishop’s House at that time of day – and everything he does is marked by a great sense of devotion and prayer, considerable thought and a real concern for others. Although he is hard on himself, he is always, unfailingly tender with others; this means that you can be sure he will never fall into the trap of being a dictator over the group which is put in his charge, but will always be an example that the whole flock can follow (cf. 1 Pet 5:3).
I know all this because I have worked closely with him in the field of Catholic education and in other areas of work for the Bishops’ Conference, and I am delighted that he has been appointed a Bishop in the Province of Liverpool. You will be truly blessed in him and by him; you must care for him, as he cares for you.
Marcus, keep Christ at the centre of your life, your ministry, your work, your everything. People are always asking for a holy Bishop – well, in you the Diocese of Leeds has got one, even though you may laugh at the idea! I say this because real holiness is rooted in Christ and expressed in doing the ordinary things of life well. You have always striven to do that – as a priest in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, as General Secretary to the Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales and now as Bishop of Leeds.
The task you are taking up today is not an easy one. You have been called by Pope Francis to move to a part of the country you do not yet know well, to a Diocese that you have only visited, to a Church which now has to get to know you. You have arrived here with much goodwill and have received the warmest of welcomes from your new flock, the priests, deacons, religious and people of Leeds, together with Bishop David and Archbishop Arthur, and I know that you will repay that throughout your ministry here. You can be sure of all of our prayers, today and every day.
No Christian should ever forget that in the seven sacraments of the new covenant God sanctifies us; he blesses us and gives us the grace that we need to fulfil the tasks to which he has called us. So, do not be afraid. Go forward, with faith in him who ‘came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mt 20:28), with hope ‘in the glory that is to be revealed’ (1 Pet 5:1), proclaiming ‘a year of favour for the Lord’ (Is 61:2) and singing for ever of his love (cf. Ps 88:2).