The Gospel narratives speak of Jesus being pursued by the crowd; responding to their questions, recognizing their needs, feeding them and – throughout – bearing witness to them. In none of these accounts is Jesus’ person or ministry compromised. We are nonetheless informed that Jesus withdraws from the crowd to be alone; doing so to pray. This withdrawal is presented to us as the means by which Jesus prepares himself to do the will of the father. There is no doubt that His authentic dedication to the will of the Father generated adverse reactions from those around him. One need only think of the displeasure occasioned by his association with outcasts and so called undesirables such as Zacchaeus and Mary Magdalene. Yet, Jesus was resolute; even in the face of rejection and death. The passion narratives relate the speed of His rejection.
In his sublime musical rendition of the St Matthew Passion, J S Bach portrays the crowds as almost schizophrenic. The shouting crowds move from praise to condemnation; not stopping for breath.
Those witnessing the events culminating in the resignation of Dr John McAreavey as Bishop of Dromore will also have been struck by the force of the criticisms and the speed of the outcome. Shortly before the announcement of his resignation –with immediate effect- the media reported the refusal of Catholic parents to permit the Diocesan Bishop to confer the sacrament of confirmation upon their children. His offence was seemingly that he had concelebrated with a priest then suspected of serious misconduct and, following the priests death, participated in the celebration of his requiem mass. It is not difficult to see why emotions were running high. At the time of his death, the priest had been convicted of sexual abuse against minors. There is no suggestion that Dr McAreavey has otherwise acted improperly.
Those familiar with Church history and/or doctrine will immediately recognise that the situation appears to be the product of a donatist mindset; one which contends that the priest must be faultless if his priestly ministry is to be effective. Others may recognise a more profound notion, namely: the idea that the deceased priest was beyond redemption and the forgiveness of God. St Paul repeatedly affirms that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Whether or not the deceased priest will enjoy forgiveness is a matter between him and God. There can, however, be no doubting that the teachings of the Second Vatican Council proclaim the Diocesan Bishop as acting in persona Christi. Unless the church’s teachings are to be reduced to the status of metaphor, this understanding of the Episcopal office imposes heavy responsibilities on Diocesan Bishops to care for all of those entrusted to their care. These obligations extend –paraphrasing the Fatima prayer- especially to those most in need of Christ’s mercy (i.e. all of us).