APRIL 12, 2004




In His Light

by Bishop Allen H. Vigneron

Effective reform involves conversion and repentance

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

Once every five years each bishop of a diocese is required to make a pilgrimage to Rome in order to pray at the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul, to meet with the Holy Father, and to engage in consultations with the Pope’s closest co-workers who assist him by directing the offices of the his curia. This journey is called “the visit ad limina Apostolorum” – a journey to the thresholds (limina) of the Apostles.

The sense of this term is to point out that the bishop is making a sort of “home visit” to St. Peter and St. Paul – by communicating with them through devout prayer at the sanctuaries where their bodies rest until the final resurrection and by communicating with the man who, as the Bishop of Rome, continues to exercise their ministry in the Church until that Last Day.

This pilgrimage is a moment of special grace for manifesting and strengthening the communion that binds the diocesan bishop and the Church he leads with the Holy Father and the Church Universal.
A very important element of this experience is the Holy Father giving a specially composed message to the bishops as he meets them in a group after their individual audiences.

2004 is the year for the bishops of the United States to make our ad limina visits. We usually do them by geographic region. We bishops of California will be making our visit during the second week of May.
In fact, this set of visits by U.S. bishops has already begun. The bishops of Georgia, the Carolinas and Florida had their pilgrimage in the last days of March and the first days of April.

I have given you this background information because the message which Pope John Paul II gave to the bishops of Georgia, the Carolinas and Florida is the topic of my column this week.

In that talk the Holy Father indicated that he intends his remarks to form a coherent “series of reflections on the exercise of the Episcopal office in the light of the threefold munus [that is, “service”] by which the Bishop, through sacramental ordination, is conformed to Jesus Christ, priest, prophet and king” (Ad limina Address #1, 04.02.2004 sec. 5). His aim is to help us bishops to understand more fully the mystery that is the Church and to discern the pastoral challenges we face.

It is my intention to share each of these ad limina addresses with you by having them published in The Catholic Voice. The first address, from which I quoted just above, can be found on page 12.

Even under ordinary circumstances it would be worthwhile for all Catholics to know what the Pope thinks is of such importance that he needs to call it to the bishops’ attention.

However, as the Holy Father himself recognizes, these are not ordinary circumstances. Rather, he acknowledges that this is “a difficult time in the history of the Church in the United States” – a time “for rebuilding confidence and promoting healing between bishops, priests and the laity” in the wake of the “sexual abuse scandal of the past two years” (Address #1, sec. 1).

Pope John Paul II leaves us in no doubt about the path that will lead to the reconciliation and renewal he is prescribing for what ails the Church in America: “a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate and a holier Church” (Address # 1, sec. 1).

Effective reform can only come from interior renewal, from conversion from sin and turning back to obeying the Lord’s commandments. So, the first of our “marching orders” from our Holy Father the Pope is to recommit ourselves to putting off the ways of the old Adam and living the life of Christ in the Spirit.

In taking to heart the challenge of the Holy Father, I cannot help but think of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, which is the very means our Savior gave us to accomplish the goal the Pope says we must work for.

So, I intend to start a series of discussions with the consultative bodies of our diocese about how we can mobilize the resources of our local Church for the continued revitalization of the practice of frequent Confession. Peter, speaking through his Vicar John Paul II, has pointed out to us where we must begin. Now, we need to strategize about how to move forward on the path he has traced out.

I fully acknowledge that the Pope says the renewal of the Church in Oakland must begin with the reform of the Bishop of Oakland, that is, with me. If we are to become holier, I must become holier. It is my practice to see my spiritual father for direction and Confession frequently.

I am resolved to be more careful about being faithful to this commitment and to make the issue of my growth in holiness for the sake of our Diocese a regular theme of my dialogue with my confessor. I will begin again to follow Christ, so that I can lead you to Him.

I want to highlight here another significant point the Holy Father underscores in speaking about the way to that authentic renewal of the Church which will get us through this time of difficulty. The Pope reminds us that reform in the Church “calls for a constant reaffirmation of faith’s assent to God’s revealed word and a return to the sole source of all authentic renewal: the Scriptures and the Apostolic Tradition as authoritatively interpreted by the Church’s Magisterium” (Address #1, sec. 3).

In these words of Peter’s Vicar I find clear confirmation of my serious doubts about any group or movement that seeks to build up the Church while withholding assent from the Church’s teachings.

I urge you to read thoughtfully each of the Holy Father’s ad limina addresses to the U.S. bishops as they appear in The Catholic Voice. I know that he speaks in a style that is not always easy to follow, but prayerful consideration of what Christ is saying to us through His Vicar is well-worth the effort.

As I have done here, in my columns that will appear along with the rest of the Pope’s addresses, I will pick out some of the principal themes, and offer initial comments about how to respond to what the Holy Father is saying.
I am resolved to take the Holy Father’s wise counsel to heart in my ministry of shepherding and guiding the Diocese of Oakland. I intend to make his advice an agenda item for every meeting where that is appropriate, especially in my meetings with the consultative bodies of the Diocese.

I would be happy to hear from any of you about ways you think we can respond to the Holy Father’s words to the Church in the United States. Since Pope John Paul II is the principal steward of the inheritance of the Second Vatican Council, by this approach the Church in Oakland will continue to be a faithful offspring of that millennial event in the life of the Church.

And above all, please pray to Our Lady, the Mother of the Church, that she will obtain for us from the Holy Spirit the help we need to be faithful disciples of her Son in this time of challenge.

Let me conclude by calling our attention to the words of praise and encouragement for American Catholics which the Holy Father offered us in his first ad limina address: “I wish to reaffirm my confidence in the Church in America, my appreciation of the deep faith of America’s Catholics and my gratitude for their many contributions to American society and to the life of the Church throughout the world” (sec.4).

Truly this is the expression of our father in the faith. Let us take new heart from it.


Official newspaper of the Roman Catholic
Diocese of Oakland, California encompassing all of
Alameda &
Contra Costa counties.