>Today the Church marks the Feast of Pope St. Martin I, one of the bravest pontiffs to ever sit in the chair of St. Peter. When the pope refused to follow certain overreaching dictates of the Byzantine Emperor, the latter sent troops to the Lateran and arrested him, taking Martin to prison in Constantinople and eventually exile in the region of the Black Sea, where he later died. He was not the first nor the last bishop in history to find himself isolated and alone for refusing to cave in to temporal authority.
During some excellent dinner-and-libations conversation last evening one of the gentlemen in attendance reiterated something those of my readers who are fellow Catholics have no doubt heard many times before: the bishops need our support. Yet beyond just the bricks and mortar issues, which is when most of us usually think about the bishops, it is important that we realize that their flock is a necessary source of encouragement for them, in a wider society containing elements that violently hate them. They are a group of prominent men suffering one of the greatest ironies of the contemporary, celebrity-based culture: they do not get a lot of fan mail – indeed, often quite the reverse.
What I want to encourage my readers to consider, as we approach the beginning of Holy Week on Sunday, is whether they could take the time to write just a brief note of encouragement to their local bishop – not to criticize, but to thank him for something good that he has done on behalf of his flock. Because of the high prominence of the Church doing Holy Week, the bishops in the larger cities always find themselves or their Holy Week services under attack from crazies on the Left. A lot of them will rise to the challenge, but they are human beings after all, not saints. They signed up for the job of pursuing their vocation, but that does not mean that they could not, from time to time, do with a little temporal encouragement, particularly under times of particular stress.
One aspect of being a courtier is to recognize that the mission of the Church must supported by those of us who are in positions to do so. Certainly financial donations help with expenses and projects, but there is an even greater thing that can be accomplished through the simply writing of a few lines. Supporting your local bishop and giving him a bit of encouragement, even if you disagree with him on a number of points, is a way of not only giving the bishop a break from the bad news and angry comments he is flooded with every day, but simultaneously gives you the opportunity to provide some comfort to and to engage in the encouragement of the highly important and far-reaching apostolate of another.
If of course you decide to send an Easter Card to your bishop, I would try to eschew what are really “Happy Vernal Equinox” cards with fuzzy ducklings and glittery rabbits. Yet given the selection available in most stores, you are probably just better off sending a plain letter or note card. Unless, of course, you know your bishop reasonably well and feel that he would see the humor in it.
I am very happy to let the bishops be bishops, for theirs is not a job that I, for one, would relish. But I am also happy to realize that, even as a single parishioner in one of the many parishes in his diocese, telling the bishop “thank you” for his service, or finding one good thing that he did and writing a few well-chosen and encouraging lines about it will mean a great deal. If people of good will who care about the Church can do some small thing like this for their bishop, whether at Easter or at other times of the year, I wonder whether there wouldn’t be even greater readiness on their part to challenge the evils of the anti-culture which face us.