First of all I would like to offer a couple of observations on how becoming a bishop has affected my relationship with my Redemptorist congregation.
A few months after I was ordained bishop, one of my Redemptorist confreres asked me how I was finding the transition from living in a Redemptorist community to living by myself as a bishop. Was I feeling removed from the congregation? My response was that I had visited Redemptorist communities a number of times over those months for the celebration of Redemptorist feast days and that I still felt very much at home with the Redemptorists. However there was a certain sense of detachment in that I was no longer attending chapters and no longer involved in the day to day discussions and decisions of the congregation. I summed it up by saying that I still felt very much a Redemptorist but without any particular responsibilities. My confrere then said: "A Redemptorist but without any particular responsibilities. That sounds like most of the confreres!"
More recently I have been reflecting further on my relationship with my Redemptorist congregation. The image that has come to my mind is the image of a grandfather. I see myself as something like a grandfather in relation to the congregation. I have great affection for the congregation. I love to join in Redemptorist family gatherings, but I don't have direct responsibility for the care of the congregation. My brother Maurie has nine grandchildren. He is a very devoted grandfather. He loves to spend time with all his grandchildren. But he realises that he doesn't have the primary responsibility for these little ones. That belongs to their mums and dads. Maurie can just enjoy being a kindly grandfather. I feel something like that in regard to the Redemptorists. The current leaders in the congregation are the ones with the direct responsibility for the congregation. I can be content with being like a kindly grandfather and offering the confreres encouragement in their community living and in their apostolic ventures.
So, this is how being a bishop has affected my relationship with my congregation.
How has being a Redemptorist affected my being a bishop? I believe my being a Redemptorist is influencing my ministry as a bishop very much.
In the Redemptorist Constitutions there is a paragraph that provides something of a picture of the ideal Redemptorist. This is the ideal that I have imbibed over my 46 years as a Redemptorist. Constitution 20 describes the ideal Redemptorist missionary in these terms:
"Strong in faith, rejoicing in hope, burning with charity, on fire with zeal, in humility of heart and persevering in prayer, Redemptorists as apostles and genuine disciples of Saint Alphonsus follow Christ the Redeemer with hearts full of joy; denying themselves and always ready to undertake what is demanding, they share in the mystery of Christ and proclaim it in Gospel simplicity of life and language, that they may bring to people plentiful redemption."
This is a description of the Redemptorist missionary. I read it now as a description of the Redemptorist missionary bishop.
There are elements in this description that would apply well to all bishops. "Strong in faith, rejoicing in hope, burning with charity, on fire with zeal, in humility of heart and persevering in prayer, bishops proclaim the gospel of Christ."
At the same time, there are elements that have a particular resonance with a Redemptorist approach to mission. The reference to Saint Alphonsus as a model. The reference to being ready to deny themselves and undertake what is demanding – this is an element that Saint Alphonsus emphasised for anyone thinking of being a Redemptorist. The reference to sharing the gospel in simplicity of life and language – a simple style of life and simple words – this is another point Saint Alphonsus emphasised. Finally, the reference to "plentiful redemption". This phrase is part of the Redemptorist motto: "With the Lord is plentiful redemption".
This paragraph from the Redemptorist Constitutions sums up much of my mission as a Redemptorist. As I read it now, it sums up much of my mission as a Redemptorist bishop. In this sense, my being a Redemptorist gives a particular colour to my way of being a bishop.
The final point I would mention is that my being a Redemptorist bishop has been helpful in a very practical sense in arranging collaboration between the diocese of Ballarat and the Redemptorists. We have recently welcomed four young Redemptorists to the Ballarat diocese. They are all fairly recently ordained as Redemptorist priests. The plan is that they will each spend the next twelve months in a parish in the Ballarat diocese as part of their introduction to priestly ministry. I see this as a blessing for our diocese, particularly for the four parishes where they will serve. I trust it will also be a blessing for the Redemptorists as these young members of the Congregation develop their skills in ministry with the assistance of the priests and people of these parishes. I believe that my being a Redemptorist has facilitated this collaboration between the Redemptorists and the diocese.
To sum up, my becoming a bishop has changed my relationship with my Redemptorist congregation, but I still feel very much a Redemptorist. My being a Redemptorist is influencing the way I am a bishop. I pray that I might truly be a Redemptorist missionary bishop, bringing people plentiful redemption.
Bishop Paul Bird CSsR