Reverend William Howard Bishop: Toward an Understanding of His Charism as Founder of the Glenmary Home Missioners
By Father Dan Dorsey
(Numbered notes, indicated in parenthesis, are listed at the end of this Web page.)
II. The Life of Father Bishop, 1915-1939 (con’t)
Father Bishop’s Faith, Vision and Spirituality
Looking back over the first twenty-four years of Father Bishop’s priesthood, we are now able to broadly outline his unique understanding of the Christian mystery and the various ways that his understanding was concretized in the action of his life. A passage from St. Matthew’s gospel highlights two images that characterize his understanding:
When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”(133)
The two images are those of the shepherd and the laborer. The central axis of Father Bishop’s faith-vision is Christ the Good Shepherd who longs for all to be a part of His fold and who sends laborers out to feed and gather the “harassed and helpless” sheep: “The Good Shepherd is known because it is he who has given his life for his sheep and who still continues to feed them to this day.”(134)
The presence and work of the Good Shepherd is continued by the Church, “For Christ came on earth to save men from the powers of darkness and He founded His Church to continue His work till the end of time.”(135) Father Bishop believed that the “modern day shepherds” were “the pope, bishops, and the priests”(136) and they were entrusted with “the key to the hearts of men. . .the key to world unity”(137) as they continued the Good Shepherd’s battle against Satan:
We may think of the Church on earth as the firing-line in the great battle against the world, the flesh and the devil.(138)
Father Bishop understood his priesthood, therefore, as a sacramental extension of the presence of Christ, who by virtue of his ordination had been called to labor in the fields, gathering in the harvest of the Good Shepherd:
The priest is an instance of the power of God to do so by means of men what men could never do themselves. . .after the ceremony of ordination he walks forth a leader among men. . .and the priest will see to it, no matter how weak he is, that his nets do not remain empty.(139)
A critical dimension of Father Bishop’s faith-vision is his profound grasp and understanding of the Good Shepherd’s love for all of the sheep with a special love and concern for those who are lost, those outside the fold, “the harassed and helpless”:
The shepherd whose sheep is lost leaves the ninety and nine and goes in quest of the one and there is more rejoicing in heaven, saith the Lord, over one sinner doing penance, than over ninety-nine who have lived a life of grace. And why? Because Christ came on earth to heal and to save every conversion, every return to faith and virtue means a telling victory over his enemy and ours.(140)
Those who labor in the harvest of the Good Shepherd are motivated by an authentic Christ-like love of their fellow men:
“If we truly love our fellow men with that super-natural love which God calls charity we should desire for him the greatest good that can come to him, eternal salvation.(141)
This authentic love impels the laborer to seek out those who are lost and “ravaged by the wolves of hatred and sin”(142) and to feed them with the Good Shepherd’s “flesh and blood in order that they may enjoy life everlasting.”(143)
The importance that Father Bishop placed on both the Church and conversion is pervasive throughout his writings and we must exercise caution in order to avoid a simplistic reduction of this usage to the prevailing ecclesiology of his time. On a deeper level this emphasis demonstrates an awareness of the poverty and hunger of humanity: the Good Shepherd is only “pearl of great value” which is worth striving for and He is the only one who can satisfy our hunger. Father Bishop saw the Church as the instrument and conversion as the means to bring all into the one fold of Christ:
Born Catholics do not realize the value of faith. Converts know what it means to be without it. . .it is a tremendous grace and gift. . . when we think of the unchristian world today-vast numbers outside the fold-the magnetic power of the Church-that she is still drawing, drawing men to herself, we ask ourselves: Is no Epiphany still going on?(144)
Father Bishop stresses the Church and “convert making” because the Church brings to the world and to the “harassed and helpless” sheep the one thing it lacks and cannot live without: “We have Christ with us every day. Should we not hesitate to show the world where he may be found?”(145) It is a mission in which all Catholics share:
But do you think, dear brethren, that only the priest can be a fisher of men? O, no. Every man can be an apostle tho he holds no commission from on high. Every man can be a preacher of the Word though he does not preach with his lips. . .God expects no less than this from every man and woman.(146)
The years 1917 to 1939 reflect how Father Bishop translated his understanding of the Christian mystery into the events of his life. His project to build a parochial school in Clarksville was directed to gathering and strengthening his Catholic flock against the “powers of darkness,” and also to bring back into the one fold those who had “fallen-away.”(147) His participation in the N.R.L.C. demonstrates a concern not only for the members of his congregation but also for those living in the rural sections throughout the United States. Constantly searching for new answers and approaches, he sought to bring to these people “the bread that will not perish.”(148) Those who were members of the flock, those who were already fed, Father Bishop encouraged to participate in the missionary effort of the Church.(149) His activity on behalf of the Good Shepherd reaches a plateau when he established a missionary society which had but one purpose: to feed those lost sheep who were hungering for the truths of the Gospel.(150)
133) Matt. 9:36-8.
134) Sermon, Second Sunday after Easter, “I am the Good Shepherd.” March 28, 1915, p. 3.
135) Sermon, Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, untitled, delivered in 1916 or 1917, p. 1.
136) Sermon, Second Sunday after Easter, op, cit., p. 2.
137) Sermon, Pentecost Sunday, “Miracle of Pentecost,” delivered in 1916 or 1917, p. 1.
138) Sermon, Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, “Communion of Saints,” October 29, 1916, p. 1.
139) Sermon, Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, untitled, July 9, 1916, p. 2.
140) Sermon, Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, untitled, delivered in 1916 or 1917, p. 4.
141) Sermon, Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, op. cit., p. 5.
142) Sermon, Second Sunday after Easter, op. cit., p. 3.
143) Sermon, Corpus Christi, untitled, delivered in 1916 or 1917, p. 2.
144) Sermon, First Sunday after Epiphany, untitled, January 7, 1917, p. 1.
145) Sermon, Second Sunday after Easter, untitled, April 22, 1917, p. 1.
146) Sermon, Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, op. cit., p. 4.
147) Cf. Diary, March 24, 1922.
148) Cf. Landward, vol. 3, no. 3, autumn 1935, p. 12; vol. 4, no. 2, summer 1936, p. 4.
149) Cf. The Little Flower, vol. 2, no. 1, April 1927, p. 8.
150) Cf. William Howard Bishop, “Plan for an American Society. . .,” op. cit., p. 1.