Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

From the Diocesan Administrator
'Sede vacante'

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the December 18, 2014 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Michael Savelesky Over the years whenever the Communications Office has conducted a readership survey of the Inland Register, our diocesan news magazine, respondents are asked to identify which articles or columns they read most regularly. The Bishop’s Column consistently is identified as the most frequently read. And that is as it should be. The Office of Bishop anchors the diocesan Church. His governance and oversight in preaching, teaching and sanctifying is of paramount importance.

A glance at this issue of the Inland Register finds here on page 5 a “Sede Vacante” sign posted, as it were, where Bishop Cupich’s column has appeared in each and every issue of the IR for the past four years – as well as those of his predecessors, Bishops Skylstad, Welsh and Topel.

The experience of sede vacante (Latin for “empty seat”) technically references the fact that there is no bishop in place to sit in his chair, or cathedra, in the mother church of the diocese. The Diocese of Spokane is without a bishop, and (quite appropriately for this season of Advent) we wait in silence; we wait in hope.

In the meanwhile, the local Church is governed by a Diocesan Administrator elected by the body that now collaborates with him as advisors, the College of Consultors. Ever since my election to this role last month, I have counted on them, as well as on the prayers pledged to support me. Please pray for me, and for the Consultors, that we be open to God’s wisdom as we guide the Spokane Diocese until we receive our new bishop. The process is in motion for making the selection. So every morning when I arrive at the Catholic Pastoral Center, the first thing I do is make a trek to the bishop’s office to see if anyone is sitting at the desk. Like the chair at the cathedral across the street, this one, too, remains unused and empty.

Past issues of the Inland Empire Catholic Messenger, predecessor to the Inland Register, record that the Diocese of Spokane experienced sede vacante between December 1925 and February 1927. Between Bishop A.F. Schinner and Bishop Charles D. White, the Very Reverend W. J. Metz served as diocesan administrator. Let us all hope and pray that our next bishop is appointed in far less time!

Our current experience of sede vacante – for however long it may last – is unusual and it carries with it a sense of loss, absence, and longing for completion. The ecclesial context is not the only circumstances in which we can experience such a phenomenon. Often, empty chairs evidence empty hearts in a home where a loved one has died, a son or daughter has moved off to college or university, or a father or mother is away on a business trip. There is just something missing.

In all settings, the experience is in unsettling. How we individually and collectively address such a situation carries its own blessing. The situation in the Diocese at the moment gives us such an opportunity. A diocese needs a bishop, a chief shepherd, as much as the bishop himself needs us, the priests and laity who serve the mission of the Church in union with him. As much as the nature of our Catholic identity and the succession of the Apostles anchors our faith, the empty chair is a stark reminder that the mission of Christ does not start or stop with the person who sits in the chair. Ministry and mission are not a popularity contest. The Sacrament of Holy Orders expressed in fullness in the office of bishop is fundamental to the local Church, but the mission of the Body of Christ continues with or without him, in a very real sense. Have we not heard, time and again, the fundamental teaching of the Second Vatican Council that all the people of God – clergy and laity alike – share a common responsibility for the preaching, teaching and sanctifying ministry of the Church? Are not each of us anointed with Sacred Chrism at baptism and minded of our dignity as priests, prophets and kings? We may be waiting in silence and hope for a new bishop, but our waiting is not void and without focus; it does not lack purpose and an inherent call to responsibility for the life of the Church.

Our sede vacante circumstance reminds me of a phrase my mother used when she and Dad had to be gone from our home: “When the teacher is out of the classroom, the spit wads fly?” Slightly raising the pitch of her voice, she always punctuated the statement with an obvious question mark. We had a choice to make. We knew what she meant. How we carried out our responsibilities in their absence would be the real test of our maturity and sense of collective care for the household. It would give evidence of how much we cherished being a family which respected and cared for one another and worked together for the good of all. The reminder: Mom or Dad should not have to be present to ensure that the chores were done, that homework was completed, and that family life carried on in a loving and balanced manner.

The image comes to mind as our diocese experiences this period of absence. The hidden blessing of this time can well be a summons to greater and even more focused responsibility for what has been entrusted to us. The mission of the Church continues while we wait for a chair to be filled. That is one of the strong elements of our Catholic tradition. The pastoral life of the Church continues in our parishes, and the sacraments will continue to provide encounters of grace. The administrative needs of the diocese will continue to be addressed. That is the test of our maturity and sense of ownership of the Church we love and the mission of Christ we embrace.

This time of sede vacante is also a test of our practical commitment to the financial needs of the Church. There may be a tendency to hold back on our giving while there is no identifiable episcopal leadership in place. But we need to keep in mind, for example, that our contributions to this year’s Catholic Charities Christmas Collection and the 2015 Annual Catholic Appeal in the New Year are gifts to the mission of the Church, not so much a vote on its leadership. The needs of the mission of Christ continue to challenge each of us, even I write these words. They will continue to summon us to shared responsibility long after a chair at the cathedral church is occupied symbolically. How we meet this present experience as a Catholic family may be the most challenging test of our maturity and sense of mission.

This is Advent. We do wait in silence and hope as we prepare for the festivities of Christmas. May all the blessings and peace promised us in the son of Mary be with us all. During this sacred season – and always – may we support one another with prayer, good will, and renewed commitment to the mission of the One whose birth occupies our hearts this time of year.

God bless!

(Father Savelesky serves as administrator of the Spokane Diocese.)

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