True father to his flock

Today, 13 Mar 2012, is the day the Church remembers St Ansovinus of Camerino, a holy Italian bishop who ministered in the first part of the 9th century. He is particularly invoked when crops need protecting, although it seems he went out of his way to protect everyone who was entrusted to his care.

Camerino, Italy is a regional centre to the east of Assisi, and it was there that St Ansovinus was born. What happened in his childhood is a mystery, but he must have received an education sufficient for him to have been ordained a priest. The reality of God’s love must have truly captured his heart, because he left his home land and travelled to Torcello and near there began to live the life of a hermit. Torcello is an island of Venice. After growing in holiness through prayer, solitude, poverty and spiritual battle, the good Lord determined that Ansovinus was needed as a holy witness to the secular world. When God makes miracles happen after you intercede before Him, people take notice and spread the word far and wide.

In those days the emperors and rulers were quite smart, and made sure that instead of pollsters and spin-doctors they had people of true holiness near them. These they regularly consulted because someone close to God is filled with heavenly wisdom. An arrangement like this would be very beneficial to the ruler or emperor, but would have been a great trial to the subject who wanted to seek God and God alone. So when Emperor Louis the Pious heard about Ansovinus he appointed the latter as his confessor.

Again, back in those days, there was a great effort made to seek out truly holy men and to constrain them to accept episcopal responsibilities, which is why monasteries were seen as training places for wise and holy leaders. When the bishopric of Ansovinus’ home town became vacant, the Emperor wanted to get Ansovinus appointed as the next bishop. The man of God was not interested. The average emperor is not used to getting refusals, so he tried more persuasive methods. To obtain agreement from Ansovinus, the Emperor promised that the new bishop would not ever have to act as a recruitment officer for the imperial army. Already Ansovinus was thinking of the welfare of the families to be placed under his care; absent conscripted fathers are not good for them.

Those who are unwilling to accept the office of bishop often prove to be excellent choices for that role. And so it was with Ansovinus. He was wise. He was prudent. He was generous in almsgiving to the needy. It is quite probable that he had the gift of healing and the gift of miracles. At least once when there  was a famine, bishop Ansovinus prayed and God filled the empty granary with grain to feed the poor. For St Ansovinus’ intercession to be invoked for the protection of crops tends to imply that when adverse weather conditions approached he prayed from his heart for the welfare of his people and the weather conditions eased and didn’t destroy the crops that had been threatened.

Towards the end of his life Ansovinus was called to Rome for inevitable meetings in 840. While he was there he took sick with fever and realised that his days were numbered. Despite his ill health he hurried back to his flock, just in time as it turns out for him to invoke a last blessing upon the people of the diocese and to receive holy Communion for the last time. 

Ansovinus loved his flock and cared assiduously for them, modelling himself upon the great love that Jesus the Saviour had for each and every one of them.

Whether you are fortunate to have a local bishop as extraordinarily good as Ansovinus or someone who seems to have lost the Gospel plot, or anything between those two extremes, it makes sense right now to start praying for whoever will be his successor. Sudden changes of bishop are not uncommon, and it is true that we get the bishop we pray for. To explain that a little: some time ago now I visited Wollongong diocese, for some reason, in the interregnum period where their bishop had retired and they were awaiting a new one. They didn’t just wait, at every Mass they also prayed that God would grant them a wise and holy bishop. Answered prayer came in the appointment of Bishop Philip Wilson. Soon after his appointment they had a Marian Congress and Eucharistic Adoration was greatly encouraged. He was so good that after a few very spiritually fruitful years in Wollongong they made him Archbishop of Adelaide and then the President of the Australian Catholic Bishop’s Conference. Our local diocese did not storm heaven with prayers that we be granted a wise and holy bishop, and so we received someone lesser.

Whoever the priest or current auxilliary bishop is who will succeed your local bishop, he needs your prayers right now. Prayers begging the Lord to grant him graces of deeper conversion. Prayers asking the Blessed Trinity to prepare him well for his future ministry. Prayers to win him the grace to say ‘yes’ to God’s call when it comes. One relatively easy way of doing this is to add a short mental prayer when that point in the Eucharistic Prayer comes to pray for your local bishop. “and for …….. our Bishop, dear Lord please guide, direct and convert Bishop ……. and all of his successors more and more deeply to You.’

St Ansovinus, please pray for us and for all bishops of rural communities.

St Ansovinus, please pray for all bishops and their successors that they may truly be fathers to the flocks of souls that are ( and will be) entusted to their care.