ROME, January 9, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – “What sort of man” must a bishop be? The kind of man who can face persecution without flinching, Pope Benedict XVI said at the Mass for the Feast of the Epiphany at St. Peter’s Basilica on Sunday.

At the Mass, the pope ordained four priests to the episcopate, one of whom is his close confidante and private secretary, Msgr. Georg Gaenswein.

“Inevitably,” the pope said, faithful bishops will be “beaten by those who live lives opposed to the Gospel, and then we can be grateful for having been judged worthy to share in the passion of Christ”.

The Pope’s comments follow his recent pattern of especially strong statements on Dec. 14, Dec. 21, and Jan. 7  in response to the increasing push for abortion, acceptance of homosexual behaviour and general fierce opposition to the Church’s moral teachings from both inside and outside the Church.

“Today’s regnant agnosticism has its own dogmas and is extremely intolerant regarding anything that would question it and the criteria it employs,” Pope Benedict said.

“Therefore the courage to contradict the prevailing mindset is particularly urgent for a Bishop today. He must be courageous.” Seeking the “approval of the prevailing wisdom,” he said, “is not a criterion to which we submit.”

“The courage to stand firm in the truth is unavoidably demanded of those whom the Lord sends like sheep among wolves,” said the pope. “The fear of God frees us from the fear of men. It liberates.”

Comparing bishops to the Magi who visited the Christ Child at Epiphany, the pope said, “These were also, and above all, men of courage, the courage and humility born of faith.” They probably attracted the scorn and ridicule of “the realists” for the quest to follow the star, he said.

“For them, seeking the truth meant more than the taunts of the world, so apparently clever,” Pope Benedict said. “How can we not think, in this context, of the task of a Bishop in our own time?”

In our times, bishops, like the Magi, must have courage “to grasp the meaning of the star as a sign to set out, to go forth – towards the unknown, the uncertain, on paths filled with hidden dangers.”

Anyone who “proclaims the faith of the Church” today will be “on many points out of step with the prevalent way of thinking.”

This courage, the pope said, does not consist “in striking out or in acting aggressively” but in “in allowing oneself to be struck and to be steadfast before the principles of the prevalent way of thinking”.

Recalling the reaction of the Apostles to persecution, he called for bishops and by extension all believers to “rejoice” when they are persecuted for their belief in Christ.

“The successors of the Apostles must also expect to be repeatedly beaten, by contemporary methods, if they continue to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that can be heard and understood. Then they can rejoice that they have been considered worthy of suffering for him.”

Pope Benedict’s admonition to bishops comes in the context of growing tension between Christian believers and secularist governments on one side, and growing pressure from extreme forms of Islam on the other. His homily echoed the comments made recently by two prominent Catholic leaders who warned that serious persecution is growing.

Last year, the recently appointed bishop of Glasgow, Scotland, Philip Tartaglia, surprised journalists by stating, “I could see myself going to jail possibly at some point over the next 15 years, if God spares me, if I speak out.” Though only appointed to his see in July, Bishop Tartaglia has already distinguished himself among the British Catholic establishment for boldly opposing the government’s plans to implement gay “marriage”. When the Scottish government announced its plans, Bishop Tartaglia warned it would have “enormous implications for religious liberty.”

“I am deeply concerned that today, defending the traditional meaning of marriage is almost considered ‘hate speech’ and branded intolerant. Such a response is undemocratic, closes debate and is highly manipulative,” he said.

In Chicago, Cardinal Francis George said in 2010 that, given the hostile direction the US government and society in general, “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.”

Commenting on the Obama administration’s health care mandate, Cardinal George said, “At the present moment, Catholics in this country are facing challenges to our institutional existence and our mission that we thought would never arise here…The laws that used to protect us are now being used to weaken and destroy us, and this quite deliberately.”

In addition to Msgr. Gaenswein, the pope also ordained as bishops Fortunatus Nwanchukwu, nuncio to Nicaragua and Nicolas Thevenin, nuncio to Guatamala. He raised Vincenzo Zani, the secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, to the rank of archbishop.

Sunday’s homily was followed up today by a message for the faithful on Twitter. @Pontifex tweeted, “May we defend the right of conscientious objection of individuals and institutions, promoting freedom and respect for all.” Pope Benedict’s Twitter feed has, at today’s count, 1,406,712 followers.

Read the full text of Pope Benedict’s homily here.

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