A Watchman for the House of Israel


This week I am energetically wrapping-up my book about Archbishop Jean Jadot, Apostolic Delegate to the United States from 1973 to 1980. He was a great man and a very good and supportive friend. Many people are surprised that my book (which the Archbishop asked me to write) did not come out years ago. Frankly the Archbishop had me promise that the book would not appear until after his death and that of some other bishops. In any event, it goes to Paulist Press in September and the tentative title is: Pope Paul’s Man in Washington.

Today I am reprinting excerpts from Archbishop Jadot’s bicentennial address to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in November 1976. Not for a bit of nostalgia, but by way of a reminder: Sometimes the authorities are deaf and blind to what the prophets are saying. When that happens, the People of God have to get their act togerher and start moving………As Jadot’s old friend Cardinal Cardijn said: we observe, we judge, and then we must act.

With the Detroit, October 1976, Call to Action, still buzzing in their heads, the US bishops gathered for their autumn meeting in Washington DC from November 8 to 11. At this meeting, on November 9, Archbishop Jadot gave his bicentennial address to the US bishops, “A Watchman for the House of Israel,” which Jadot saw very much in the spirit of the Detroit Call to Action:

On the third of September we commemorated Pope Saint Gregory the Great. The Office of Readings in the new and inspiring Liturgy of the Hours offered us a meditation taken from a homily by this Doctor of the Church, who is rightly considered as an outstanding example and teacher for all pastors.

Saint Gregory took as his text the words of Ezekiel: “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel.” He tells us: “Note that the man whom the Lord sends forth as a preacher is called a watchman. A watchman always stands on a height so that he can see from afar what is coming. Anyone appointed to be a watchman for the people must stand on a height for all his life to help them by his foresight….”

If Saint Gregory were speaking in our days, he would perhaps refer to radar, satellites, and computers. Our knowledge of history – the “magistra vitae” as Pope John called it – the insights coming from the modern sciences of psychology, ethnology, and sociology; our means of communications, all give us the possibility to see further and wider into the future than ever before….

Now is the time to look ahead. Just as we can look at the sky at night and tell what the morning will bring, so we must be able to read the signs of the times to prepare for the future. (Cf. Mt. 16:2-3)

This morning my brother bishops, I would like to share with you some of the signs that I read in our times so that we can see from afar and be prepared for what is coming.

One problem that we will have to face very soon — at most within ten years – is the shortage of priests. I ask your permission to be frank and candid. I am worried that so many of us — laity, clergy, and bishops – do not seem to be concerned that, if not today, then in a very few years, we will not be able to staff our parishes and institutions with priests as we did in the past….In some regions priests are dying in their 50s from overwork. Others are chronically tired and frustrated because they cannot accomplish by themselves what several priests together accomplished in the past. I am deeply convinced that we must seriously study the problem. When I say “we” I mean bishops and priests, religious and laity, all together. There are solutions open to us if we set priorities….

Another problem ahead of us which will grow in the coming years is the size of our Christian communities. The Synod of Bishops in 1974 showed that there is a general move within the whole Church to seek smaller communities….Last year Bishop Ottenweller spoke to us about the problem of parishes that are not responding to the expectations of many Catholics. People today, and especially young people, are searching for a group in which they can find a true communion of faith, of worship, and of commitment. Many are suffering from a certain feeling of loneliness. They experience a need to identify with others who share their yearning for a more communal life. They are looking for a truly spiritual community which will have Christ as its center and the Church as its framework. Again, I do not have a simple answer to the problem. Church leaders will have to work with the laity to develop new patterns of parochial life and, perhaps, new forms of parochial organization so that the parish can become “a community of small communities.”

I should like to mention a third problem that is with us today and will undoubtedly increase in time. It is the problem of minorities. I refer to pastoral care for ethnic and racial minorities, both Catholic and non-Catholic. Some, such as Blacks and many Hispanics, have been in this country for years, if not for centuries. Others, such as the Vietnamese and the growing number of families from Portugal and its former territories, are more recent arrivals….How are we to give pastoral care to those who do not feel at home in our white, Western-European ways of public worship and community living, to those who have not adapted and do not want to adapt to what we call our American way of doing things?…I am deeply aware of the complexity of these problems….but at times I wonder if the majority of our priests and people realize our shortcomings in these areas and even our arrogance towards our brothers and sisters in the faith who are in some ways different from ourselves….

There are other problems either near or far on the horizon. I could mention the question of the role of women in society and in the Church or the problems that will come from the rejection of the traditional standards of morality in social, political, and business life….

My brother bishops, let us be confident, courageous, and open to the Spirit. Let us build the Church of God by our foresight. All is possible “because I love Him.”[1]

Some bishops applauded enthusiastically. Others sat there silent and dumbfounded. Others sat there angrily staring at the Apostolic Delegate.

[1] Jean Jadot: “A Watchman for the House of Israel,” Origins, vol. 6, no. 22 (November 18, 1976) 355-6. 

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6 thoughts on “A Watchman for the House of Israel

  1. And those bishops (archbishops and cardinals) who were angy found a friend in Karol Wojtyla , who humiliated Jadot by bringing him back to Rome and not giving him a cardinal’s hat, a distinct sign of his displeasure. When it was said of the Polish Pope that he filled the piazzas and emptied the churches, it was not only the churches of his own time. And Jadot suffered the fate of Cassandra.

  2. Amen. I asked Archbishop Jadot what it was like working on Rome after the USA. His reply: “I was given every coyrtesy but never any friendship.”

  3. Many thanks for this timely account of Jadot’s address to the U.S. bishops (and so ironic, given the later evolution of the U.S. Church in its cultural diversity, gender discrimination and staffing crises!)

    Just yesterday I was writing a review of Catherine Clifford’s little book for Paulist, Decoding Vatican II, and was reminded how much hope can still be mined from the Council documents.

    Congratulations on completing your book! I hope you can take a well-deserved breather now. I’ll be in Leuven the end of August — hope to see you.

  4. Jack,thanks for writing the book and for sharing that presentation of Jadot. I would love to meet you before we go beyond this life. I know we have much in common, including our theological studies and our love for Vat. II and people like Jadot. Peace

    • Dear Louis Many thanks for your note…..and yes the feelings are mutual. Many kind regards

      Jack _______________________________ John Alonzo Dick PhD, STD Historical Theologian Leuven/Louvain

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