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A bishop reflects on evangelization, Saint Joseph, and the crisis of fatherhood

Many men, says Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Freyer, “are not spiritual fathers in the home. … Studies show that a good indicator of whether or not children stay Catholic is whether or not their fathers actively practice the faith.”

Left: Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Freyer, 57, of the Diocese of Orange, CA. right: "Saint Joseph and the Christ Child" (1640) by Guido Reni (WikiArt.org)

Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Freyer, 57, of the Diocese of Orange, California, was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Huntington Beach. He entered St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, and was ordained a priest in 1989. He served in a variety of parishes, including as pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Fullerton and St. Boniface Church in Anaheim. He was ordained a bishop in 2017.

In a recent interview, he spoke of his call to the priesthood, his work at the diocese, evangelization and his participation in Spirit Filled Hearts Ministry’s virtual Saint Joseph Summit and the vital role fathers play in the home and society.

CWR: Tell us about your religious upbringing.

Bishop Timothy Freyer: I attended Ss. Simon & Jude Parish, and I went to public schools. My mother was Catholic, and my father was a non-practicing Lutheran. In 1973, due in part to our friendships with priests, he attended classes and converted to Catholicism. A few years later he was diagnosed with lung cancer, however, and died shortly after when I was still a teen. As hard as it was, it actually proved to be the beginning of my call to the priesthood.

I had planned to be a doctor. I loved math and science, and I wanted to help people. I was an only child, as were both my mother and father. So, I had a vision that I would marry and have at least four children, a big house and plenty of money to provide for my family.

But, when my father was dying, he was in a lot of pain. It made him impatient, irritable, and angry. He’d go to the hospital for cancer treatments, however, and the hospital priest-chaplains were there and would meet with him, and he’d become joyful. I began to believe that God was telling me that if I really wanted to help people, I should become a priest.

I was going into high school at the time. I broke up with my girlfriend and I began seriously thinking about the seminary.

CWR: Were there any priests you knew growing up who were particularly influential for you?

Bishop Freyer: Yes, there were.  One that comes to mind was Franciscan Father Tom Schneider (1918-86) who was assigned to Ss. Simon & Jude. I was impressed with the kindness he showed everyone; he was always very charitable and generous. He came to visit my father in the hospital. God did great work through him.

CWR: You have served as Episcopal Vicar for Priests. What are some typical concerns the priests you worked with have?

Bishop Freyer: One concern that comes up frequently is overwork. There are many people who want to meet with priests, yet priests have only so many hours in a single day. They have to work to keep a balance, and not get sucked into so much ministry that they forget their prayer lives. They also need to take time to care for their mental and physical health.

Priests want to make time to help everyone, but that is impossible. We read in the Gospels that Jesus would frequently go away on His own for hours at a time to pray. People would get upset and go looking for Him. People might be unhappy with the priest that he is not always on hand for them, but that’s okay. If we don’t make time for prayer and personal care, we’ll have nothing to offer.

CWR: What do you do as auxiliary bishop?

Bishop Freyer: I am responsible for administrative work, I oversee pastoral ministries and I do pastoral ministry myself. I have the best of all three worlds. Administratively, I oversee the cemetery department and the Cathedral campus [the site of the chancery office], and I serve on the diocesan finance council. I also oversee the office of faith formation, and I’m involved in young adult ministry. And, you’ll find me out at the parish, celebrating Mass or helping with confessions. I’m also a police department chaplain, and I’m an on-call chaplain for St. Jude Medical Center, visiting the sick.

CWR: Evangelization has been a focus for you. Your motto is “Go out and make disciples of nations.” Can you give me a definition of what evangelization is, and how one can be effective at it?

Bishop Freyer: For me, evangelization is proclaiming the Good News of God’s love manifest in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Especially in these times, people need to hear that there is hope in death. St. Paul tells us that “We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him.” [Rom 6:9] We need to repeat that in different ways so that people can hear it.

We need to tell people about the importance of having a personal relationship with Jesus. We need to teach them how to pray, and to be attentive in prayer. We need to remind people of the great value and gift of the sacraments.

We need to have Masses that are inspiring, prayerful, and reverent. They need to have good preaching. And, people in attendance must be united in prayer with one another and for one another.

CWR: What is an effective way to evangelize?

Bishop Freyer: One tool we can use is social media; we can use modern technology to proclaim the truths of the Gospel. I am on Instagram and Facebook, and occasionally Twitter. I try to put out material that is positive. Just recently, someone I know commented to me that he liked to view my messages as they were always upbeat.

Social media can be a particularly good way to reach out to young adults, particularly during the pandemic. Many have reached out to me with questions: where is God in this pandemic, why is this happening, what happens to us when we die and the like. It provides us with a good opportunity to teach people what the Church teaches, and to connect them with their local parish.

CWR: How large is the Diocese of Orange and what makes it unique?

Bishop Freyer: We have 1.3 or 1.4 million Catholics. We’re unusual in that we are made up of a single county, Orange County, and also that we are a multi-ethnic community. We have the most Vietnamese Catholics outside of Vietnam, for example. We have many Filipino, Hispanic and Korean Catholics. Many attend our parishes; our smaller parishes would be viewed as large parishes in other parts of the country.

CWR: If you believe recent surveys, a striking number of people have been leaving the active practice of Christianity, particularly since 2000. Why do you think that is?

Bishop Freyer: I would give a few reasons. I’m reminded of the 1990s Robert Putnam essay Bowling Alone, that he developed into a book in 2000. He believed that in our society many people are unlikely to join any organization, particularly young adults.

I also believe that we haven’t done a good job teaching clearly what the Church teaches, its beauty, and the positive impact it will have in our lives, and in a way that uplifts and energizes the listener. We were complacent in past decades, as our churches were relatively full.

I think we’re recovering our ability to evangelize, however. Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire has been effective, as well as Deacon Steve Greco’s Spirit Filled Hearts Ministry, here in our Diocese of Orange.

CWR: What impact do you think the widespread use of the internet has had in the past 20 years?

Bishop Freyer: On the negative side, it has made it easy for some people to spend all their time watching various videos, but not having the personal contact of coming to Mass, or to an in-person Bible study or in-person prayer group. On the positive side, we’ve been able to use the internet to reach people who might not otherwise come to church. Hopefully, it will inspire many to come to church to meet with a priest or deacon, begin going to Mass, attend RCIA classes and receive the sacraments.

CWR: You are participating in the Saint Joseph Summit (www.saintjosephsummit.com), a virtual Catholic conference September 30 – October 3, featuring such bishops as Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, and lay evangelists including Scott Hahn and Chris Stefanick. Why did you want to participate?

Bishop Freyer: Spirit Filled Hearts Ministry and Deacon Steve Greco do amazing work in our diocese and beyond. I’ve been on Deacon Greco’s radio program, Empowered by the Spirit, many times and I’ve attended their ministry events. Their goal is to help people fall in love with the Lord and get active in their parish. To be affiliated with the ministry has been a blessing.

The Summit’s theme is Saint Joseph: Our Spiritual Father. Pope Francis has proclaimed this the Year of Saint Joseph and has encouraged us to reflect on Joseph’s role in the Church. He is relatively unknown and ignored; the pope wants us to focus on Joseph and learn from him such virtues as humility, trust, and patience.

CWR: When you study the life of Saint Joseph, what things impress you about him?

Bishop Freyer: He completely trusted the Lord. When he found out that Mary was pregnant, he planned to divorce her quietly. But, at the Lord’s command, he was willing to take her into his home, with all the difficulties and disapproval he might have to endure.

In a dream he was told to flee to Egypt, as Herod wanted to kill the baby Jesus. It was a tremendous burden and sacrifice to leave all he knew, but he did it. When the Lord calls us to do something, do we act so quickly? Or, do we want to spend time thinking about it, talking about it, and discerning it? Are we quick to trust like Joseph?

CWR: What will your Summit presentation be about?

Bishop Freyer: It has already been recorded. It is a conversation I had with Deacon Greco. We talked about a wide range of topics, such as Saint Joseph as the model for all Christians, particularly fathers. One of Joseph’s titles is Terror of Demons, so we talked about spiritual warfare. We talked about Saint Joseph’s role as an intercessor. We talked about how, like Mary, Joseph was docile to the will of God.

CWR: You believe there is a crisis of fatherhood in society today.

Bishop Freyer: Yes. Many children are raised in homes without their biological fathers. Boys, in particular, don’t have that role model so that they can learn to be good Christian men.

Also, many men are not spiritual fathers in the home. They may be good men, but they are not leading the family to Christ, or even going to Mass with the family. Studies show that a good indicator of whether or not children stay Catholic is whether or not their fathers actively practice the faith. If there is no spiritual father in the home, it is easy for the children drift away from the Faith.

The crisis of fatherlessness has an adverse effect on overall society as well. Many who are drug addicted, homeless or having mental health issues in our country are the products of fatherless homes. It has wreaked havoc on our country; millions of children are growing up without the helpful influence of a father.

CWR: You lost your own father when you were age 13. How did this affect you and the family?

Bishop Freyer: It was a challenge, especially for my mother. She became our sole provider. It was strange and was an adjustment for me, too. I suddenly did not have a father to go to ball games with, or to talk to about difficult issues.

It brought my mother and I closer together, however. And, many of my father’s friends were good influences and stepped in to help us.

CWR: Any other thoughts?

Bishop Freyer: I hope everyone will register for the Saint Joseph Summit. Registration is free, and there are many good speakers. I am humbled to be a part of it.


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About Jim Graves 203 Articles
Jim Graves is a Catholic writer living in Newport Beach, California.

1 Comment

  1. My husband did practice the faith. Still does. Hugely faithful, we’ver rarely missed Mass, been involved in our parish for years. All three children have left the faith. Two went so far as to be re-baptised into another denomination.

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