Monday, May 14, 2012

The first of the successors, sort of

We refer to the Bishops as the successors of the Apostles, and in today's first reading we get a glimpse into how from the earliest days the successor were chosen.

After the suicide of Judas, the Acts of the Apostles recounts how a someone needed to be chosen. Two men were set forward as candidates. The Apostles prayed that Jesus himself might make the choice. And then the cast lots. That's right they used a form of divination technically called cleromancy.

The casting of lots after prayer had deep roots in the Old Testament. While Christianity and Judaism have traditionally condemned widespread use of any form of divination, there have been these notable exceptions. Just as the wise men following a star was not an endorsement of Astrology, this passage is not intended to promote casting lots to discover God's will in an individual's life.

Regardless of the methodology it is most important to note that what they were looking for was God's choice, not the Apostles' or the people's choice. I have heard those completely enamored of democracy say "vox populi, vox dei", the voice of the people is the voice of God. The source of the orginal saying no one knows. What we do have is Alcuin in the 8th century warning, "And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness."

Mathias is called an Apostle, and not just a successor because he was actually with Jesus. Over our 2000 year history the methods for selecting the successors have changed and even today vary within the Catholic Church, but the one constant remains the attempt to listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The original apostles were imperfect men, and we should not be shocked by the imperfection of their successors. To those who think democracy would fix all that is wrong with the Church, I invite you to look at Congress.

The Church has never claimed that any bishop or pope was perfect or that everything that comes from the mouth of the pope is infallible. That is a caricature of Church teaching. We do trust that despite individual imperfections and sins, the Holy Spirit will keep the Church on the right path.

Today as we recall Matthias let us pray for all of our bishops that they will remain men of constant prayer, seeking always the will of God.