Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The replacement

Once more the readings today remind us that the Church in the beginning was not simply some unstructured, rule-free gathering of like minded individuals where anyone could be a leader.

After the death of Judas the apostles, the eleven who had been called to lead the many disciples, knew that the number twelves was no accident, and so they selected the replacement.

First there were requirements to be an apostle.

it is necessary that one of the men who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to his resurrection.

As much as some may not want to hear it, the word is aner not anthropos. The apostle had to be male. In addition, he had to have been with them from the beginning, an eyewitness. As the story tells us that narrowed the candidate to two. Then instead of electing the most popular, the prayed and casts lots. And so Matthias became an apostle.

Only in recent years have some Christians decided that it is ok to call themselves apostles. For most of the Christian world, Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant, the word apostle is only used to refer to the original 12, Mathias, and Paul ( called directly by Jesus).

As the apostles died off they were not replaced. Instead they were only succeeded. The successors to the apostle held and hold this title episkopos, bishop in English. In his first letter St. Timothy describes the qualities they must possess. Once more we see that no one names themselves nor are they chosen by popular vote. Leadership in the Church was never intended to be a popularity contest. To assist, as the church grew and developed, the Bible gives us the two other offices of presbyter ( in English- Priest) and deacon. As Paul would go from place to place establishing new churches, he would appoint Presbyters to lead each community. Here the letters of Timothy and Titus are invaluable because they give us the structure of the Church. Only the first group of deacons appear to have been chosen by the Greeks, but then Paul rather quickly establishes criteria for them.

Today as we celebrate the Feast of St. Matthias, the replacement apostle, it is a time for us to look to the apostles in heaven and pray for their intercession. It is a time for us to pray for those who carry the burden of trying to guide the Church in our time, all of the bishops throughout the world.

As I marked my 25th anniversary yesterday, I recalled that moment when I knelt before Bishop Sullivan, and with trust in God, promised respect and obedience to him and his successors, whoever they may be. It is an absolute leap of faith, grounded in our belief that it is still the Holy Spirit who is in charge of the Church. Pastors of parishes, bishops of dioceses, and even the Pope are only servants struggling to discern and to the will of God, each in our own imperfect way.

St. Matthias, pray for us.