Monday, May 14, 2018

Successor to the Apostles

When we think of successors to the Apostles, we think of bishops. But today the Church celebrates the first successor, and the only one still called “apostle”, Mathias. 

As we are told in the Acts of the Apostles, Peter  in his role as the head of the Church, announces that they must chose someone as the successor to Judas. Two names are offered, they pray, they cast lots, and Mathias is chosen. Unlike later successors he is not “bishop” but “apostle”, because as Peter tells us,

[he) 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.

Even today we reserve the word “apostle” for those who were actually with Jesus. For us there is no such thing as a modern apostle.  All later successors of  apostles will be called by a term mentioned in Acts but spelled out more clearly in the First Letter of Timothy, the επίσκοπος (episkopos) which makes its way into English as “bishop” and things associated with bishops are called “episcopal”. The word means overseer. The bishop is the one charged with oversight of the community, and at the center of that ministry is making sure that the faith that is handed on today is the faith preached by the aspostles.

We can only imagine what it must have been like to be Mathias: the responsibility and honor that came with being chosen as a apostle and yet you are not the successor of Peter or James but the successor of Judas. Surely Mathias like the other apostles went forth, preached the gospel, founded communities and appointed bishops to oversee those communities. So somewhere in the Church today there are bishops who are successors of Mathias, and therefore successors to Judas. 

When we profess “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” we do not mean some vague resemblance to the early church, we mean actually linked to the apostles. And we believe that even as you are reading this, the apostles including Mathias watch over us, and intercede for us from their place in heaven. 

Priests, deacons, and all types of catechists (including parents)merely assist the bishop in safeguarding and handing on the faith which Jesus entrusted to the apostles. Today let each of us ask St. Mathias to help us to proclaim the gospel with the courage of the apostles, not only with our words but with our lives.