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  • Writer's pictureImmersed in Christ

Immersed in Christ: May 14, 2020

Feast of Saint Matthias, Apostle

The Responsorial (Psalm 113) applies to Matthias: “The Lord will give him a seat with the leaders of his people.

The selection of Matthias to replace Judas in Acts 1:15-17, 20-26 shows that bishops are not “successors” to the Twelve Apostles. Although “the phrase is too well attested to be rejected now,” if it is “used without care for the finer distinctions it may distort the truth.”

The apostles could never have a successor in that function of witness which was at the heart of their calling (Acts 2:32; 3:15; 4:20-33; 8:25; 10:39-42; 13:31). They are those who bear witness to the fact that the risen Lord is the Jesus in whose company they had lived (Acts 1:21-22). That is why to have been with Jesus during his life and after his death [as Matthias was] remained a qualification essential in anyone who was to be included in the group of the [twelve] apostles and to take part in the first mission, that of bearing witness (Acts 1:1-3; 10:41).... This is why the twelve are forever, once and for all... the Church’s foundation. No one could follow them in this function of witness.

The bishops are not “successors” but “vicars” of the Twelve; that is, someone who “acts in place of” another. As vicars, what the bishops “succeed” to is “the “function of shepherding and teaching in order to guard the churches founded on the power of [the apostles’] witness.” And this function is a daunting one! Bishops need all the help and encouragement we can give them. 1

Over the centuries the popes have appropriated to themselves some of the powers that properly belong to the heads of the local churches; for example, the right to decide whom to ordain as priests and how to train them. The bishops must provide “enough priests capable of properly caring for the people of God,” but from a pool severely restricted by papal preferences. Other Vatican preferences limit the bishops’ authority as “the governors... and guardians of the entire liturgical life in the church committed to them.” More radically, the popes have made all bishops papal appointees, having taken away the local churches’ power to select their own bishops that “for the first thousand years of Church history” was “clearly recognized.... It was only in 1884 that the papacy claimed the right to name bishops throughout the world.” 2

For perspective, we read John 15:9-17: Jesus says the Church should “keep his commandments” as he kept his Father’s: not as “slaves” but as “friends” who “know what their master is about” and “live in his love.” His commandment is, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Bishops and pastors should govern as “friends,” sharing their intentions, motives and decisions transparently with the flock in “mutual trust. 3 Christ wants us to live in such a way that our “joy may be complete” and we will “bear fruit.” These are the signs of a healthy Church. They are goals that as prophets we must work for.

Initiative: Be faithful to the word and Spirit of God. Judge everything by them.

1 J.M.R. Tillard, O.P., The Bishop of Rome, pp. 93-96. For the impossible load placed on bishops, see Vatican II. “Decree on Bishops in the Church,” ch. 2, nos. 12-18. 2 Loc. cit. nos. 15, 22. T. Rausch, Catholicism in the Third Millenium, Liturgical Press, 2003, pp. 218-19. 3 Vatican II, Bishops,” no. 16.

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